Blankets, Towels and Scarves: A Dress Rehearsal for Adulthood
My son has reached the fantastic age where all he wants to do is play. If he is not actively imagining and creating, then he is likely engaged in the act of watching. Countless times a day he informs his Papa and me that he is going to “watch” whatever is at hand. Often a session of excellent observation will be followed up with a whole new concept or skill set to include in his play. With a mix of excitement and anxiety (anxiety that he might miss the entire event) my son begs me to delay putting in my contact lenses until he can hurriedly dash off across the house and carry back his stepping stool from wherever he set up his last watch station. After scrutinizing my moves, he takes great care in placing drops of water on his fingertips and delicately bringing them to his eyes. My son is so sincere and thoughtful in his play that I feel I owe it to him to be just as considerate when choosing the toys we bring into his home. Knowing that creative projects will also benefit my son in a myriad of ways, perhaps even increasing the quality of his cultural awareness, I make efforts at finding new and fun ways for us to spend time crafting and making art together. For inspiration I mine the memories of my own childhood and I try to think up activities that will set off creative sparks in my little guy. Some of these ideas reflect his big interests of the moment and others introduce him to topics that are completely new. I find that Pinterest is another great resource and I have projects saved on boards that I intend to act upon in the very near future.
There is another option, however, that we have been taking considerable advantage of lately. I sense that as it relates to my son’s development there are few other activities that possess such scope. We pull out old baby blankets, my scarf collection, towels from the hallway closet, sometimes he drags out a yoga mat, and I usually throw in fabric scraps and strands of yarn for good measure. With all his building supplies, my son can create anything he wants. He can become anyone he wants to be. It would be easy to suggest that his blanket and towel creations are merely imaginary delights. They are delightful. Imaginary worlds are truly wonderful in and of themselves. However, I think there is far more going on.
When my son builds a house, and invites me in to have a look around or to share a cup of tea, he is not only creating a home. He is also creating a situation where he is in charge and he gets to set the rules. In this setting he is exploring the roles of caregiver and host, experimenting with power and feeling out responsibility. In my son’s blanket home under the dining room table he chooses our seats and determines when and what we will eat for dinner. He has been known to make our entire meal from scratch, following all of the steps he recalls. He even does the washing up when we are done and wipes off our table. (Sometimes he remembers that he has left the water running and dashes away to turn off his kitchen tap!)
My little boy also has imaginary twin babies. Both have the same name and my son takes them everywhere we go. I have not quite figured out who the parents of these babies are, but it is clear that my son is their primary caregiver. Sometimes, though, he asks for help to carry the twins when his arms are tired or something more pressing requires his attention. Mimicking the caring behaviors he has seen in his father and me, he builds beds out of blankets and then lovingly helps his babies to sleep. He grabs fabric scraps and cloth wipes for all the daily diaper changes that two babies require. Some days the twins go through even more diapers than my son!
Just as observant when we are out of the house, my little boy is entranced by cement mixers, postal trucks, and the like. The same goes for bees, butterflies, and lady bugs. When we return to the indoors it sometimes follows that he is no longer interested in driving his ride-on fire engine. Instead he might be far more curious to feel out what it is like to be on a digger, loading up a dump truck with dirt. Perhaps he is more interested in towing a broken-down car. With blankets and string, he easily converts his second-hand fire truck and acts out the tasks he imagines this new vehicle carries out. He envisions why his truck needs to tow a car. He engineers his materials to show how this will be done. He deals with frustration that sets in when blankets keep falling off: he finds a new solution, crumples in tears and seeks out comfort, or he calls on his Papa or me for help, providing himself with yet another opportunity to observe and learn.
There are so many possibilities to enact. It fascinates me to see my son’s growing sense of self as he plays with his blankets, towels, and scarves . Frequently, he asks for my help early on in his play. For instance, he will ask me to lock and unlock the doors that he has set up all over our (actual) house. By the end of the week he has mastered his self-set scenarios and has developed the confidence to do on his own what previously he demanded help for. He now keeps track of his own key, a tea strainer or a string, and goes about locking and unlocking the doors all by himself. Growing stronger in autonomy and his right to hold authority, he assertively reminds the adults when we forgot to open a door upon entering or have carelessly left it open after exiting. As his mother, it is such a gift when the tables are turned and I am the one observing. What I behold amazes me: with the placement of a blanket and the positioning of a towel my son is making sense of his life and ultimately holding dress rehearsals for the man he will become.
I realize that my son would find a way to act out these roles and pretend his way through the day with the use of any toys we set before him. He would even manage this with no implements at all because this is the work a young child carries out. I do believe, though, that the DIY blankets, towels and scarves provide him with the most effective way to carry out his essential play in the moment when it matters. The spontaneity that these open-ended materials afford means that I am never playing catch-up, never attempting to provide him with the purpose-driven toy that he would have been totally taken with last week but whose social and psychological concept he will master by the end of this week and soon become bored of. Blankets, towels and scarves are helping my son to follow his bliss and explore his passions. In fun and in play, he is doing this on his own time and in his own rhythm.
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