Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Child’s Play

Yesterday morning a post turned up in my Facebook feed from my friend, Lisa Regan, and I consider myself lucky to have seen it, because it’s Facebook, and things get shuffled, ordered and reordered, with no rhyme or reason, kind of like Amazon rankings. At any rate, this was close enough to the top of the feed Sunday morning that I saw it. Tomorrow, it may be lost seemingly forever, only to show up again next December, even if no one comments or likes it. Who can say?

Anyway, Lisa relayed how she sat in her car with her 5-year-old daughter, waiting for her husband to come out of the store. The daughter is playing with a My Little Pony figure and invites Lisa to play along.

“Sorry, hon, I don’t have a pony.”

“Do you have a pen?”

Lisa hands a pen to her daughter, who takes the pen, grabs Lisa’s hand, and draws a smiley face on her fingertip.

“Now you’ve got one,” she says. “Let’s play.”

That picture of Lisa’s smiling fingertip and her story made my day. It’s so typical of kids to think this way. They have not been trained by the world to look for the faults first; instead, they see possibility and potential, and they’re typically not afraid to try out their solutions and have them fail. Kids are unabashed imaginators and problem solvers.

Lisa’s story also triggered a thought process about what got me back into writing fiction. I had never really considered the possibility that my kids played any role in resurrecting my long-buried desire to write fiction, but maybe there’s something there.

When the Magpie and the Catbird were little, my wife and I made sure we read to them every day. We read to them at bedtime, we read to them while we were feeding them, we read to them as we were putting them down for naps. We read board books and Boynton, Dr. Seuss and the Berenstain Bears. When they got older, it was Junie B. Jones and the Magic Treehouse, Harry Potter, Where The Red Fern Grows. When they were old enough to read on their own, they read to us. And in addition to reading, we played. And we played, and we played, and we played. We played board games and card games, and we built with legos and blocks, but probably the most popular game were variations on games with ponies. The girls had horses. Lots of horses. And we played with them all the time.

I never got to be Wonder Pony.

For an adult, kid play can sometimes be remarkably frustrating, especially when the kid dictates everything. “OK, he’s going to do this…” says the kid, and you have to make him do THIS or it all falls apart. But it’s also amazing and creative and limitless. I spent hours with the girls, bending to their will while trying to maintain some degree of autonomy, while horses flew and ran and escaped the clutches of the bad guys who were trying to kidnap them. As frustrating as it could be at time, I admit I had a lot of fun. It was the sort of play that I hadn’t really experienced since before I was a teenager.

Eventually, of course, that sort of play tapered, then stopped. In all honesty, it was partly relief and partly sad. The girls both became more solitary (or, perhaps more accurately, their social activities were directed in different ways), more mature in their pursuits. It’s a natural progression, one that I had gone through, and my parents too, and their parents, on and on for millennia. Some day, their children will do the same. It’s the natural order of things.

But where does the writing come in? The desire to write really seemed to kick in again around the time the Catbird, being younger, moved out of that “let’s play” phase of life. There were other factors involved, too, but Lisa’s post made me rethink the connection between my kids and my writing. Playing with my kids as much as I did, I think, tapped some well of imagination that had been largely covered over. Once they stopped needing me for that kind of play, the connection, fortunately, remained open, but it needed an outlet. Perhaps if I had studied music more seriously as a kid, I’d be playing piano or guitar now, or maybe I’d be painting or joining the local theater company. But I’ve always gravitated toward the written word, so it’s natural that the creativity would leak out and be satisfied in that direction. I’m glad it did because, as frustrating as writing can sometimes be, it’s satisfying and fun. Thanks, kids!

13 Responses

  1. Lovely post, Jeff. "they see possibility and potential" Yes. That's that part of ourselves we need to protect and too often don't.

  2. Great story. And probably one that resonates with a lot of people who write and have young kids. It is funny what tyrants kids can be when it comes to play, but maybe some of us adults need to be told to let go and remember to simply live in our imaginations once in awhile. πŸ™‚

  3. This post left me with a smile. My daughter is long grown, but I do remember those play dates. Skye was always one of those girls who wanted to stretch her boundaries, 'let's build a race track through 3 rooms and down the hallway' kind of thing. She never understood why everything was labeled either boy or girl. To her they were all toys to be played with. Now that I think of it, she's a lot like her mother. I'm stretching my writing boundaries every which way. (Hugs)Indigo

  4. Kids are frustrating, but fun. This post was too cute πŸ™‚ I think I'll give it like another decade or so before I so much as consider kids though… at the moment, I rejoice in the fact that I can give them back. But you're absolutely right about them having limitless imaginations. There's quite an age-gap between my little cousins and I and they tell me EXACTLY how to play their games.

  5. Sorry I didn't see this before! I am always astounded by how creative our child is–and I had to laugh at the dictator thing. I've been banned from many a play session by trying to be autonomous! LOL. I think the idea that we should take example from our kids when they are young and their imaginations are limitless and apply it every time we feel awkward or discouraged or overwhelmed by what we're writing. It should be an adventure, not a chore. Thanks for the mention. I was pretty blown away when she did that! πŸ™‚

  6. *I think the idea that we should take example from our kids when they are young and their imaginations are limitless is very powerful AND we should apply it . . . " Sorry, missed an important part of that sentence. Hah hah.

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