Is your reality getting in the way of your child’s imagination?

child's imagination

Mermaids are just the beginning of a child’s imagination

I have always believed that a child’s imagination is a place where anything can and must be allowed to happen. But earlier last week, Re came home one day and said, “Mamma, teacher said that there are no fairies. And no mermaids also.”

My heart sank. I cried a little. I was angry, disappointed, depressed and sad at the same time. A revelation of this kind can only make a six-year-old’s world come crashing down. I found her words not just insensitive, but also dangerous. But I had to do something about the damage, although I could sense that Re’s voice was incredulous even as he said it.

“May be she hasn’t met a fairy called Imagination,” I said.

Re has never asked me if fairies, unicorns, mermaids exist. He just believes they do, and I have never, for the purpose of “letting him know the truth”, told him that things like that are only fantasy. I hope he never loses his sense of wonder, his inner fairy, and most importantly, his ability to fantasise. Because I don’t believe one must take fantasy lightly. And I don’t really know what the “truth’ is. 

Exchanging stories with your child is a key part of parenting; Re tells me his, I tell him mine, we read some together and nurture our little world of wonder. And how can we tell good stories if we don’t believe in fantasy? It’s our prop, our muse, something that comes to our rescue each time, even after we are all grown up. 

Oh, the things a child’s imagination can do!

When we discovered rainbows, Re began finding rainbows everywhere. In bubbles we blew. In petrol trails drenched with water. In doors, windows, streams, elevators. He found them in different shapes. Triangles, squares. octopus-shaped. Even a circle rainbow (we spotted a sundog last year from our school campus). For months, he only drew rainbows. It opened up a whole new world for him. It made our home a happier place. We are still looking for our pot of gold and we believe it exists.

C.S. Lewis once wrote a letter to his granddaughter about The Chronicles of Narnia that began:

My Dear Lucy,

I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realised that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again…

I think I am. I had reached that point where I felt too old to believe in miracles. Growing up with Re has made me believe in fairies all over again. And for that, I am thankful. He is six now, and I have already started to feel that he is growing up too fast. Very soon, he will be “too old” to build his dream castles, wear his mermaid suit, make Playdoh dresses and picnic with his princesses and fairies. He will soon be too grown up for his own good. He will soon morph into a person that says, “I’m-too-old-for-fairies!’. And yes, he will lose some of his wonder. But as a mother, I don’t want to be the person who led him there. I don’t want to be his fantasy-squasher. If that makes me an over-indulgent, removed-from-reality mother, so be it.

The gift of wonder and imagination is the right of every child and we have no business to deny them that. Because our thoughts, ideas and more importantly, our imagination are just another dimension of who we are. And whenever I lose hope, I remember this by Roald Dahl:

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”

For all those who told me to not read happily-ever-after stories to my child, including teachers at school, I have this to say: Sometimes our reality hinders us from believing in love and wonder, but that doesn’t mean we stop our children from believing in it. The fact that we have started listening to TEDtalks on how to dream and how to imagine explains that we are already bankrupt in our minds as a race.

So I am going to allow him to dream for as long as his heart will allow him. If we believe that things don’t exist just because we haven’t seen them, that’s bordering on arrogance. I really worry for us as people. I worry for his teacher too. As a start, I wrote her a note:

“Dear teacher. I know you don’t believe in mermaids or fairies, but we do. And maybe you should give it a shot as well. Because the world would be such a boring place if we didn’t believe in magic.”

She hasn’t replied to it. But if she says, “I don’t believe in fairies,” one more time, I am going to unleash some bad pixie dust on her. And introduce her to a certain Miss Tinkerbell.

Meanwhile, Re and I are working on spreading pixie dust all over the world. And we need all the help we can get.

(A version of this post appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 16th August, 2015)

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