Thursday, January 14, 2016

Blasting Off Into Imagination

Five years ago, when my oldest son was 2, a laundry basket sat nearby us on the floor just before bedtime. Already, Jen had created the giddy habit of pushing Tyler around in the laundry basket all over our small carpeted apartment as he shouted wildly.

And so, when I should have been getting Tyler into the bath and the bedtime routine, he instead climbed into the laundry basket and looked up at me with wide, wondering eyes.

"Bedtime?" I asked.

"Not yet!" Tyler shouted, and then proceeded to bounce up and down in the laundry basket.

And so, instead of talking with Tyler about the importance of following routines and getting good sleep, I grabbed hold of the handle and proceeded to push. (Does this explain possible sleep problems now...hmmm...we'll deal with that in a subsequent post!)

Tyler's head tilted back and we raced around the apartment, turning the laundry basket into a jet, a boat, a bulldozer, a rocket ship, a fire truck, and more. With each new imaginative sequence, we changed our accompanying sounds and motions and let loose.

Twenty minutes later--me breathless as an out-of-shape Daddy and Tyler breathless for an in-shape screaming little guy--we both flopped onto the floor near the bathroom.

"Bedtime?" I asked.


Later that night, when Tyler was finally asleep in his crib, I sat down at the desk and began journaling. But instead of writing about the day at school teaching, or a cool conversation Jen and I had shared, or about the book I was reading, or about the weather (Get the weather in! Hemingway always exhorted), I wrote a poem.

It was a very simple, short poem that essentially walked through the stages of our little imaginative adventure.

So it is especially fun and with great gobs of gratitude (what do gobs of gratitude look like? I imagine them to be like handfuls of strawberry jam ready to be propelled onto giant-sized pieces of toast) that I wait with excitement to see the picture book Bedtime Blastoff! be released on January 26th.

Even though the poem was written in a single night after our play, it proceeded to go through more than a dozen revisions and still take 3 years to get it towards its journey of becoming an actual book. But what I most appreciate is the small ways wise people helped to fiddle with each phrase, wonder about each scene, imagine the imaged with fresh perspectives--people like my wife, Jen, who is the catalyst for the idea in the first place! And people like my agent Ammi-Joan Paquette whose excitement and work with the manuscript helped it reach its eventual publisher. And people like editor Orli Zuravicky whose energy and zeal and interest propelled it towards its finish.And to awesome artist Mike Yamada who brought the scenes to vividly to life!

But what I am most grateful for is Tyler. And children. They come ready to any situation with the innate and infinite capacity to imagine. A piece of wood can become a talking robot; a laundry basket can become a host of vehicles; a tree can become a space station; anything can be transformed into something beautiful, jovial, miraculous, and fresh.

And I still see glimmers of this kind of willingness to imagine in my 7th graders, too. When they write creatively, when they let go of the worry about a grade and delve into the hope for a new world, their eyes sparkle and they seem somehow free.

Jen and I talk often about how to balance all the little necessities of life--the worries about paying bills, the to-do lists of parenting and teaching and finishing degrees and laundry (laundry, always laundry, aaaahhhhhh!) with the need for imagination. And it isn't always apparent how to do so, but when we go on a family hike up a mountain or climb a massive rock along the trail, we all start to feel like the mountain might be something more than a mountain, the rock might be something more than a rock.

Our lives are imbued with a sense of symbolism--that what we do in our most basic, physical ways can actually represent so much more. And it's this ability to leap from logic to liberty--to live, for a while, with the symbol rather than the definition--that energizes us for the to-do lists of normal life.

And this possibility is what excites me most about parenting and teaching.