Now, looking back from the top of highground, I can say “Oh the things I learned from all those years in the children’s entertainment business and observing my clients"...”Fast forward nineteen years since my 1984-first-year working at DIC. It’s 2003 and Kim and I are living in a penthouse on the top floor of Dunleith Towers in Kansas City’s wonderful Plaza district.
Alex, our first born child, is four years old–a joy to be hold. He loves toys; all kinds of toys–race cars, dinosaurs, stuffed animals and, most of all, knights. He has a collection of action figure knights he loves to play with. One night, as it nears nine o’clock, I walk along the hallway from my home office to check on Alex in his nursery.
It’s a cheerful nursery with a rocker, a sturdy dresser, and a firetruck bed that Alex sleeps in. As I near his bedroom, I’m surprised to hear his emphatic, whispering voice. It’s way past bedtime for him. As I draw closer to his open door, I hear him having a conversation, two knights in battle: “Get out of my way! I’m going into the castle!” “Never!
I’ll protect my queen!” “I’ll show you!” “No, I’ll show you!” I linger near the doorway to the darkened room, hearing Alex mimicking clanging swords. I peer around the corner, into the room to see him in his bed, arms outstretched high, index fingers on each hand extended like swords, Alex’s muted shouts providing dialog to the battle.
There are only a few critical, pivotal moments in a child’s life when a parent finds himself at a crossroad. Which road a parent decides to take can have a huge influence on a child’s development. I find myself at such a crossroad on this night. It occurs to me that I could snap, “Stop that playing and go to sleep!”
My body convulses, thinking of the damage that would do to his creativity and the embarrassment the invasion of privacy could do to his psyche. Instead, I step into the room and softly say, “Alex...?” Alex whirls to look at me, quickly lowering his hands. I gently approach his fire truck bed and say “Don’t stop.” When he tilts his head in question, I lower to him and whisper, “I played the same way when I was a boy.” I can feel my throat tightening, the words coming with difficulty. “Play-acting is so good for you. It helps your brain to grow in amazing ways.” I reach out and stroke his impossibly soft flaxen hair. In the darkness I have to force my choked words to come out. “Don’t...ever...stop.” His own voice quivering, Alex says, “Oh...Daddy...” He sits up and reaches out to me. I reach out to him. We embrace and hold each other for a long time, tears of joy and gratitude and love flowing from both of us...and I thank my Godin Heaven for letting me learn about ‘play patterns’ and their importance, so many years ago in Toys R Us.