Posted in Writing Life

What If

Sometimes I say to my kids, That’s a tool not a toy, treat it with respect. But what if I’m wrong about that? What if they’re all toys?

I’ve been thinking about this lately while preparing for questions about Web of Angels that may come up at readings. The intelligent questions are a pleasure to answer, the ignorant ones an opportunity for illumination, but what about attacks in the guise of a question? Any writer can encounter those even with subjects that seem completely innocuous because the human capacity to find an axe to grind is endless.

And my subject is hardly innocuous. Preparing the answers is the easy part. Finding equanimity in thinking about it is a lot harder. Meditating about this, I began to see potential attackers as hurt children. And when I took that image further, I began to see us all as children, small or big.

What if all the money, prizes, electronics and tools are toys? What if all the clothes are dress-up? What if we are all just big kids, fighting over our toys, scared that we’re getting less than the other kid, grabbing, squabbling, tired out by too much of too much, carried away by enthusiasm, sometimes kindly sharing, sometimes viciously jealous or mean? It would explain a lot.

Kids have the most fun with simple toys and basic supplies–scissors, paper, markers, cardboard. But they all want the glitzy noise-making toys they see on TV or in the store or at a friend’s house. So I understand that I can’t help being envious of someone who’s gotten a bigger advance or a shiny prize that I haven’t. You can’t convince a kid that her little home-made cloth mouse is as good as the store bought rocking elephant as big as a room. It’s human nature.

But here’s the thing–life seems a lot less serious if we’re all just here to play. I’m not quite there yet. Playing isn’t my best thing; I was raised in an extremely serious manner. And yet I can see the creative freedom and joy in my children when they’re completely absorbed in play, whether it’s a game with stuffies or building a structure or blasting off with a sewing machine or writing a story.

I want that–I want life as my best friend. Play with me.



Lilian is the author of Web of Angels, a novel about a mom with DID (multiple personalities). She's also the author of the historical novels, The River Midnight and The Singing Fire, about secrets, friendship and motherhood in 19th century Poland and London.

6 thoughts on “What If

  1. As you know, I am a big fan of the combination of play and creativity. But I do think that like any strategy, it has its limits. We grow up for a reason, and part of that reason is that the childish impulse to play which is so lovely, can also mobilise other childish impulses like the ones you describe – greed, jealousy, selfishness, fury. Life may be a playground, but it is one in which we are ignored or bullied as much as we are free to make friends and have fun. Am I really dreary today? It’s that I keep reading things where infantilisation takes place and it’s supposed to be nice but I’m finding it creepy or disquieting. Not in your post, LIlian, you are always a sensible and sensitive commentator.

    1. Litlove, I agree–I’m not saying that we ought to be childlike as a cure for social ills. I’m saying that actually how we are is childlike–with all the good and ill that you see in a playground, only with bigger bodies, greater cognitive capacities. Adults tend to see what we do and what we own as serious adult things, tools not toys, work not play. I’m questioning that. And questioning leads to other possibilities.

      If, say, we are just bigger kids, then all the achievements we strive so desperately for are not that serious, they are not more serious than a star from the teacher, or the prize from the treasure box. There is for me relief in that view when I can hold onto it. It becomes possible to see my own strong reactions from an observer’s position, the light of awareness, as being no different from a child’s and in that way I can respond to it, not indifferently, but with compassion and a different understanding.

      I’m not saying that we should all be babies–that is creepy. In fact the creepiest thing I saw on TV recently was a fully “functioning” man who spends all his non-working time as a baby, complete with diapers, crib and giant high chair.

      Rather I’m saying that there is a lightness of spirit that is driven out of many of us, certainly out of me, in favour of a construct of adult life that gives an artificial seriousness to many aspects of life that really aren’t that serious.

    1. Yes, Rachel–and it seems I might have given the wrong impression. My kids are creative and constructive with their toys. I’m always amazed at what they do, so my statement isn’t a reflection on them at all but on the way I was raised. Not that I was destructive with toys either, I didn’t have any. It was more a reflection of the seriousness of my upbringing.

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