My son, Colin, is five years old. Like every other kindergartner I’ve met, he is constantly fidgeting, incessantly talking (or, more likely, just making noise to hear himself) and he always wants to play. All hail the kindergarten teachers and parapros who put their sanity on the line each day dealing with these active children and their active imaginations. Trying to keep up with one (as well as his younger sister, but she’s another story) is exhausting, but for his emotional well-being and the strength of the family I feel I must push on and try to keep up with him. This means joining in Colin’s wildly imaginative and intricate games and that means getting down on the floor and on his level.
It is harder than it looks. Partially because I end up sprawled out on the floor and unable to change my position as rapidly as Colin’s games call for and also because the floor is hard. I’d kneel, but I fear I’d never walk again and sitting, “crisscross, applesauce” as he calls it, tends to feel even worse. So we play Legos, trains, army guys or Batman with him flying around the room at warp speed and me beached on whatever loose laundry I can use as a cushion, hoping that the wadded up underwear, socks and t-shirts will protect me from the inevitable jagged Lego piece I will accidentally find.
The games are wonderful nonsense and I often just want to sit back and watch, thoroughly entertained by the stories Colin creates and the voices he gives to the characters. I am certain that I would find deep meaning and learn the secrets of the universe if he would simply allow me to be an observer, but he demands that I participate, particularly under his direction. Whenever I try to strike out on my own, by perhaps making the Bumblebee Transformer into a mountain that a train climbs or having Batman get hit by a cartwheel ray, Colin informs me that this isn’t the way the game goes. He hasn’t learned how to improvise quite yet.
For Christmas, I got him a set of Army guys. I think I did this because I don’t remember having them when I was small and I always thought they looked like fun. We unpacked the box, divvied up the men and their vehicles and stared at the plastic sheet that the soldiers would battle on. I had no idea how to start this game and I think part of me had hoped that Colin and I would be on the same side, putting together rescue missions or something. Instead Colin wanted me to line up all of my men and, like nearly every game we play, he wanted to win. My “shots” all magically missed his “good guys,” while all of his “shots” were direct hits. To add insult to imaginary injury, he released his Zhu Zhu pet (a toy hamster that squeaks, fidgets and also always wants to constantly play) to wipe out the remains of my army.
Since Christmas, this has been Colin’s favorite game to play. I have tried to instill some rules and a sense of fairness but it makes the game almost too rigid. It is probably better to just enjoy the set up and the take down of the elaborate scene we build and delight in his enjoyment of my Army guys becoming Zhu Zhu food. Hopefully, I can convince Colin to create a world in his room some weekend with all of his toys, one where the army guys work together to take down a common foe, like the gigantic (relatively speaking) Bumblebee or maybe even a rogue Zhu Zhu that has betrayed his team for his alien ancestors, and then convince him to let me sit on his bed for a few minutes and just watch.