The other day my big girl’s tooth fell out and I said automatically, “Just wait for the tooth fairy to come” and she replied, “I know the tooth fairy is just you and babeh (dad) and so is Santa.” I looked at my sweet husband, who had no idea what was going on because his childhood had nothing to do with this strange concept of a winged creature taking away teeth at night and leaving cash, nor did they consider an old, white dude with a long beard came down into the kampung bearing gifts during the rainy season. He looked bingung (confused) while the magical world of the imagination for my kids was crumbling before my very eyes. After all, she is only 6, and I had plans to blow her mind with stories of Santa and of possibly bribing her with the whole “if you are naughty, Santa will not come to you, so you better WATCH OUT”. You know, basic fear-mongering. But curse it, it’s already over.
I felt sad for a while about the loss of this magical world until my little one came up with a piece of plastic from a straw that had been ripped in two, and handing me the smaller piece said, “You be the mummy cat and I will be the baby cat and we will drive in this car” and she put that literal rubbish into the car and started to drive off waiting for me to catch up. In my mind, I was like, “C’mon kid, give me something to work with here,” as she scurried off happily.
What my little one imagined just did not work for me and my struggle to play. What my big girl stopped imagining didn’t work for me either, in my struggle to recreate old family traditions in a new multicultural family.
The imagination is a crazy thing. It can bring us pure joy as we turn straws into cats and back again, or think up fun party ideas, pots of gold at the end of rainbows and unique ways to solve a puzzle. It can help us to build communities based on shared ideas which we need to imagine are actually real and base rules around them. It can help us empathize with people from the past and future. It can help scientists and engineers think of new solutions to old problems and it can even create a whole world in which a certain kind of paper serves as a form of payment from other objects which we give imagined meaning to.
While the imagination is often regarded highly in children and lowly in adults, really, when I think about it, what we are doing the whole time we are moving around in the world is simply making stuff up. We make stuff up about how we look and how important that is, about what makes us tick, of what we need to buy in order to be happy or a life in which marriage consists of “happily ever after”. We imagine having to deal with our kids when they are teenagers, or how screwed up they will be by their crazy teacher at school, or how flexible we will be after one session of yoga (tears included).
It’s interesting that in so many scenarios, we imagine the worst. The media helps us to do that, it’s part of their job. Make us feel afraid, very afraid. Keeping us in a high state of anxiety as we imagine the crappiest thing that could happen. It’s kind of their thing. Imagine if you got fat, imagine if you didn’t have this new thing, imagine those crazy people making those choices that we don’t like. Imagine if refugees were given asylum, it would create chaos. Imagine if people could make their own choices, we would be doomed. Imagine if I left this job that I don’t actually like, I would be homeless. And so we plod on, weighed down by the worst-case scenarios implanted by the systems that profit from our silence.
I think now as we reach this new state of affairs, as global summits fail to protect our climate and people come out of quarantines and lockdowns frightened for the future of the planet, that it is time to (in the words of Glennon Doyle my best friend but she doesn’t know it) “use our imagination to create a blueprint” for what we actually value. What we want to create in our lives.
I want to imagine that I can be reunited with my family soon in Australia and that it will be easy for them to come here. I want to imagine communities not divided up by pharmaceutical use. I want to imagine a world in which my girls grow up knowing gender equality and race equality. Where people can voice their opinions freely and have open and engaging discussions, not squashed down by those who profit from fear or doubt or creating chasms between people.
I want to imagine a world where we start from love and go from there. I want to imagine that everyone loves their children as much as I love mine and just want to create a good world for them, even though the ways we reach those goals may look different.
I want to imagine that Santa is real and will come down my imaginary chimney and give everyone the gift of hope that we all need to reconnect with what has been lost in the last few years.
Who wants to imagine with me? Let’s make it up, and act like it’s all true, no matter what the 6-year-old tells us.