25 February 2011

Imaginary Rewards

A small, but wonderful, thing happened today. Four played with toys. I know. It sounds unremarkable. My house is strewn with toys. The playroom floor is covered in legos and Beyblades. The little boy bedroom has a floor made almost entirely of trading cards and stuffed animals. The distinction is that these are primarily Five's toys.

Five has always been an outstanding imaginative adventurer. He never really needs anyone to entertain him, for which I am eternally grateful. He lines up cars for races, he arranges army guys for battle, and we often have entire zoos designed in the bedroom, with appropriate separation between carnivores and prey. One of my most favorite sights is Five on the playroom couch, playing alone with a stuffed Grover that belonged to One. It is a well loved friend, whose blue arm has been re-attached at least half a dozen times, usually by my mother. In fact, one of the classic "How I Failed Five" moments is him berating me in the kitchen for failing to sew Grover in a timely fashion.

"Every day, I see you NOT sewing Grover!" he wailed. I thought it rather unfair to be assessed on things I wasn't doing. As you can see from the sidebar, Five has agreed to limit his complaints to tangible acts of failure.

Five and Grover act out all sorts of scenarios. I think they are "Star Wars" related, as Grover is often flying through the air, and there are a lot of those explosion noises that only boys know how to make. I don't get close enough to hear, because Five is shy about his solitary play. He is immersed, and I don't want to break the fourth wall.

In contrast, Four likes moving images. I remember being impressed, and a little frightened, by the fact that he could watch an episode of "Spongebob Squarepants" once, and then repeat the entire thing verbatim. It was one of our first indications that something was awry. The upside is that he taught himself to read by following the closed captioning that accompanied the image. And when he does read, it is with great focus. If he is gifted four books, he will read all four in one sitting. And then he will re-read them later. But, he still prefers video games above all else. If he and Five are playing together, they are often just re-enacting a show or video game. And Four is always the director, which often creates conflicts with his actors.

Four attends a private school that employs a "token economy" behavior modification system. It is a grand version of gold stars. He earns points for good behavior and academics, and every Thursday he can trade them in at the school store. Today he came home with two small (and I quote from the package),"Nano Minis: Collectible, Poseable Wowwee Robot Figurines!" One was a robot dog with wheels for back legs, and the other was a panda. He asked me to open them up, and said, "What should I name them?" Then he saw they had names on the package. But I asked what he would have chosen for them, intrigued that he had even considered something of his own creation.

"I would call the dog 'Wheels', and the panda 'Cutie'," he answered. We both agreed his names were far superior. Then  he went to watch some television. But with the robots.

When Five got home, Four introduced his new friends. Then we all got ready for Tae Kwon Do, and set off with Wheels, Cutie, and a flashy red car that Five had chosen for the trip. On the ride over, I listened to the two of them playing. It was a completely unique narrative, not just a Pokemon or Star Wars re-tread. Four gave his robots certain powers, Five's car had awesome evasive maneuvers, and I wish I had recorded the whole conversation. The highlight was when Five said Four couldn't call his battle area a "Battle Zone" because that was from a show, and Four said okay, but only if he got to choose the name next time. Compromise!

The boys willingly surrendered their toys at the beginning of class, and resumed play the moment they got back in the van. I don't know if Four will care about his Nano Minis tomorrow, but it was lovely to see him engaged and using his imagination. I left the radio off, so I could eavesdrop. It truly was music to my ears.


  1. Anonymous25.2.11

    THIS made me cry. Thank you for sharing it, more than you know.

  2. This is a beautiful post, Megan. And a wonderful companion piece to The Bitter and the Sweet. Together they provide an elegant sketch of the remarkable Mr. Four.

    And a million thanks for including my all-time favorite How I Failed Five!!

  3. I agree with the other posts- this one was just great! (And good for you for being able to see the 'not so obvious' maturation and changes in Four- you are not only a mother, but a heck of a special educator!) Bobbi

  4. This also made me think of another favorite Five story. I was visiting during a particularly bitter disagreement over the "movie" that Four and Five where making. The boys where having a tough time agreeing on genre and story for their film. The detail and passion of Five's complaints would have done justice to the most world-weary Hollywood producer discussing an uncontrollable auteur. He didn't break out the phrase "creative differences" but the rest of the rant would have fit comfortably in a Variety column. You better start thinking about what you're going to wear to his first Oscar ceremony!

  5. @Janet: I think he will dedicate his win to me, but alas, I will be unable to attend. The stress will have killed me.

  6. I love it. Honestly... I don't know how old your boys are, but I work with 4 & 5 year olds, and some of the best parts of my day are watching & hearing them be creative during playtime.... What a fabulous memory for you!

    -Anna/Irish Betty (a frequent lurker)

  7. Welcome, Anna! I'm happy you decided to un-lurk!

  8. Go, FOUR!!!! My youngest niece repeats great stretches of Wonder Pets scripts and repeats and repeats. It's a wonderful day when she decides to incorporate Aunt Carrie in her script of the moment. It's an honor and a privilege.

  9. I'm the mother of Carrie's (above) youngest niece. I felt this post with every mothering bone in my body. These moments can outshine almost anything. Go, Four!

  10. Anonymous27.2.11

    What a great story. Go, Four!


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