I’ve written twice before about Lynda Barry, the inspired writer / artist whom I was privileged to hear speak at the Rhode Island School of Design last spring.



She talked about so much that I could hardly take it all in. I made notes when I got home, and tried to remember everything, because it was all interesting and funny and new.



She talked about the way children play. She described a game her brother used to play: he’d draw random dots on a sheet of paper, very methodically; then he’d eat a bowl of cereal, staring at the sheet of paper; then he’d take a pen and play dive-bomber on the sheet of paper, crossing out dots. The last dot won.



Now that’s play.



But play is not something you can just do. How many times did your parents say: “Why don’t you just go play?” And did you wonder: “What does that mean?”



Play is a state of mind. Go think about Lynda Barry’s brother staring at that sheet of paper, eating his cereal, and consider what’s going on in his mind.



Best story of all: Lynda was in a restaurant, watching a mother and son at a nearby table. Mother was talking on her cellphone. Son, about six years old, was talking to his bacon. “I’m gonna eat you!” he said to his bacon. Then he made the bacon talk: “No no no! Don’t eat me!” This went on for some time. Lynda was spellbound. This was real play.



Until the mother suddenly saw her son playing with his food. “What are you doing?” she snapped at him.



The little boy dropped the bacon as if awakened from a dream. “Nothing,” he said.



Playing. Just playing.



People don’t play enough. Adults don’t play enough.



Partner and I play with our stuffed animals: we make them talk, and argue, and fight, and even make out.



Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?



Believe it or not, it’s quite the reverse. I think it helps keep us both sane.




I told my friend/colleague Amelia that I’ve been stealing her stories about her little boy and retelling them.  “You want more?” she said.  “Here’s the latest.”



Okay.  So her son is about three or four, and he’s been in the same day-care for the past couple of years with a little girl named Natalie.  (“I’m sure they’re smitten with each other,” I said. “You have no idea,” Amelia said.)  Natalie’s birthday party was coming up, and Amelia’s son was invited to the birthday party.  “What should we give Natalie for a present?” Amelia prompted her son.



“Princess stuff,” he responded immediately.  “A princess dress.”



Aha, thought Amelia.  A hundred bucks plus at a Disney Store, or something pretty plus something sparkly at a regular store.



So they go to a local store, which happens to be having a promotion for little girl’s dresses.  Amelia’s son is entranced.  Pink! Purple! Red! Yellow!  “Mamma,” he gasped, “we have to buy her one of each.”



“Let’s just get one for now,” Amelia said steadily.  “What color is her favorite?”



“Pink,” her little boy said. 



(This is Amelia speaking: “Now, I know he doesn’t know what I mean, but I asked him: What size is she?  And he said, Well, she’s just a little bit bigger than me.”)



So Amelia takes a pink dress from the rack, and holds it up against her little boy, to see how it will fit.



And she notices that all of the other mommies in the store are looking at her strangely.



This story goes on and on.  They bought shoes, and glittery sunglasses (princess sunglasses) to go with the dress, and the little boy had a wonderful time picking out things for his friend Natalie’s birthday. 



About halfway through this story, I fell into a deep reverie about how lucky Amelia’s son is, to have a mother who doesn’t judge, who doesn’t censor, who isn’t silly about these things. 



God bless Amelia, and all the mommies like her.



Maybe there’s hope for the world after all.



Mother Nature


I have a coworker named Amelia.  I have already stolen one of her stories for this blog.  I will not hesitate to steal another.



Her little boy, around four years old, said recently: “Mamma, it’s winter.  Why is there no snow?”



She said: “Well, it’s winter, but there’s not always snow.  Sometimes it snows and sometimes it doesn’t.”



He asked: “What makes it snow?”



She was very encouraged by this; this was a scientist’s question.  “Lots of things,” she said.  “Mother Nature uses all kinds of things: moisture, cold air – “



“Where does Mother Nature live?” he interrupted her.



Uh-oh, she thought. “Well, there’s not really – “ she began.



“Is she old?” the child said. “Does she sit in a rocking chair?”



(At this point in the story, I said: “Amelia, the correct answer to these questions is ‘Yes.’”)



(“I know,” she sighed.  “But I was still trying to explain –“)



This parenting thing is evidently very difficult.



Thank god I only have stuffed animals to worry about.  They believe whatever I tell them.


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