There Is No Life I Know To Compare With Pure Imagination
Occasionally, I am absolutely floored by A.'s developing sense of self-awareness.
A. has had a really good day today. Actually, she's had a really good week. As we climb higher and higher on this leg of the roller-coaster, I keep bracing for the inevitable dip, that point where we crest the mountain and quickly careen down the other side into the valley of tantrums, mood swings, and meltdowns. At the same time, however, I spend a great deal of time relishing the moment, enjoying these periods of good communication and rewarding her behavior with praise and small incentives (10 more minutes of computer time on a particularly awesome day, for example.) Today, she sat in the front row through an opera assembly at school that she didn't particularly enjoy, spent 40 minutes in the regular classroom during Language Arts time due to a miscommunication (still, she did great!), and she also randomly tried out for the Honors Chorus in her music class (which is especially impressive, given how extremely shy A. can be about singing in front of people at times.) She also did a great job at participating in the activity-time at her after-school care (this is an area we've been working on), and she continued to hold herself together even when her best friend at day care had to leave early. Upon coming home, A. worked on her homework all on her own without being prompted to do so (usually, it's a bit of a chore to get her to work on it) and spent a great deal of time laughing, joking, and interacting with the family before she went upstairs to cash in on her well-deserved video game and computer time (with 10 extra minutes tagged on since she'd done such an incredible job at school today.)
Sometimes, in the evening, after I've read to her and we're laying down on the bed cuddling together, A. and I have really amazing conversations. Tonight was definitely one of those nights. We'd started a discussion about imagination -- specifically about whether or not you have to "give up" your imagination in order to grow up. One of the things we've been implementing on the suggestion of A.'s amazing teacher is the use of the term "preteen" as a way to explain socially-appropriate behaviors. A. is pretty hung-up on the idea that she's a "preteen"; this gives us a great opportunity to harness that interest to explain exactly what preteens to and what they don't do, and to point out when she's acting like a preteen and when she's doing something that a preteen would not do. For example, today, when I saw that she was working on her homework without being asked to do so, I made a big deal out of the fact that this was *exactly* what a preteen would do, and I told her I was so proud of her for making good preteen choices. At any rate, this evening, we began talking about A.'s habit of "quoting" from movies and stories out-loud, using voices to play-act and pretend, or adding dialogue out-loud for the characters in the video games she plays. I was trying to gently explain to her that this was not exactly a "teenager" thing to do (I wanted to be careful of her self-esteem and to not make her feel too self-conscious about the issue, so I figured I'd place the preferred activity in the future as something we would need to eventually work towards.) It was at this point A. went off on a tangent that I felt was the best description possible of what exactly goes on in her head and why she does these things. I'm going to completely butcher the delivery and the exact phrasing, but it went something like this:
"I just watch these movies and things, and they get stuck in my head. And I play them over and over because they are filled with so much awesomeness. Then, I mix them up with other movies and things, and I make up stories that I love to think about all the time. It's just because of the wires in my brain."
Again, A. actually explained it so much better than I'm translating here, and she was so excited -- so passionate about these stories. At the same time (and much to my relief, I should add) she was demonstrating the fact that she understood the different between reality and fantasy, between what went on in her head and what was going on in the world outside. She'd just prefer to spend in her head imagining things and playing these stories over and over again -- and who wouldn't? So, I attempted to relay -- from personal experience -- what it means to "grow up," and how that changes the way we act in relation to our imaginations.
"It's not that we give up our imaginations as we get older," I explained. "It's just that our imaginations get quiet. We no longer say the words out loud, or quote them, or act them out -- at least, not as much. Instead, we let the imagination live completely inside our heads, quietly, or on paper, where we can draw them out, or write stories about them." I further explained that I'd had a very vivid imagination when I was young, and that I still had it -- it just lived on paper and inside my head, now.
"But in high school, you no longer have recess," A. complained, changing the subject slightly. "It's no fun. All you do is toil."
It's moments like this that I fall in love with my daughter all over again.
"You have free time to do things you like, though," I explained, trying to give A. something to look forward to. "You have something called 'study hall,' and you can read or write stories when you're in study hall. That's what I did, anyway."
"Did you throw away your stories?" A. asked.
"No; I still have them all, I think."
"They're in the big trunk in the living room."
"Can I see them?"
I promised A. that, sometime soon, I would drag out my old notebooks and let her look at my old writings and drawings, if she really wanted to. There's something really touching about this, on a number of levels, for me. Number one, part of the reason I held onto all those notebooks was the thought that, some day, my children might take an interest in the things I wrote and created when I was young. Number two, I never dreamed in a million years that the aloof, disinterested child that spent all of her time lining up magnets on the refrigerator by color and letter over and over again would *ever* take any interest in something *I* had done, would ever come to see, understand, and appreciate me as a person, as something other than just a means-to-an-end, a provider of food and shelter. Number three, this is a real, solid commonality that A. and I share -- the hypergraphic tendencies of our youth; this overwhelming desire to write, draw, and doodle over every stitch of paper, driving both of us to produce libraries upon libraries of notebooks and folders full and overflowing with our ideas and dreams. This is something we really have in common, and this is a way I can be a true mentor for A. as she continues to explore self-expression and self-exploration. Considering how excited I get when my *students* are learning how to do these things, I cannot even describe how delighted I am at the prospect of assisting A. along on this journey.
"Can I illustrate them?" A. asked.
I assured her that none of the stories I wrote when I was young would be worth trying to get published, but that she was of course more than welcome to illustrate any story she'd like.
It was such a simple conversation, but a beautiful one -- one that reminded me, yet again, how amazing my daughter's quirky brain really is, and one that helped me to have a pure, intimate moment with my daughter, where we could both share with each other a little bit about the way our respective minds work, and where we could find commonality in a great deal of those workings.
After which, of course, A. complained of being cold, and goofily demanded to wear gloves to bed. Being the mother that I am, I brought a pair of mismatched mittens out of the drawer, and allowed her to slip them on.
I am so very proud of everything she does, of everything she is. I hope that, on nights like this at least, she can sense at least a little of that.