Imagination and Enthusiasm Vs. …Whatever That Was

In my experience, there are two types of kids; those with imagination, and those without. There are also two types of babysitters; ‘Kindergarten Teachers’ (extremely sweet people that just want kids to behave normally so they can keep their sanity), and ‘Grown-Up Imaginative Kids’ (people that can amuse themselves in any situation, and are okay with setting their sanity aside for a little while). I put myself in the second category. As a Grown-Up Imaginative Kid, I tend to clash with the Kindergarten Teachers. I noticed this for the first time about five years ago, when I was helping out in the nursery of my old church. There was an imaginative three year old boy, let’s call him Tom. Tom was pretending to be a superhero, you know, like you do. But it was snack time. So Tom couldn’t be a superhero anymore. He HAD to sit in a chair and eat Goldfish. First of all, why is snack time mandatory? I didn’t see why Tom couldn’t just keep playing if he wasn’t hungry. It was eleven in the morning. Wouldn’t it spoil his lunch anyway? But no. That would be chaos. Everyone else was eating, so he had to eat too. One of the girls in charge (of the Kindergarten Teacher mentality) tried to get him to sit down. “Tom, come sit down and eat your snack.” Nothing. “Tom, I said to come sit down.” No response. Superman was busy. He was saving a town made of blocks. There was no Tom. This was clearly not going to work. The girl was visibly irritated, and getting more so. The problem was obvious. She was calling Tom. Tom was currently Superman. Superman would probably like some Goldfish, but no one offered him any. All you had to do, was say, “Superman, do you want some Goldfish?” And he was at the table immediately. I get that. That makes sense to me. I’m probably mostly alone in that. Basically, I’m going to get along with any child loosely labeled as, hyper, energetic, ‘difficult’, etc. by their teachers. What I don’t understand, is a kid without, or with very little, imagination.

One of the kids I babysit regularly is like that. Let’s call him Jake. I have the same problem with him that the Kindergarten Teacher girl had with Tom. I can’t really relate to him. It’s made even harder by the fact that he also has a baby brother. You can’t really focus on entertaining an older child when there’s a baby you also have to take care of. And none of that is his fault. He’s a really sweet kid. He just doesn’t have as much enthusiasm. I’m so used to the ‘yes, and…’ sort of response (as in, “let’s make monster footprints out of construction paper!” “Yes! And then put them on the floor so we can walk on them!”), that I’m not really sure what to do with someone that, not only doesn’t suggest anything, but shoots down my suggestions constantly and immediately. Here’s what happened last night:

Me: (After trying to think of anything we can do while I watch a ten-month-old) “Awesome! You have legos! We should build something!”

Jake: “No.”

Me: “Okay, are there any games you want to play?”

Jake: “No.”

Half a second later.

Jake: “I’m booooorrrred.”

This kid has no reason to be bored. (Why do I feel like I’m channeling my grandmother?) He is lying on the floor of an amazing playroom full of stuff, whining that he is bored. He’s right next to a foosball table. How does that work? How does he even have the time to be bored?

Me: “If you’re bored, why don’t we play foosball?”

Jake: “No.”

Me: “Okay, have you ever played ‘The Floor is Lava’?”

Jake: (In the same, ‘life is dull and so are you’ tone) “No. What’s that?”

Me: “It’s awesome! The floor is lava, and you have to get around without stepping on the carpet.”

Jake: “Why?”

Me: “Because it’s lava. It would burn you up.”

Jake: “Okay.”

So the three of us (Me, Jake, and his little brother), went over to the playroom sofa. I took some of the cushions off, and put them on the ground to take the place of crumbling rocks in the carpet/lava. I explained to him that we had to use the sofa cushions to get around. Then I set the little one up with some toy trucks where I could see him clearly. Jake was still standing on the sofa. He hadn’t gone anywhere, surfing on cushions, pretending to rescue any burning villagers. He was just standing there, staring at me. Okay, not a self-starter. So, to get him going, I said, “Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to go over there, get that truck, and bring it back. He asked how. I told him to use the cushions. The floor is lava. Why wasn’t he getting this? He was good with instructions though. I gave him missions, and he gave me missions. I went back and forth between missions and entertaining his little brother. It was fun. But not for long. The game never changed. The game never ended. He kept on asking for missions.

His little brother began screaming his head off. So I told Jake to keep playing, and that I’d be back. But he didn’t keep playing. He followed me upstairs. He kept following me when I changed the baby’s diaper. He kept following me when I walked around, holding the baby, trying to get him to stop screaming.

Finally, after I had walked around holding a screaming baby for what felt like an hour (it was probably ten minutes, but when a child is screaming in your ear, time passes pretty slowly), with Jake adding his whining to the cacophony, he stopped screaming. Jake, who had not gone downstairs to play without me, but was following me around adding his whining to the screaming, said, ‘now we can play ‘The Floor is Lava’ some more!’ Not only was that game not over yet, but I had to play it carrying a very, very heavy baby on my hip while I played. Because, as I soon discovered, when I tried to put him down, he would start screaming again while going completely stiff so I couldn’t sit him down. And I had to keep playing, because if I didn’t play with Jake, he wouldn’t play.

So this just kept going until it was bedtime for the baby. It was kind of a weird experience though. I never thought I’d be disappointed to babysit an obedient kid with a long attention span.

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