I don’t know if you are watching the new television series called, Parenthood. I mean, what a great idea for a show. They will never run out of material! I can imagine the un-made Seinfeld episode now. Seinfeld’s fellow comedian friend would become a parent in order to experience the endless supply of mishaps, unexpected dialog and humorous situations. “He did it for the jokes,” Seinfeld would complain.
All kidding aside, Parenthood is proving to be a great show. Last week one couple finds that their son has Aspergers, which is a form of autism. Throughout the episode the boy wants to wear a pirate costume, against his parents’ wishes. Eventually a doctor tells the parents that they need to join their son in his world. At the end of the show, during the instrumental emotional conclusion of the episode’s stories, the father is shown playing with his son in the backyard. Both father and son are dressed as pirates and run around the yard, on the look-out for other ships.
It is a beautiful moment, but it gets me thinking. Why does a father wait until his son is diagnosed with Aspergers before he joins him in his imaginary play? All kids, whether they are autistic or not, would benefit from their parent entering their imaginary world in order to play together.
I recently had to sell my green station wagon which is the only car my kids have known as our family car. I explain to my kids over and over again how a nice lady came and bought my green car and will give it a nice new home. We “adopt” a gray station wagon as our new family car and “welcome” it into our life. It doesn’t go over so well. For two weeks my 3 year old bursts into tears whenever riding in the new car, “I miss the green car!” Then my 5 year old joins in, “when is the lady going to give it back?” “Oh she’s going to keep it,” I try to explain. “WHAT? She is going to KEEP our car for ever and ever?” they chime in together. More tears.
I’m doomed, I think. So in order to stop the crying for the long gone, green car I say to my kids, “this car comes with a special feature that the old car didn’t have.” “It does? What?” they say between sniffles. “A Fly button.”
“Press it!” says my daughter. “We want to fly!” says my son. So I press the imaginary button and say, “Hold on tight, here we go up and up and up!” We rise up off the street, above the trees and say “Hi” to the birds. We look down at the tiny houses, cars and people below us. We take a ride on a cloud and reach our hands toward the sun. As we approach our preschool, we hold on tight and come in for a smooth landing in the parking lot.
“We flew here!” my daughter tells her teacher as we walk in the door. I chuckle and try to explain. “Oh, how fun,” the teacher responds but I’m not sure what she is thinking.
The next day we get in the car and my son asks where we are going. “To school,” I say for the tenth time that morning. “Can we fly there?” he asks. “Sure thing, hold on tight,” I say with smile. There’s no more talk of missing the green car. When we find ourselves in traffic or even when it’s raining, we just press the fly button and experience a whole new world above the clouds.
I can’t picture being a parent without embracing imaginary play. It helps me to understand my kids as well as assist them to work through tough issues like selling a family car. We should all strive to play pirates in the back yard. You never know when you will spot another ship on the horizon.