Out for a drive in the shoe car?
by Kindra Fehr
While cleaning recently (I was on a mission to get the house in order for what seemed like the hundredth time that day) I found that my gym shoes contained two little dolls, each sitting in her own shoe as if driving a car. I mindlessly reached to pull them out-then stopped. As I stood staring at these two little dolls placed precisely in each shoe, my mind began to wander to all the little surprises that I find throughout my home on a regular basis: stuffed animals lined up with dolls riding on their backs, pillows with a "friend" tucked nicely in the case which makes the perfect bed. A line of animals in a row with washcloths, dish towels, or socks pulled up to their chins to keep them "comfortable and warm" while they sleep. The over-the-door shoe rack doesn't contain just my husband's shoes anymore; each clear plastic pocket has become a special home for favorite books or animal friends. I've often walked into the living room to find an art installation comprised of miniature dishes, books, and other miscellaneous toys. Ah, the beauty and the power of play! I find reminders of it all around me.
The creativity of a three-year-old in inventing games, pretending social interactions, and conceiving magical worlds awes me. My daughter can keep herself busy for hours caring for her "friends," which is what she calls the stuffed animals and dolls overflowing from the toy basket. A few days ago she held a birthday party for Boca, the stuffed cat. She ran to me, jumping up and down in excitement, "Mom, it's Boca's birthday, and we're having a party!" I offered blended mango for ice cream and sweet potato muffins for cake, but she didn't want anything quite so real. My daughter and her "friends" sat in a circle and ate imaginary cake and ice cream.
I listen as she disciplines them and sings to them. Last night when I asked, she told me they were playing games. I asked, "What kind of games?" She told me, "The costume game, the backyard game, and the pirate game."
What I overheard of the games was, "No Boca, you and Tika the toad stay here while Wilbur the pig gets dressed." (This must have been the costume game.) I wasn't able to hear the rest of the interaction because she looked up, saw me observing, and said, "No mom, please, we need some privacy."
Each trip to the car includes a five-minute transition of gathering up everyone for the journey. She marches out the door with her arms so full of stuffed animals that she can barely see over them. I find myself wanting to hurry her and feeling impatient until I pause and marvel at the beauty of this little girl taking responsibility for and caring for her friends.
Looking again at my gym shoes with the little dolls, it dawns on me that maybe I shouldn't be in such a hurry to straighten everything up, maybe I could see all these reminders of her play as a call to sit down myself and engage with my daughter and her "friends" if they'll have me. Maybe I could spend less time straightening, working, and planning. Maybe I could learn to take more time playing.
Kindra Fehr is an artist and mom to toddler Aria Hancock. She co-instructs the Salt Lake Art Center's KidsmART program.