I think that imagination is the single most important thing a child can have. It’s free, so in a way it makes the poor kids and rich kids equal. It doesn’t require any special skills or training, although of course when you exercise it, it might get stronger. Kids of all ages and backgrounds and intelligence levels can use their imaginations.
Today – September 19th – is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. It’s a silly holiday created by a couple of adult men in the 90s. We celebrate it with a few silly phrases, mostly “ahoy!” I packed my kids a pirate lunch this morning: tuna salad “hard tack” crackers, and oranges to fight off scurvy. I also wrote a quick pirate note that included a badly drawn map to the cafeteria. This evening after supper, instead of quiet reading alone in their bedroom, the kids will join me in the living room to read interesting facts from the pirate books I got from the library. It’s educational, but mostly it’s play. We imagine what life would be like on a pirate ship, although we lean more towards Disney than history.
We also celebrate Star Wars Day on May the fourth. It’s another fake holiday, though I don’t know who first caught the pun. My family eats Star Wars-inspired food and if the day falls on a weekend, we will watch at least one of the movies. Just about every day between the two could be Harry Potter Day. All four of us have read the books, although some have read more than others (but that’s a different story altogether). We talk about them a lot. The kids are constantly drawing magical animals. Hubby and I even run a magic shop.
You could say maybe that we are nerds. Plenty of people give me a weird look when I tell them that Hubby is a wandmaker or that Sniffles has read Percy Jackson a dozen times. Or that Lil’ Wheezy really thinks that he understands how warp travel works, if only he had the supplies to build a stable energy field.
I think though, that we are just a family that believes in imagination. Maybe it sounds cliché, but there is something magical about a story. It takes you somewhere else and gives you a chance to be unlimited. Older folks say that kids today are too attached to technology. I don’t think that’s really true, but it does seem like many have grown up more quickly than kids did 20 years ago.
As wand sellers, we go to a lot of small business pop up events. In three years, I have seen plenty of adults who come into our booth, confused. They ask what we are selling, then roll their eyes on the way out. That’s to be expected. There’s a reason Peter Pan never wanted to grow up. But every now and then, a kid comes in, roughly the same age as one of my own. (They are currently 7 and 9, as of this post.) He or she looks around, just as confused as the adults. He asks, “What are these?” When I tell him, he adds, “What do you do with it?” I usually say something very serious, like “be a wizard,” or sometimes a fairy princess. Inevitably, the next question is, “…but what do they do?”
Our wands are wood, nothing more. No lights or sounds. Maybe these kids have mostly toys with batteries. Maybe they just don’t read a lot of fantasy fiction. I know little about them, and do not like to judge, but it always seems a little sad when a child rolls his eyes at the idea of pretend. How do I explain to a child how to use his or her imagination? How does a child not know?
Of course, for every child like that, there are 50 more whose eyes light up like Christmas morning. They test every wand, carefully. They pet the owls and stare at the broomsticks. I can see their imaginations taking off. Immediately they are in Diagon Alley, preparing for their first day of wizard school.
That is real magic.
And this kind of magic can only come from the imagination. But I don’t forget the others.
We have been to Narnia, and Middle Earth, and Neverland, and Hogwarts, and a galaxy far away. We have battle giants, ridden on the back of a luck dragon, and crossed swords with pirates. We have laughed and cried, been brave and frightened, made new friends and watched others ride off into the sunset. We have fought against evil on the side of good. We have wished on a falling star.