I thunder among the stars galloping at a breakneck pace astride my noble steed, a stunning pegasus-unicorn hybrid. She is the most breathtaking creature: crowned with a glittering horn, a face and body the color of a twilight sunset, and gigantic wings that push through the air with hurricane force. A jeweled tiara adorns my head, catching sunbeams and scattering light in a million directions. I leave beauty, courage, and truth effervescent in my wake with the white satin cape that flows weightlessly behind me. Golden sword drawn to fight for those who cannot muster their own strength. I am altogether graceful and fierce–menacing in the eyes of those who perpetrate evil.
All of this occurred in my mind’s eye as a seven-year-old brown-haired girl. In hi-top tennis shoes, a green sweater and faded blue jeans, I ran wildly around the playground, flapping my arms, yelling for evildoers to look out. I was a timid and cautious child throughout my early years; shy when put on the spot, but as I imagined myself to be a fierce and courageous warrior, I began to see I possessed those heroic qualities within me.
I put these new found traits to work as the hero figure of my imagination became reality on the playground one spring day that same year.
A couple of kids in my class began to tease my new friend. She was a sweet, quiet girl with a crooked smile, new to our school and shy. In some ways, she was just like me, except she had very noticeable hearing aids, which became the subject of her torment. I was the only friend she had at the beginning of the year. I could see past the hearing aids and noticed the fun-loving girl wearing them. The other kids taunted her about not being able to hear, calling her hearing aids ugly. Unwilling to tolerate the ridicule, I stood up. Just average me, no crown, sword or intimidating mythical beast by my side. I looked them squarely in the eyes.
“Leave her alone.”
Bold, remarkable courage flooded me as I continued to stare at them down, unflinching as if to say, take your best shot, I’m not going anywhere. It didn’t take them long to get the message and leave us alone.
Trying “fierce” and “courageous” on for size in my imagination led me to stick up for my deaf friend, and I overcame the fear that those mean kids would turn their taunting loose on me for doing so.
For someone looking in from the outside, children appear silly as they pantomime the vivid stories playing in their mind. However, what is happening in the brain of an imaginative child is far from silly. It is a drawing board used to develop their inner voice which affects the way they approach the world.
Through pretending to be different characters, children try on stories, where they get to play the hero, the villain, the damsel, or the horse (with or without wings). They experiment with the attributes of those roles, all the while deciding what aspects of the story resonate with them. Children excavate their ideas, discover new and exciting parts of themselves. They learn what they like, and what makes them tick. They stack towers of possibilities, knocking them to the ground, and building them up again in new ways. Over and over. They become something different or better for a brief time that may inform their reality from that point forward.
Childhood is a garden, a verdant time of life that offers freedom to innocently explore the deepest parts of the soul without regard for who is watching or what they think. I like to think of childhood as the richest soil, lush and teeming with possibility. Imagination is the seed of an idea, a treasure box waiting to be unlocked. The act of play is sunlight and rain, causing that seed to burst forth from the soil to become a vibrant plant. Enough of those ideas planted, watered, and tended grow into an abundant garden of personal truth. The creativity cultivated during childhood continues to grow and serve a person well into their adulthood.
The lessons gleaned along the way are the sort that last a lifetime. Power, artistry, and belief reside in a child’s imagination. Like a master sculptor with a chisel in hand, improvised creativity is stunning to behold.
Jennifer Van Winkle lives in Seattle with her husband and three children (twin boys and a baby girl). She is a teacher, musician, and currently a stay-at-home mom. She loves fueling the imaginations of her children with creativity, songs, all things science, good food and lots of play indoors and out. She blogs at Pepper Sprout Home and you can also find her on Instagram.