The Pretenders

It’s mid-July and already there is talk of the horrors of middle school. Mind you, neither of my 10-year-old progenies will enter the sixth grade this coming fall, however the inescapable seeds of dread have apparently been sown. Chief among their concerns (aside from being stuffed inside a locker and/or trampled by a herd of eighth graders) is the notion that one’s imagination tragically dies upon leaving elementary school—a date which, incidentally, will occur exactly 325 days from now. Not that anyone’s counting, although I’d be lying if I denied my woeful lament regarding the finite quality of childhood. Indeed, it saddens me greatly to think of the fleeting years during which we embrace the fanciful worlds that children create. Worlds into which I am occasionally welcomed and sometimes thrust—even still. (i.e. “Hello, I’m Mrs. Snobs from London, and I’ll be needing your lipstick and heels straightaway. Is that alright, Mum?”)

That said, the Land of Make Believe is a very real place where kids spend a delicious portion of their lives, both emotionally invested and purposefully engaged in the important business of play. And no matter how many times I see it—a child wholly immersed within the depths of his or her imagination—I am awestruck by its palpable nature and the pure catharsis it engenders. Translation: For whatever reason, it seems that children need to pretend much like they need to breathe. At least mine do. I’ve watched it a thousand times; the here and now melts away, time is suspended indefinitely and the gateway to another dimension yawns invitingly.

That’s how it happens here anyway. Legions of Barbies beckon, some of whom wear sequined gowns or soft, cottony dresses—ones that have been cleverly fashioned with Kleenexes and obscene quantities of Scotch tape. Still others gallivant about the place wearing nothing at all, completely unabashed by their nakedness and entirely unaffected by their tenuously attached heads. Never mind the dolls with mismatched earrings and severed limbs (i.e. let us not forget my charges’ enthrallment with one-legged Ken and Headless Hildegard). Ironically, what seems problematic to me is of little consequence to those thoroughly engrossed within an ever-emerging narrative—one that typically involves hordes of plastic people with perfect teeth and painted-on smiles.

Likewise, throngs of endearing little dogs, miniature ponies and Pokémon collectibles speak to my brood—

as do the massive herds of hideous-looking (and disturbingly pointy) dinosaurs I’ve grown accustomed tofinding with my feet in the dead of night. It’s a small price to pay, though, given that I get to witness all manner of drama unfold before me as I eavesdrop on the disjointed conversations that the aforementioned beasts evidently have. (i.e. “My dear, you’ve already had THREE stegosauruses today, which is entirely shameful. I’m afraid you’ve become a glutton—so there will be NO PIE for you this evening.”) That is, of course, if I remain quiet and still for the duration of said performances—invisible almost—to a select pair of pretenders who are, at times, embarrassed to be pretending.

There are stuffed animals here, too—ones that fairly transcend the bounds of meaning for my children. As one might expect, they’re threadbare from years of love and being dragged, hauled and/or carted virtually everywhere. Of course, they belong to our family now, having adopted a certain humanness that, oddly enough, even my husband and I recognize. Surely it makes sense to buckle them in when we travel, to kiss them good night at bedtime and to include them as we hold hands during grace. They are the very same creatures for whom search and rescue missions are orchestrated and vigils are held when, inevitably, they are lost…the ones that my daughters feel compelled to dress in doll clothes and toddler underwear…the ones with whom secrets are shared and frustrations are voiced…the ones who listen, comfort and understand unconditionally…the ones who may well journey to a faraway place one day—like college or perhaps a first apartment.

…which is okay by me.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (hoping that my children’s imagination never truly dies). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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