“What a great imagination!”
I hear this phrase a lot about my children. Such as when 3-year-old Benny shouts, “Shiver me timbers” from atop the playground, which he has turned into a pirate ship. Or when 6-year-old Emma draws a picture of Jasper, her dog, sitting behind a desk to give the evening news.
Yes, their imagination is a wonderful thing. It turns us into airplanes just by stretching out our arms, helps us make secret languages, transforms beds into boats and weeds into fairy homes. It powers hours of play with little prodding from me.
But it also morphs shadows into creatures, creaking floorboards into ghostly moans and would-be fleeting thoughts into Velcro-locked obsessions.
Apparently, it also turns mothers into monsters.
On the way to ballet class recently, my girl super casually told me, “When I was really little, I used to have weird thoughts. Like I thought you were a monster. But only when I was in trouble.” She giggled.
As I tried to not show just how horrified I was at this little confession, she went on to tell me how she would study me, watching to see if I really was her mom or just a look-alike monster. Here I had a starring role in a fairy tale — cast as the evil monster mother, unfortunately — and I never knew.
“Now I know you’re not a monster. You’re just grouchy sometimes,” she said flippantly. (Notice how being in trouble is either because I am a monster or grouchy, never because she, I don’t know, did something wrong.)
But I do relate to this double-edged sword of imagination. I found an outlet for my own creative mind when I was a first-grader and wrote my first “book,” a dreadful six-page story about a girl born so ugly not even her mother could love her. After that, I was hooked, writing down all of the stories that swam through my mind.
That is, until nighttime, when the stories didn’t so much swim through as snare my thoughts.
Partly this was because of my sister, Amy, with whom I shared a room. To sweeten the rotten deal of not only getting booted from the coveted smallest role in the family but also having to give up half of her bedroom, Amy got to choose our décor. Cue the brown walls, jungle-theme bedding (complete with snarling tigers and shadowy eyes) and brown-orange carpet.
As I fell asleep, I wasn’t in my bottom bunk. I was alone, in a dark cave in the middle of the jungle, surrounded by hungry pythons.
Those waking nightmares only ended when I noticed a small hole in the bedroom closet wall. Obviously a witch lived there.
“Don’t worry,” my sister said safely from her top bunk when I told her about the witch hole. “I’m sure she only eats children who fall asleep.”
That witch might’ve officially lived in the closet, but in my mind she truly flourished. Red beady eyes. Spiky green hair. Sharp, jagged teeth. Brown, thick nails. Cracked orange lips. It took a long time to work up the courage to check out the hole during the daylight. And then I discovered that . . . wait for it . . . it was just a hole.
So I’m trying not to make too big a deal out of the fact that my child once thought me potentially monstrous. She’s got a great imagination. Great.
Still, as she adjusted her leotard in a bathroom stall at dance class moments later, I couldn’t help myself. I hid just outside the door, leaping out at her and growling diabolically. “Moo-hoo-ha-ha! I am the Mommy Monster!”
Emma rolled her eyes. “I knew you would do that.”
I guess my imagination isn’t as great as I thought it was.
Beth Vrabel lives in West Manchester Township with her daughter, Emma, 6, and son, Benny, 3. For more Smart Mama columns visit www.smartmamapa.com.