“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”.
From light to waters to ground to sky to birds and creatures to soar and swim, I like to think that inspiration struck Him. Yes, he was on a roll, zapping and painting and sculpting a dark nothing into everything. But on the sixth day, God created humans, and I worry the seventh day and billions of years after week one He’s been nervously biting his lip. If His whole vision was a blog post, I wonder if He’s still agonizing over having pressed Publish.
In my two years as co-creator of a feisty child, I’ve spent a lot of time in the makeshift species research laboratory known as the playground. I leave my white coat and latex gloves at home as it tends to spook the specimens, but manage to collect quality data nonetheless. The simple study on Mom Jeans concluded that there is, in fact, a direct correlation between elastic waistbands and overall frump level. A thrilling two-week look at which litter is most likely to be plucked from the grass and fondled or chewed by juveniles resulted in my kid catching a mystery ailment that seemed a lot like a venereal disease. One doctor’s trip assured me that he had a diaper rash, and it probably didn’t come from licking remnants of frosting-covered candles left in a pavilion after a stranger child’s birthday party. Back to work in the name of science, we returned to the park and my young Research Assistant spent the afternoon testing slide momentum. It wasn’t until a fateful journey to the land of slides and swings last week that I made a most shocking discovery.
A group of older girls and boys engaged in what looks like child’s play. They run. They jump. They giggle and holler at one another at increased volumes as “outside voices” are indeed permitted whilst outdoors. My son follows them around, fascinated with their laughter and words so foreign to his native babble tongue. I inch closer, hoping to prevent him from following their lead if their lead is jumping from the top of a 10-foot structure. I stay quiet and mostly out of sight save for an arm ready to catch my toddler mid-flight.
Then it happens, years of faith in the brilliantly inventive minds of children unraveling before my eyes. Her name was Lucy. She wore a pink dress. She hung off monkey bars from bony knees. She was missing her front teeth.Even with her temporary lisp, she would be the one who turned my beliefs upside down. Lucy, bloomers gleaming in the sun, invited her friends to play “house”. I stood near her mother as the kids were given roles. My wobbly toddler was allotted the spot of baby. Solid casting, I thought. Lucy, the mom, seemed to be making dinner for her brood before instructing them it was bath time. She made a whooshing sound through her toothless gums and informed the kids to wash their wieners. She fake patted them dry and put them to bed. She certainly has an eye for detail, I thought of her care to include dirty boy bits in the scrub-a-dub routine. The grand finale was Lucy’s loud dialogue with the seven-year-old “dad”. She wanted to know why he kissed another mom and when he was going to stop drinking and then they hugged to show they’d made up and then mom and dad were fine, not to worry little ones, and then she was ready for the sex part. The setting quickly changed from house to jungle, the tiny trendsetter decided, and the children needed to decide what to do when they got hungry and what should happen when one or more of them died. I’d lured my clueless boy away before they had a chance to use him as a sacrifice to the snack gods. With an uncomfortable gulp, I passed by Lucy’s mother. She clasped her hands together, chuckled in delight, and proclaimed “Oh! She has such an imagination!”. I didn’t have the heart to tell her my professional analysis of this playground experiment. The tests are in, your little lady is probably a serial killer, and what at first seemed like a tot-sized game of make-believe, has spiraled into a disturbing warning against fostering creativity in children.
During the drive home, I eyed my wild-brained little one in the back seat, entertaining himself with an empty juice box and a box of wipes. He giggled. I whimpered. Having been raised by parents who encouraged me to dance and paint and show the very oddness that was me, I’d learned long ago that a creative mind was a gift never to be hidden. As my parents did and do, I wish my child a brain so full of wonder and thought that it spills into making, doing, starting, creating. But what if us fans of imagination are horribly mistaken?
All at once a lifetime of examples washed over me. Bad, bad horrible awfulness packaged and sold as creativity:
Lady Gaga– Sometimes my soul dies a little when I realize we are of the same species. If meat dresses and animal blood and dark, dark sinister videos plopped atop techno dance beats is creativity, then count me out.
Spray Tan– A sun-kissed glow without exposure to the sun’s harmful rays started off sounding like a brilliant, new concept. Then toddlers got dangled by their little child-wrists and shot down by an icy cold bottle of Tahitian Bronze Beauty in the name of pageantry. Also the Jersey shore has the whole Orange Wave phenomenon going on.
Squirrel Girl- THIS.
Because sometimes having a mentally placid child content to stare at wooden blocks doesn’t really sound all that bad.
Scales– Did I really need the know the exact number behind the junk in my trunk?
Me– An out-of-the-box mentality ensured that the neon-shorts-with-loafers ensemble I’ve been sporting since conception wasn’t heinous so much as pleasantly eccentric. See Exhibits B through 12 on this very blog, where a game involving superpowers and tampons made perfect sense to my creative brain, I tried to buy a coffin as a genius gag gift, and often write abstract posts about how to make people think you are an awful human being.
I also don’t understand what prompted the unnecessary creation of cats or war. I mostly can’t find artistic value in Ke$ha or those airbrushed souvenir shirts. Sometimes I think the innovator behind bike helmets just wanted to point and laugh at the big noggin-ed dummies riding by. Also underpants are dumb.
Upon pulling into the drive, I’d convinced myself that ingenuity had no place in this world. We would lead a vanilla life, a bland and boring routine centered around numbers and facts and unoriginal rules. We would eat vegetables and read Newsweek and brush our teeth. We would never run that risk of envisioning a masterpiece and putting forth a disaster instead. We would…
My son had pulled a box from the garage. His mind is racing, fingers fidgeting the cardboard edges, his eyes darting to and fro with a plan in mind I cannot see. He is determined and focused as he folds and tears, climbs and fastens. He leads me by the hand to his newest creation. Without words he points and laughs, explains his vision. We crawl inside, and I see it. All the worth in the world. Small hands crafted nothing into a sacred fort, a castle, a refuge, a cave. He closed the makeshift door. I asked him why he needed a new place when a perfectly proper stack of sofa cushions awaited us inside. Was a simple box really better? Somewhere between his excited claps I could have sworn I heard him sayThe House That Clever Built
One hour later, the young artist proves innovation has a lot to show for itself. God created the heavens and the earth and little fleshy blobs with brains meant for always doing more. Sumerians thought to get that Mesopotamian party started right when they created beer. Michelangelo was versatile enough to win the title Renaissance Man. Marion Donovan’s light bulb flickered and put forth disposable diapers into the world. Can I get a mama amen? And that saintly Percy Spencer ensured that I can ditch the apron and microwave supper. The brilliant mind of Steve Jobs thought to change things, and that trail blazed we function a little easier everyday. We don’t often realize that things can be better until an innovative soul says “Yes. Here’s how”.
What good creativity has inspired you lately? What bad creativity makes you cringe?