A memorable thing happened on the walk back home from what has come to be a pretty regular Sunday family outing to our favorite Sicilian pizza joint (okay, it’s the only Sicilian pizza joint anywhere nearby).
My oldest daughter, Cali, had been saying repeatedly at the tail end of dinner that she wanted to go home. Now, all of a sudden, she wanted to slow things down, and just ‘be’ with her dad. The journey with me became more important than the destination. As Ceci and Cybele continued walking towards our home, Cali began pretending the entire walk was an obstacle course that she and I had to tackle.
Telephone poles were no longer mere telephone poles, but objects you had to spin around, stoop steps to homes and businesses were for cardio-gratifying calisthenics, trees aligning sidewalks were for serpentine fast-walking. A step inside an ice-cream parlor with pop music a-blazing is not aimed to convince her Dad to buy her a scoop or two, but rather an opportunity for dizzying dancercize (as the blurry feature photo here attests). A step inside a store with a large round mat near the entrance is a place to do whirling dervish twirling.
You get the drift.
Cali’s eyes were ablaze with passion and imagination and joy.
It brought back a memory — of my mother, in her 40s or so, when she and I revisited my elementary school playground in Newport News, Virginia. We had a basketball with us. And all of a sudden, with the most glorious childlike glistening in her eyes, my mom invented all these great basketball games that I feel sure no one who had invented the official game never had in mind — and her made-up games were all the more fun for it.
With Cali, as with my mother, we had one foot firmly in the real world, and one foot firmly in the world of make-believe, and a blurred boundary between the two.
Here’s a bit of what I wrote about the push-pull of reality-unreality in The Philosophy of Childing:
The French philosopher Gaston Bachelard (1884–1962), who made important contributions to poetics as well as the philosophy of science, holds in The Poetics of Reverie that ….a much-needed bookend to Sigmund Freud’s “reality principle ”—the term coined by the father of psychoanalysis to connote the ability of the mind to grasp and assess the external world—is an “un-reality principle.” This would help us harness our imagination in ways that equip us to visualize and fashion new realities. His advocacy of such a principle is intended to press home the point that there is no such thing as seeing the world as it is; rather, the world is what we make it out to be, and make of it. Bachelard maintains that children in particular not only have the “absolute right to imagine the world” as they see fit, but to realize that world. He berates parents and educators for robbing a child of this right once they decide he has reached the “age of reason,” whereupon they consider it their obligation “to teach him to be objective —objective in the simple way adults believe themselves to be ‘objective.’ He is stuffed with sociability … He becomes a premature man. This is the same as saying that [he] is in a state of repressed childhood.” Which, Bachelard is certain, leads to a repressed adulthood.
Here’s hoping that Cali, on occasion, will forever find moments to slip into high gear with the unreality principle, as my Mom beautifully has.
Thanks to the world of the ‘childing imagination,’ we can unstuff ourselves from stuffy forms of sociability — perhaps by happenstance, by will, or by serendipitous inspiration — when we are so moved. And so a walk home is converted to an adventure-filled obstacle course with my 10-year-old, and a trip to a childhood playground with my mom suddenly becomes a place where hoop dreams are made of.