My six-year-old daughter, Boo, has spunk. In spades. Her imagination is extraordinary. She spits out phrases that could only come from ghosts or fairies in the night, whispering in her ear. I suspect she’s channeling an eighty-year-old Italian man. Or a pirate.
Boo has a wavering respect for truth. Sometimes, she fudges it, especially if she thinks she’s about to get in trouble. This is normal child development. For kids her age, the lines between fact and fiction aren’t always absolute.
From a writer’s standpoint, that’s kind of cool. From a mom’s standpoint, it can get irritating. If there’s milk all over the carpet, and Boo’s alone in the room, she still insists she didn’t do it.
One night at dinner, we decided to “make a point” about truth telling. My older daughter — who is a stickler for absolutes — told the story of “The boy who cried wolf”. I’m sure you know it. A young boy is supposed to watch the village sheep and keep them safe from wolves. When he gets bored, he shouts “Wolf!” just to cause commotion. The villagers come running with their pitchforks. No wolf. The next day, same thing. On the third day, there really is a wolf but no one comes when the boy calls. Alas, poor sheep.
The moral’s clear, right? Tell the truth, or there will be Dire Consequences involving all manner of teeth and claws. We have assumed this linear path, A to B, for centuries — the story has roots in Ancient Greece.
That’s not what Boo garnered from the tale. No, with the plot laid out before her, Boo said:
“Those people should really keep their sheep indoors.”
And that, right there, is why my kids amaze me. They knock assumptions to their bony knees. For Boo, the world is new. She hasn’t formed a scaffolding of cubby-holes to file away each observation. She’s making it all up as she goes along. Her life is story and she’s the narrator and the reader, the pirate and the princess and the frog. “Anything can happen, child, anything can be.” (Shel Silverstein did not grow up.)
When Boo watches her father’s high school football team miss every tackle during practice, she says, “Just knock them down!” The hard details — the pads, the hits, the potential bruises — are extraneous to her, not-yet-haunting. What would Descartes do with such a child? Her “I think” is always hitched up to “I am”, but the “I”? It is nothing easy. It is partly-formed, exuberant in possibilities.
Is it any wonder they inspire me, these wild creatures who roam my hallways? My eldest, Rainbow Girl, invents rollercoaster with 10,000 foot drops and tunnels that go underwater, inside of coral reefs. She does not know impossible. This is good for storytelling. It is good for life as well. My children teach me creativity. They teach me to embrace uncertainty. To be precarious and euphoric. Is there a wall out there to stop me, or I have just assumed one into place, making brick and mortar with my fears?
I take my children’s hands. And then, we fly.
I found several fantastic resources while writing this post on creativity, kids, and the value of uncertainty.
Check out this podcast from Stuff to Blow Your Mind, called “How to Think Like a Child.”
And this TED talk, “Beau Lotto + Amy O’Toole: Science is for everyone, kids included”. Amazing!
One last TED talk, this one from a young boy who takes a creative, “hacker” approach to school.
How do you deal with uncertainty? Scream wolf? Bring the sheep indoors? Or paint them rainbow colors?