I think I’ve finally realized why I can identify with kids – why writing for children, being a stay-at-home parent, and cracking up at the same Spongebob episodes I’ve seen a million times all seem to suit me.
And it’s not just that I’m a “big kid” myself, as they say.
Sure, I enjoy playing with my kids – I always have – but I learned something at my book signing earlier this month that I don’t think ever occurred to me…
I play “like” my kids
When my 5-year-old wants to play “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” I don’t just say I’m Shredder or a robot or something and then half-heartedly chase the little dude.
I act like Shredder, running around like a nut, throwing myself on the ground, and even slamming into our parked car or the fence and spinning ridiculously around and around until I collapse at his feet.
When the 23-month-old wants to dance, I don’t just stand there and shimmy back and forth – I bounce and run and shake myself to near-unconsciousness just as she does.
And when a friend’s 4-year-old tries to “zap” me with some sort of invisible instrument, I completely throw myself into the role of victim – which is what happened at the book signing.
Kids aren’t as easily embarrassed as stuffy grown-ups
Here’s what happened: a friend of mine who had stopped by the bookstore while I was signing brought his grandson, who was a typical, wired, fun-loving 4-year-old boy. As you might guess, he was very much excited to be in a place that had so many items not nailed down.
In typical 4-year-old boy fashion, he started pretending to “attack” me somehow – either with a magic stick or repulsor ray or live electrode or whatnot – so I briefly played along.
I stood up and started spinning around, jumping up & down madly while making some sort of crazy sound (seriously, I make this stuff up as I go, so don’t expect me to remember half of whatever I do). The little boy was quite amused, giggling loudly – but my friend just turned around and rolled his eyes away from me, jokingly noting that he couldn’t tell which of us was the kid.
I took that as a compliment.
It was then that I realized he and I must have very different ways of playing with kids. If his grandson asked him to be Hulk or Iron Man or Queen Elsa (don’t laugh, it has happened), I don’t know how he’d respond. Personally, I know what I’d be doing: “Hulk-Smashing” things left and right, zapping my opponent with my repulsor rays, and trying to freeze my little pal in his tracks.
That’s why, for the past week and a half, I’ve been rolling around in my brain what it all might mean. Is there a wrong way to play with kids? Is there a right way?
Of course, the important thing is that you play with them, period. But I definitely learned there is a difference.
And I learned that it’s not enough simply to play with them.
Play like them!