Kendan completely amazes me these days. I still remember when I would beg him to play by himself so I could get something, anything, done. Don't get me wrong, he still insists that I join him in any and all activities, but he has gotten astronomically better at entertaining himself. One word: Imagination.
Every character he portrays (Batman, Spiderman, Mike the Knight, Jake from the Neverland Pirates, etc.) has very strict requirements regarding wardrobe. We do own quite a few dress-up items (Batman mask, pirate hat and vest, etc.). Then, of course, some things we have serve other purposes. His bike helmet doubles as his Knight helmet, his winter mittens are his Batman gloves, snow boots are his boots for every outfit, an old butter spreader is his sword, his bath towel is his cape; the list goes on. However, we don't actually own most of the wardrobe pieces that are being "worn" during play. Everything else is IMAGINARY. When dressed as Spiderman he wears an imaginary mask, gloves, and boots. He is so convinced that he is wearing them that he takes them off with every bite of food, before going potty, and before getting in the bath. I also have to hold them for him, "Here Mommy, hold these" as he takes off each article separately. I must wear the imaginary clothing as well. "Mommy needs boots too!" I need only reply, "They're already on, silly!" and show him my foot; we continue playing, or I keep cooking. When leaving for the store one day he exclaimed, "Oh! My mask!" I held out my hand and said, "Oh, here it is!" He bellowed with laughter and we kept on our merry way .... See? This imagination is amazing.
In keeping with my son's first-born, Type A personality, even his imagination is very specific. When we are playing as characters everyone is assigned an identity. Kendan is always the main hero, I am typically the sidekick, and Damien gets whatever tertiary character remains. I suggest we get brother up from nap and I am quickly corrected, "No, Izzy, we get Cubby from nap!" ... "Ok, Jake, you're right. Let's go." He is so particular that he specifies the difference between Batman and Bruce Wayne with just the lift of his mask. If his mask is on top of his head he is Bruce Wayne; if it's over his face he is Batman (obviously). This is easy enough to decipher. The difficultly comes when he is Spiderman. The only Spiderman paraphernalia we own is a Pez dispenser! So when he is Spiderman he looks exactly like Kendan; I only know he's the masked hero because I get scolded when I refer to him incorrectly. But, when he's Peter Parker he walks around with both of his hands held up at the sides of his face as if he's pulled his mask up. Voilà, he is the unassuming NYC photographer, Peter Parker.
We went to the aquarium yesterday, and when Kendan woke up from nap today he put out his hand and explained he was holding a shark. He began moving his hands back and forth over his bed and speaking over a pretend radio to this shark ... This game was completely lost on me. But, instead of trying to understand I just stood there in silence, trying to breathe in every second of my child's joy. His overwhelming imagination. His lack of self awareness as I stare at him puzzled. One day he will be too embarrassed to pretend. To make up a game with his mom watching and invite her to play along. Too self conscious to march around the house wearing only a belt, hat, vest, and wielding a butter knife. I didn't dare interrupt. Not only because I was off the hook for a few minutes as head of the entertainment committee, but because it was a front row seat to Kendan's mind. It was funny, and detailed, and sweet. And entirely too short-lived; both that moment and his childhood in general. Before I know it he'll be big and his favorite Disney shows will be "for babies". I'll hand him an imaginary mask to fight crime in and he'll roll his eyes. In the mean time, I will keep soaking up these moments, even when I'm up to my ears in things to do. I'll pull out two chairs and two hot pads so we can drive the Batmobile in between stirring dinner. I'll look forward to Damien reaching this blossoming imagination stage. And I will always close my eyes and keep my boys little in MY imagination.