Tag Archives: family friends

Small Imaginations Hold the Most

When I was a little girl, one of my favourite stories was by Astrid Lindgren, and it was called ‘Nils Karlsson, the Elf.’

Image: gimmesumhunny.wordpress.com - also on this blog, there is a full transcript of the story, which pleased me hugely. I hadn't read it in a long, long time before this morning.

Image: gimmesumhunny.wordpress.com – also on this blog, there is a full transcript of the story, which pleased me hugely. I hadn’t read it in a long, long time before this morning.

It tells the story of a lonely little boy named Bertil, left alone each day while his parents go out to work. Beneath his bed is a nail, which – when he touches it and says a magic word – makes him small enough to play with a tiny elf named Nils Karlsson who happens to live in his bedroom. So, the story tells us, Bertil was lonely and afraid no more when his parents left him alone, because now he had a friend to keep him company, and the whole world looked new and different when he was no bigger than a thumb.

I loved that story then, and I love it now. I love it because it makes me realise how much a child’s imagination can hold – how many worlds, how many characters, how much magic. I loved it particularly because Bertil can grow big again when he’s finished playing, and so he has his parents on one hand, and the magical world of Nils Karlsson on the other. That, to me, was the perfect story.

This past weekend, my husband and I visited one of his oldest friends, a man whom my husband has known since they were both about four years old. This is particularly wonderful because my husband’s friend now has a daughter who has just turned four, as well as a little son who is just over eighteen months old. It was amazing to see my husband and his friend fall into the speech patterns and comfortable-ness of their shared youth while his wife and I played with the children – and by played, I do mean played. The four-year-old has an imagination the size of eternity.

During the few hours we spent together, this little girl, her brother, her Mummy and me took a plane journey across another galaxy in order to find a beach in China where we could swim with all our clothes on. We had a safety belt to hold us in our seats (which, when not moonlighting as airline security equipment, is a skipping rope); we had one ‘crash helmet’ (which was a witch’s hat left over from Halloween) which we had to share between us; we suffered alien attacks, volcanic eruptions, inter-stellar fuel difficulties and a severe make-believe coffee shortage until, finally, we arrived at our magic beach.

It was the most fun I’ve had in a long, long time.

I was amazed to hear the constant patter of chat from this tiny girl, all the time making up more and more elaborate tales, constructing story world after story world, taking changes and twists into account. Everything became magical – her scooter became a rocket, her parents’ bedroom a mighty sea. Her own bedroom was a magical cave. She read to me from her books, and told me better stories than the ones written on the page.

And then, like Bertil from my favourite story, when she wanted to return to her ‘own’ world it was a simple matter of refocusing her gaze. Her magic rocket became her scooter again, and her house stopped being an inter-galactic cruise ship just long enough for her to reassure herself that her Mummy and Daddy were still there, or for her to get some juice or finish her dinner. Then, when she wanted it to, her beautiful imaginary world clicked back into place and it was all systems go once more.

I think there’s something very profound in that little lesson.

It also made me wonder whether my own imagination, old and dessicated as it has become, is big enough and flexible enough to hold all the worlds that children can imagine so effortlessly, and so fluidly. I can but try.

Image: omtimes.com

Image: omtimes.com

(Note: my husband drew my attention to this article, a blog in Scientific American, about the value of pretend play to a child’s development. It’s very interesting, and rather relevant to my own little post. So, check it out if you like!)

Old Haunts

This past weekend, I was lucky enough to be able to attend a surprise birthday party for a man who has been a loyal and affectionate friend to my parents for many years. This man, and his lovely wife, met my parents when they were all on honeymoon – the two couples happened to choose the same hotel, and bonded over their shared ‘Irish abroad’ status – and they have been inseparable friends ever since. Growing up, they seemed to my brother and I more like an extra aunt and uncle than ‘mere’ family friends, and they are a deeply loved branch of the family at this stage.

On our way to the hotel in which we were spending the night of the party, my husband and I drove through landscapes tightly woven with my memories of childhood. My brother and I spent so many summers staying with our parents’ friends and their two children, who were – more or less – the same age as we were, and all those sunny, happy days came back to me as we drove down streets that I would once have known like the back of my hand. In my first year at university, I stayed in our friends’ house, walking about two miles every morning to catch the bus to college (and, crucially, two miles back in the evening, when it was dark, or rainy, or I’d perhaps been at the student bar…); as we drove along the same road I used to walk, I could almost see myself striding along, ready to welcome my new, adult life. I wondered what the ‘me’ of my early adulthood would think of the ‘me’ of today. I hope she’d be proud.

The day after the party, we called down to our friends’ house and took a wander through their estate (or ‘neighbourhood’, I suppose, for my North American friends!) It was almost overwhelming to feel the onrush of memories, the swell of happy childhood days well spent, and the more stressful and (at times) upsetting days of my early college life. I realised how so much of what I remembered from that time has changed, while at the same time the shadows of streets and houses I remember are still there, like ghosts.

We walked through a huge field that I spent so many hours exploring with my brother and our two friends, both of whom are grown men with children of their own now; it was wonderful to be able to set foot in it again with my husband, linking the two halves of my life so neatly and securely. There used to be wonderfully exciting rock formations in that field when we were young – which, of course, became battlements and castles and forts and impregnable cliffs in our imaginations – and sadly, these have long been removed now, but the trees we used to play around are still there. I walked past a row of these huge trees, looking at the mounds of earth around their roots, up and down which I would trundle, carefully, on a borrowed and unfamiliar bike as a little girl. They seemed so huge to me then; I could step over them, now. I was so happy to see that not only are the trees, and the field, still there, but that someone has planted new trees, too – future generations of children will be able to play as we did in that very same field.

My only regret, really, from the weekend was that my brother wasn’t able to be there with me. He had to work, and I wish he’d been able to share these memories with me. But, hopefully, there’ll be another chance to do that.

I looked around at my family and friends as we celebrated together this past weekend, marking the life and birthday of a man who is so dearly loved by all of us, and realised again that ‘this is what life is all about.’ Life’s not about money, or status, or objects, or possessions, or who has the biggest car or the biggest house. Life is – or, perhaps, should be – about weekends like the one I just spent, laughing and talking and spending time with the people you love. I’m privileged to have so many people who love me, and I hope I’ll always remember how important this realisation is.

I hope you all had lovely weekends, too, and if – as is the case in Ireland – today is a day off for you, I hope you spend it well, doing something you’ll be happy to remember in years to come. Happy New Week!

Image: regreenspringfield.com

Image: regreenspringfield.com