For a while now, afternoon naps have been only an occasional thing for Liam, and now that he’s 5, they happen only on long hauls down the interstate. But to give him some daily downtime (and to restore some Daddy sanity), we’ve instituted a mandatory, hour-long “quiet time” in the afternoon for Liam and his 3-year-old sister, Maggie.
While Maggie still tends to fall asleep, Liam uses this time to surround himself with superheroes, pirates, animals and other characters. Amassing the optimal combination of action figures can take a few minutes, with several scrambles upstairs to the toy room to grab Emperor Zurg or the “squishy frog,” who’s been known to infiltrate the Bat Cave.
These dramas born out of Liam’s little brain can unfold for up to an hour. It astonishes me, because I never did that as a boy, and I’m terrible at it now, too. I have such an insatiable appetite for true stories that I don’t spend much time in the land of make-believe. Almost all the books I read are nonfiction. I love “This American Life” and profiles in “The New Yorker.” I watch documentaries. And if a feature film is “based on a true story,” you better believe I’m heading straight to Wikipedia afterward to see just how true it is. (Because everything on Wikipedia is true, right?)
I don’t entirely avoid works of fiction, but I’ve noticed that in order to truly love a movie or book, it has to have a semblance of realism. If the characters in a post-apocalyptic zombie movie are relatable, I’m in. But Broadway musicals, with their exaggerated expressions and built-in assumptions that people sometimes break into choreographed song and dance, can’t compete with the nagging voice in the back of my head saying, “This didn’t really happen.”
All that’s to say, I’m not the best playmate when Liam wants me to play the role of Marty the zebra. But his sister is perfect. She eagerly jumps into whichever role Liam has cast her and embraces it without a smidgen of ego. Recently I found Maggie bounding around her room on all fours, tongue hanging down her chin, while Liam shouted various commands to his “puppy.”
A playground just off Rt. 23 in Delaware is a summer favorite of Liam and Maggie, partly because there’s a climbing structure that resembles a large boulder. While other kids merely climb the rock, my kids recently enacted the tragic scene from “The Lion King” in which Scar lets his brother, King Mufasa, fall to his death from a cliff. Other kids wandered over to watch, then asked if they could play Lion King, too. (No pre-Ks were harmed in this reenactment.)
I’m glad Liam doesn’t have the same nagging voice that I do. His imagination is an attractive thing and a reminder that my kids don’t have to be (and probably shouldn’t be) carbon copies of their parents. Even now as I recount this true story, click-clacking key strokes in front of a glowing screen, I can hear Liam gleefully playing on the front porch with his sister and bellowing: “Who’s ready for the circus?”
—Joel Oliphint is a freelance writer, often running his mouth about music in The Other Paper and other pubs. His two kids refer to Bob Evans as Bob Dylan’s and still don’t know the purple dinosaur’s name.