When I was a little girl, carrots did not come in bags. Instead, you bought them in bunches with the leafy greens still attached. When my mother would come home from the grocery store, she would cut off those greens and present them to me. I then turned those stalks into fancy ladies in beautiful gowns dancing at a ball, or long-haired witches casting spells over a boiling pot. Lest you think we were impoverished and this is some sob story about how I had to "make do" with a potato as my only doll and a burlap sack for a dress, I assure you that was not the case. I had real toys. Plastic ones, in fact! I also had a vivid imagination and, apparently, a thing for vegetation.
Nowadays, adults might find something very wrong with a little girl settled on the floor of the dining room chattering to carrot greens. In fact, it's probably a good thing my two older siblings were in school when my mother indulged me because I am pretty sure they would have felt obligated to mock this little quirk of mine right out of me before any of their friends found out. But, Mom just let me go. After all, she had three children and twins on the way so if something kept her four-year-old out of her hair long enough to get things done around the house, it was all good. She had no idea what kinds of games I was playing with my precious carrot greens, nor did she feel it was her business. The realm of my imagination was my own private space, and Mom understood that nothing could destroy that kingdom faster than having an adult come stomping through.
This is why I have an issue with Dinovember, the latest craze in helicopter parenting. Dinovember is the creation of a couple who parent two pre-schoolers. Every night, for the entire month of November, they create elaborate "dinoramas" using their daughters' toy dinosaurs. The object is to spark their children's imagination by allowing them to believe these toys come to life as they sleep, getting into all sorts of mischief. The father of the girls says he and his wife decided to do this because they did not want their girls to lose their sense of wonder in the internet age. They are encouraging other competitively-inclined parents to join in by spending each night of the 11th month of the year doing the same, then taking pictures of their masterpieces and posting them to their website....on the internet. Frankly, I predict the ultimate goal is to make November "National Parents With Far Too Much Time On Their Hands" month, but I'm a cynic. Check out some of their best work:
As a matter of fact, yes! Yes, I must! While I don't think there's anything wrong with treating children to an occasional burst of whimsy ("occasional" being the operative word,) I have a problem with parents who think doing this every single night for an entire month is a brilliant idea. To them I say, "STOP!" Stop orbiting your children as if they are the sun. Stop knocking yourself out to make their world some impossibly bright and cheerful place. Stop overwhelming them with your constant need to make them happy. Stop underestimating their ability to find joy and delight in the world all on their own. Stop depriving them of solitude. And, for Pete's sake, stop acting like raising children is just one giant bouncy castle of fun. (If it were, God wouldn't have created liquor.)
If you want to help your children to develop their imagination, read to them. Give them toys that encourage imaginative play and then leave them to it. Take them to the zoo, the park, a farm, the fire station where their little minds will see things that ours no longer can. Play music for them and let them make up their own dances. Give them crayons and paper and let them decide what color the moon is. When they tell you a story, ask them, "And then what happened?" The thing about an imagination is it cannot be passive if it is to develop. Your children must be participants in their fantasy worlds, not on-lookers.
As for yourselves, if you actually do have a moment to relax once the children are have finally and actually fallen asleep, cut yourself a break! Read a book that doesn't contain pictures. Watch a movie that doesn't open with Tinkerbell flying out of the Magic Castle. Enjoy a beverage that doesn't come with a straw attached. And, if you are so inclined, "play" with your partner. (But leave the plastic dinosaurs and carrots out of it, thank you very much!)
I believe the creators of Dinovember have the best of intentions, and if this is what they want to do for their children, more power to them. But, let me share a little secret with you. That little girl with plenty of toys who preferred to sit in a room playing with carrot greens? She wasn't just playing, she was creating. The world that she invented in her imagination went as high as the clouds. The best part of this world? The land of her imagination was sacred space, not to be trod upon by some over-eager adult or too-grown-up-for-it-all sibling. Maybe that's why Dinovember hits a nerve with me. It's like Mr. McGregor trying to reclaim his carrot patch from Peter Rabbit. Adults are just too heavy-footed and think a bunny in pants or a dinosaur making a mess in a kitchen is a hoot. Children know differently. Maybe it's time to back off, parents, and leave a little bit of childhood to the children.