I used to believe there were tiny people-like beings living within traffic lights. I imagined there was a director of operations hovering invisibly above the intersection relaying instructions telepathically to the lighting units below. There was one worker per bulb in every unit, and they would work in perfect synchronicity within their respective sections to ensure all the bulbs were painted accordingly - green, yellow, red, or black. I was awed by their speed, efficiency, and effectiveness. They were remarkable.
My imagination, like most kids' was surreal and fun. I needed it, as most kids do, to make sense of the things I couldn't yet comprehend. I'm certain that my parents did an excellent job of explaining how traffic lights worked, but my reality made much more sense and made me feel completely connected to the rest of the people on the road. We were all going somewhere, and we would all be okay because there were tiny humanoid creatures suspended high above the ground with bottomless buckets of paint.
The development of our two-year-old daughter’s imagination is perplexing and miraculous and a little nostalgic. It's that twinge of excitement at remembering when everything was amazing and magical. It's also that little sting of a reminder that the world is much more predictable and understandable than it was when I was much, much younger. I'm still able to be surprised, staggered, and astonished by many things, just not everything.
I’ve recently realized that one of my favorite consequences of exploring her imagination is that I’m being put back in touch, much more intimately, with my own. I've come to understand more than ever that imagination is a heart. It’s driving, sustaining and essential. By nature it’s adaptive, but at the core, it’s also emotional.
She’ll do this thing most toddlers do; she’ll stop at something (alive, dead, inanimate, sensory) and she’ll examine it. Her eyes bounce with more life during those seconds than most adults’ ever do, and that bounce usually reverberates throughout her tiny little body and seemingly shakes the universe around her. Watching her study something as flabbergasting as a cicada or as perplexing as a goose’s head under water are among my favorite parenting moments. During these moments her imagination is emotional, and for me - her dad, it's emotive.
These moments send my imagination off on the same trail hers is trekking, even if I do have more history and language to color it with. I feel like a giant towering high above; I can see the rivers, mountains, valleys, forests, animals all around her, but it’s much less clear under her canopy of trees without experience and time. She can only see the few feet around her, but as she develops and grows, so will her vision and creativity. She’ll see the full tapestry of the world around us, and I hope that when she does she will be inspired to create tangibles, experiences and memories equally as beautiful and mysterious.
When I was a child I imagined the mountains and hills were strategically positioned monsters half-buried and asleep. They slept in the Earth with their spiky backs posturing toward the sky. I was convinced that if we ever needed the mountains to rise up and protect us from much more frightening monsters that they would.
These beasts only took one long breathe per yer, which were responsible for the seasons. They inhaled in unison with a power that bared all the trees of their leaves and drained the planet of it's heat. Their exhale was long and relaxed through the Spring and Summer filling the air, ground and water with color and life. As the breath trailed off the colors darkened and faded at that brief pause before the next inhale.
I still, especially in the Winter, watch for the sharp curves of their spines and try to glimpse the muscles in their legs, a snout, some horns, maybe even an eye. Sometimes I see an acknowledging scowl or a wink. Sometimes I see them expand ever so slightly. Sometimes I just see mountains.
I hope for my daughter, that she feels the freedom, support and security to let her imagination and creativity develop to wherever she needs and wants it to. She was the catalyst, from the moment we knew to expect her, for a whole new way of conceiving of the world. I also hope that I can continue to let my imagination and creativity develop and grow. As long as I always try to see things through her little blue eyes, they will. In the least, that alone will make me a better parent.
Happy imagining and creating!