Imagination Games

Joshua has always been very big on imagination play. This may be pretty standard for little ones, but he’s always gotten pretty into it. This is likely a combination of several factors: we read to him a LOT, he only gets to see about 3-4 hours of TV a week total, we engage with his play sessions and, most importantly, he’s just that kind of kid.

Previously, I’m not sure I would have had much to say on the subject. It’s something I think is fun and should be encouraged, but it’s not really something you can force on a kid. If they want to pretend, they’ll pretend. If they don’t… well, maybe they just prefer to stack blocks or push trains around. I’m pretty sure I spent a lot of time making very boring, very tall Lego towers.

But lately Joshua has gotten way into pirates. His Aunt and Uncle got him a Captain Hook gear playset related to Disney JR’s Jake and the Neverland Pirates show (pirate sword, hook, spyglass, treasure map) and he went for it big-time. Now it’s non-stop Peter Pan and pirates around the house. We read the story at least once a day and almost all our playtime has to with Peter Pan and pirates.

What’s interesting to me is who and how Joshua chooses to play.

Previously, play-time scenarios were pretty basic and pretty binary. I was the sleigh, Joshua was Santa Claus. I was a doggy and Joshua was Joshua. We were both trains, and he was the one leading the way. He’s shifted things around a bit more with Peter Pan, though. Everyone’s in on the game now.

When we play, Janelle and I are interchangeably Peter Pan and Captain Hook. Matthew is Nana. Stuffed animals are his brother and sister (his floppy stuffed dog is John and his polar bear is Michael, who he thinks is a girl [presumably because of his pink pajamas] and is therefore his “sister”). Careful readers will notice that if John and Michael are the siblings that this means Joshua is Wendy.

He’s not Wendy some of the time. So far, he’s Wendy every time we play.

As I mentioned in my last post, this isn’t something I am going to call him on. I think many parents would, even without ulterior motives, but we went along with it. I thought about why he would always pick Wendy, because it’s not as if he was pretending to be Wendy as she is in the Disney version. Wendy doesn’t have a real active role in the story, but Joshua plays her as a swashbuckler. But Wendy is the character most like Joshua, as he interprets things.

Peter Pan and Captain Hook are the “adults” of the story. They drive all action and conflict. So, Mommy and Daddy are Pan and Hook. Doesn’t matter who is who, because adults are adults are adults. It mostly matters if Captain Hook is a bad guy or not. If he is, we are Pan. If he is not, we are Hook and we want to avoid the crocodile who lives in the water (the floor).

Matthew is Nana (the dog if you haven’t seen the movie in awhile). In the Disney story book version we have, Nana is only seen on a single page at the end and never named. And before he had seen the movie, he didn’t know she was even a character. Incidentally, before the movie, Matthew was never given a role. Now he’s seen the movie once and is aware of Nana, a character who cannot talk and doesn’t get to go along on adventures even if she wants to. Hence: baby brother.

Stuffed animals are Michael and John Darling. They actually do about as much as Wendy in the story, but are not framed with the same degree of importance. They’re not major enough characters and they are primarily shown as characters that get to come along because Wendy brings them along, just like Joshua’s stuffed animals. They come with because he brings them and they do whatever he wants them to.

Tinker Bell is a character he likes, but she is clearly a special case because she is so tiny and magic. It probably doesn’t help that she spends the story betraying everyone. [Joshua also says that Tinker Bell is his favorite character (in part because she turns bright red when she’s angry and uses scissors to escape being trapped in a drawer, which he just thinks is hilarious), and I find it interesting that in spite of this he never pretends to be Tinker Bell, either.]

Other than the pirates, who, excepting Smee, are a sort of massed entity and not really identifiable individually, Wendy is all that’s left. She fits pretty well, too. She’s along for whatever ride Hook and Pan subject her to, as Joshua is with Mommy and Daddy. She’s not the oldest or the youngest, but she does get to be in charge of a few people smaller than she is. She’s also treated with importance in the story. Her role isn’t so minor that she can be skipped over like with Michael and John. So that’s who Joshua picks to be. She’s the character closest to his situation. As I mentioned, though, he doesn’t play her as she is portrayed. He’s Wendy, but he’s not getting picked on by mermaids and fairies and singing songs about how he misses his mother. He’s sword fighting with Hook and leaping off the side of boats to rescue his brother and sister from the crocodile.

Now this is of course speculation from someone with no formal education in anything other than fiction, but Janelle and I are about as far inside Joshua’s head as it is possible to be right now and I think these are fair assumptions to be making.

If nothing else, it’s something to think about as I step off the couch and onto the pillow because I’ve been ordered to walk the plank for the twelfth time in a row.

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