My drawing instructor made a comment that children don't have to use their imaginations anymore -- everything is already done for them in video games and movies. That made me sad -- because we always think of childhood as this immensely creative and imaginative time. It was for me -- I was always putting on "plays" in the backyard, dressing up like a pioneer girl, writing poetry and making up stories for my dolls.
I really hope children haven't lost that ability entirely.
When he made that comment, it reminded me of sitting at the table with my stepkids a couple of weeks ago. C. had bought them these amazing "doodle books." They are not your average coloring books. Each page has a small drawing or two in the corner and a question that "starts" a story: What is the dog laughing at? Why is the dinosaur scared? Most of each page is a big, empty space where the kid can draw something from his or her own imagination.
Annie*, who is five, turned to a page that featured a stage outline. It was her job to create her own characters and play on the stage. She promptly drew a boy and a girl and said, "This is the prince and princess."
Anyone who knows me well knows that I hate the princess myth. (I also hate pink and buying shoes -- I missed a female gene somewhere.)
I hate the myth because: a) How many princesses have you ever met in real life? b) Gee, great aspiration; grow up to be pretty and sweet and wait for a man to rescue you.
(Did I mention that Annie's mom sent her to Princess Camp last summer? Gah!)
It occurs to me now, though, that I hate it for an even bigger reason. These pervasive stories that we tell our children (princesses for girls and superheroes for boys) are sending a message that these characters are the prototypes on which to base your dreams. The stories are all the same: Pretty girl gets the guy; Strong good guy beats the bad guys. There's little deviation from the original and our children start to regurgitate these stories, rather than creating their own.
C., bless him, drew a cactus on Annie's stage and said, "You know, you don't just have to repeat a story you saw in a movie. You can make your own story; maybe it's a prince, a princess and a cactus."
I said, "Ooh, and if there's a cactus, maybe they are not even a prince and princess. Maybe they are a cowboy and cowgirl."
She's a smart girl -- you could see her wheels turning after that. I hope that we can help teach both kids that they are allowed to have their own dreams, tell their own stories, create what they want to create because it comes from inside them and expresses who they are.
Also, I hope to convey that being an average human being is much cooler than being some storybook princess or comic book hero. Average, everyday people are doing amazing things. Life is cool. Let's teach children to see that and enjoy that early.