Wednesday, October 10, 2012

I'm Losing My Imagination

Yesterday was Picture Day at school for both girls.  Elizabeth wasn't happy.  Our third-grader was making a scene about what she should wear, and the level of drama was uncharacteristic for her.  In the midst of me telling her that I liked the floral print, and Karen urging her to wear the dress with the pink flower, Elizabeth blurted out--

I have something important to tell you!

That stopped me and Karen.  Karen over by the piano while I stood in the dining room, both of us looking at our Elizabeth from different directions.

Through tears - but with an urgent voice - Elizabeth said, I'm losing my imagination.

What, honey? Karen asked.

Yesterday, Elizabeth said.  Kristina and I were playing dolls in the backseat, and it wasn't the same.

It wasn't the same, she said again.  And little Elizabeth shook as she struggled with those words.

What do you do at a time like that?

Karen reacted better than I did - hugging our daughter, patting her freshly brushed hair.  Her long hair that they'd both worked on to make especially pretty for Picture Day.  But what do you do?  For a child who's so self-aware that she knows when her imaginary world - the world where she and her sister spend so much happy time together - what do you do for a child when that world begins to disappear down a rabbit hole?

Karen knows better than I do that Elizabeth is at the age when that wonderfully rich world inside a child's mind begins to change.  When the fairies and princesses become less real.  When the Barbies and stuffed rabbits shift into being just toys, toys without the ability to talk back.

It's so hard to remember that time, to remember that there very well could be a real-life Paddington Bear with a note attached - Please Look After This Bear.  Why not?  Why couldn't he be real?  He was real enough to me in 1972, I just hadn't met him yet.

But did I actually remember that?  Could I place myself in the position of my child where it wasn't pretty to think so, but back to when Paddington was real?

I can't recall.  Not with any certainty.  I do know that I was never aware of the change as it occurred.  It just happened without my acknowledgement, like time's passage while I sleep.

What to do, what to do?  Besides telling Elizabeth I love her, besides holding her hand extra soft as we walked to class in the morning, besides hugging her extra hard as Kristina and I left her on the playground with her friends and headed to Kristina's Kindergarten class.

The next day, today, I tried to circle back.  Threw out that books will always provide a wonderful escape and that they'll always be there for her - pawns that she can move across a board of her own devising whenever and wherever she wants.

I know that, Daddy, she said.  But books, they tell you things.  It's different than just my imagination.

And then Elizabeth moved the hair out of my eyes with the same gentleness I had just used on hers.

She smiled - and if ever there was a sad, reflective smile, it was then.

Checkmated by an eight-year-old.

What to do?

What to do.


  1. You and Karen are wonderful parents. And, knowing Elizabeth the little I do, I'm honored to be around such a scary smart girl and not really surprised. If I may make a suggestion. The magical world is slipping from her hand but the natural world can replace it. Stars and white herons, tide pools and Yosemite Falls, all of these are for Elizabeth. When I first met her, I thought, this is a watcher. She likes to observe and there is so much to see.

    1. I wish there was a like button for Elizabeth's comment. There is no truer quote in raising a child than "when one door closes another opens". We shed a tear because we know we will miss the magic of what that room brought but the next room will bring its own magic.

    2. She's a watcher, indeed. Thanks to you both for your thoughtful words...