Thursday, September 21, 2006

Can you imagine?

Dear Zen Mother,

Kids spend so much time with complicated electronic games these days and I’m concerned it’s limiting their imagination. What can I do to bring back the basics like good old-fashioned fresh air and sunshine?

Kathy from Rowley

Dear Kathy,

Believe me, I have shared your concern.

As we came to the end of our summer vacation I noticed my children had a pale, almost translucent quality to their skin – like mushrooms growing under a log. It was clear to me they hadn’t spent much time outdoors. Walking through the house, I also noted both televisions were on with no one watching, the computer was on with no one computing, the Playstation was on with no one playing and all three boys were huddled over a portable laptop watching a small digital army wipe out a nation of trolls.

I turned everything off and asked the boys to go outside for some fresh air.

“Huh?” said the six-year-old.


“Not following,” replied the oldest.

“You know, with the plants and the grass and the trees.”

“Still not following.”

“Everyone needs to go outside… NOW! Use your imagination for a change.”

The boys grumbled past me and paused just outside the kitchen door as if the sunshine was some alien force field they were afraid to penetrate. I gave them a push and shut the door.

A few minutes later, I glanced out the window and saw the three boys sitting on the driveway, cross-legged and huddled together. I wondered what highly imaginative game they were playing. I walked outside to share in their fun, but all I saw was my oldest tapping his fingers on the ground while the other two shouted out exclamations such as Kill ‘em’ and Blow him away!

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“We’re imagining we’re playing a computer game,” the youngest answered. “Just like you said to.”

As the three boys looked at me blankly, I realized I needed to intervene with some good, old-fashioned fun.

“Let’s play Four Square!” I pronounced with Game Show Host enthusiasm that scared away several birds from a nearby tree.

Again with the blank stares.

“It’s a game you play by drawing four squares in chalk, then you bounce a ball within each square until someone misses.”

“When you miss, does the winner morph into a Druid master with teleporting skills?” asked my youngest.

“Uh, no.”

“Do we enter a mystic realm with battling Orcs who can only be defeated with the sword of Ronan, the Spirit King?”

“No, it’s not…”

“Do we form an alliance with the Silver Knight of the Astral Plane and learn dragon magic?”

Frustrated, I screamed, “No, nothing like that. This game doesn’t take imagination!”

Realizing what I said, I opened the kitchen door and let my kids return to their computer. But I did not feel defeated. It’s a complicated world with complicated games, for sure. Yet through it all, a child’s creativity remains – quite simply – boundless.

Imagine that.