Well, I’ve talked about how I tell my kids stories, how my kids tell me stories, and how I like to introduce them to high-concept shows. I think they’re well on the path to nerddom. But I’ve realized a rather large aspect of this equation I’ve forgotten, and that is role-play.
Now, I never was much of a “role-player” in the Gary Gygax sense. Nor do I relish role-playing at “parenting classes” or “sensitivity training.” But neither of these are the origin of role-play. No, my kids taught me that one rather blatantly.
This dawned upon me recently when, after watching the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode “The Blue Spirit”, they started role-playing out the fight and unmasking of the spirit. As I look back, I know this is hardly the first time they’ve wanted to act out what they have just seen. From staging Agni Kai fights with each other to hunting and training dragons, my kids play out what they see and add to it. And, of course, they draw me in as well, usually forcing me to be the villain. I trust this is because they want to be the heroes, not because they think I’m all that evil.
So, what’s the revelation? How does this differ for a “Spec Fic Parent” as opposed to a real one? Well, I regret to look back to my own youth for that answer. My parents, for as much as I think they did a wonderful job raising me, did not really role-play with me. Sure, my dad wrestled with me, but there was never a pretext to it, never a story behind it. It was just rough-housing. Additionally, both my parents worked, and my dad went to school at night during the early part of my life. So, in part, my role-playing was done by myself or with my brother, who at five-years my senior, “grew out” of it as I was just coming in. The other kids my age were more interested in baseball or kickball, or honest races or games of tag, and my role-playing quickly became something more of a dark secret than something I could embrace and cherish.
Fast forward to a more accepting, bright future away from the backwoods of nowhere. I still don’t think my kids are being encouraged at their preschool to rescue princesses with their imaginations, and it is up to me to keep it alive. It’s hard, I admit. As a single dad, I have to find time to not only cook dinner, give them baths, and all that, but I have to fit in my writing, chores, and any other errands. Much like my parents before me, it is only too easy to say “not now” when the kids want to draw me into one of their elaborate role-plays. This is an impulse I find myself constantly having to fight.
But why? Why not just let it fade? Or at least let them entertain themselves? Well, there is something to be said for letting them entertain themselves, which I do regularly, but I think a certain amount of role-play with the kids is important, to continue and encourage it. And why encourage? For one, it makes the story theirs, not just an image on the television or from a book. I ask, what is better: to enjoy a story that teaches mercy, or to act it out and be the one that gives the mercy? Granted, my kids aren’t always merciful, or are in a Commodus from Gladiator kind of way. And that right there is a good reason to be involved. I can guide them through the role-play some, expanding their imaginations and cementing the morality.
Furthermore, as I believe I said before, I am astounded by my kids’ imagination, and I fear them losing it. I think the Pablo Picasso quote about being an artist applies. He said, “Every child is born an artist, the problem is to remain one once they grow up.” The same is true for being a dreamer. We as a society squash the ideas of imaginary friends and far off adventures, and the idea of role-play becomes anthemia to a “normal person.” Bah, I say.
I still role-play out some scenes I am trying to write. It helps to insert oneself into the action like that. And why do you think they have those horribly conceived role-play scenarios at those “training seminars” we are sometimes forced to go to by Human Resources? Not only does it encourage the imagination, it encourages empathy, something I think the world is rather short on. Imagine that, the escapism of speculative fiction can actually make a person more in touch with the real world. I bet that’d blow the minds of all those “down-to-earth” parents who make their kids abandon the ideas of an imaginary friend and role-play.
So, while I definitely want to hear about the role-play you encourage your kids to do, or that they drag you into, I also want to call to action. Go play with your kids. Storm a castle with them, save the princess, and all that jazz. Yeah, it may feel a little silly to you since you are out of practice, but it will mean the world to them. That, and it will help them understand it all the better.
Richard Fife is a writer, blogger, and pretends to be a ninja on alternating Thursdays. His latest writing endeavor, The Tijervyn Chronicles, an illustrated, serialized steampunk novel, can be read for free on his website, and you can keep up to date on his adventures via Facebook and Twitter.