Monday, September 26, 2011

Fire Bundles

When are we grown-ups ever going to learn? We fret and fret over the things we put before our kids -- what we're doing right and what we're doing wrong -- and we toss and turn, worrying if we're crushing their creativity and initiative; whether the modern world is stealing their hearts away . . .

Of course, when I say "we" I mean "me" -- and maybe you, too?

But this morning, a misty Sunday with the absent sun returning for the first time in days to light up the droplets into diamonds on the grass, the smell of autumn earth as pleasant to me as the scent of a cake in the oven, I heard my smallest boy explaining something to his mother.

He was playing a "Toy Story" game on his fancy-schmancy portable gaming unit, and he was saying, "Mom -- I'm pretending this is "Silly Sheepies" (a show my sons put on with their stuffed animals during their weekend "sleep-overs" together in one of their beds) and they are trying to put Sheepie in the sheep-pound but Sean is trying to rescue them and  . . ."

They do this stuff a lot: They'll play Mario Brothers video games and pretend that Mario is Indiana Jones; they'll watch Spongebob and pretend that they are in the show and they'll react to the things that happen to the characters; they'll act scenes in a movie as it plays, pretending they are characters from totally different film. All of this vivid action and creative stuff flashing in front of their eyes, and they still feel the need to pretend.

On the edge of my thinking, I would always wonder what the deal is, with this. I'd worry a little about their ability to focus, but, then, I'd realize there are plenty of times when they sit and watch movies in silence and play video games wordlessly, and I'd forget the whole thing.

But it took today to pull the curtain away from my eyes. Up until just this morning, I wondered what it meant about them that they put another layer on the things they do for entertainment.

What it means is that the creative spirit in children cannot be dimmed by the bright searchlights that the world shines on them.

You can throw all of the realistic graphics at kids; you can force them into a programmed story line; you can give them 3-D movies; you can show them a world that says practicality is the most important thing, but they will claim their freedom to create and feel and play -- that is, until we teach them how socially uncool it is to reach for the extraordinary.

(Once, in my late twenties, at a job I was playing with my band, I ran into a friend from high school. He had become a local, small-town policeman. His first words to me were: "You still doing this nonsense?" But perhaps there is more to life than scrawling tickets and arresting drunks? Well, either way, I'm still "doing this nonsense" at forty-three. And, no, I have nothing against police officers. In fact, I admire what they do. But what they do doesn't make what I do "nonsense." If it does, what was he doing at a bar watching a band play?)

For years I have heard fellow parents joke about the fact that if you buy kids an elaborate toy, they'll put it aside and play with the box. And it is true. They want to make their own fun. Kids start out creative.

I've seen survival experts on TV make "fire bundles." They take an ember from the campfire and put it in an insulated container -- a halved coconut shell or a covered bucket or something -- and they allow just the right amount of air to get in to keep the ember hot, but not enough to allow it to combust and burn out. With this method, they can carry fire for miles and miles -- even over days -- and have enough of a heat source to start a fire when they need it.

God help my boys to learn to do this. Because, some day, when they feel the Arctic, gusting winds of the world they'll be forced to shiver in, they'll need to raise flame of our own.


  1. Kids certainly rock... figures that your kids would be so darn creative and imaginative. Nature and nurture influence I should think. I always tell people that I am proud of the fact that I pretended till I was almost in Jr. High... it sounds almost insane to some. "You mean you didn't care about chasing boys and going to the mall when you were 12?? You actually wanted to continue... playing???? Whoa." I also pray that my future children are able to carry their own "fire bundle" not allowing it to be squelched by turdfaces who are just jealous that their childhood wasn't as rich and fulfilling as mine was. So hah. :)

  2. Gal-derned turdfaces! Doom to the turdfaces, I say! Elise for president! Well, if your creative past was instrumental in leading to your perfect performance of the Spongebob pizza song, it was worth every moment.

    It is a shame that pretending is labeled as uncool by the adolescent masses, because, in the end, it is so much cooler than learning to strut about around the opposite sex.

  3. I find the cop's comment both amusing and sad. In his heart, as he stands there holding an overpriced beer in a bar full of strangers, I suspect he knows that the band is having far more fun than he is.

  4. I think you are dead-on, Jeff -- and the slighted side of me likes it. [evil chuckle]