I plunge my hands into the muddy water, winning his heart in this imaginary world of war.
“I just destroyed your aircraft carrier, Dutch. You’ll need a way better design next time.”
He looks up at me delighted, eyes dancing, sun sparkling in his blond hair. Soon, Heidi skips across the yard.
“Would you like to come to a party at my house?”
Her face is light, eyes full of anticipation. For a moment I marvel at her eager vulnerability. It is one thing to invite someone to your house for a party. That’s a risk. It is quite another to invite someone to an imaginary party.
Every time a child invites you into her imagination, she risks.
I see it most clearly in Dutch. We had settled down into Heidi’s playhouse, seated in miniature chairs sipping water-tea from plastic cups. Dutch grew quiet for a moment then looked me in the eye.
“I got a new job, down in LA.”
He says the short statement and waits for a response. It’s such a simple, mundane interaction–something most moms do every day. You play pretend, that’s what you do. But the enormity of it washes over me, as he waits for my response.
Will I take him seriously and play? Will I accept this invitation into his innermost world? In just one sentence a child may open up her heart and world to us. How do we respond?
“Oh? Down in LA? What are you doing there?”
A quick flash of joy comes across his face–and he continues in his deepest most serious voice. It’s a big job, overseeing all those aircraft carriers. Only two days off a year–Christmas and Easter. The pay is good though–$200/month.
We talk, like this, most of the afternoon. Heidi explains how her friend “lost her medical” and had to have her legs amputated. Then she had to go to DHS. (Having had Julie in our life informs their imagination in humorous ways sometimes.) Later, Dutch is a WWII veteran. He tells me detailed stories of his heroic escapades, explains the intricacies of the war when I dig for more information.
And I have to chuckle to myself, Too bad we didn’t do school today. I could almost see their little minds blossoming, opening, like little buds of creativity, connecting and exploring and risking and learning. And what an honor–a privilege–to be allowed into their innermost world of imagination.
Before Dutch was born, my sister-in-law threw me a baby shower. Each woman wrote one piece of advice on a little card. My pastor’s wife, a wise woman I’ve known 30 years, wrote:
“Win your child’s heart.”
“Win his heart, so he will never want to disappoint you. Love is a better motivator than guilt. A desire to please you will carry him through more temptation and struggle than all the rules and right answers in the world. Win his heart early on.”
There are many ways to do this. I haven’t mastered them. But entering our children’s imaginary worlds–with enthusiasm–is one of the most powerful ways to pursue their hearts when they are young.
Few invitations are more sacred than the invitation to enter the imaginary world of a little soul.
When we enter in, we win.