I Am Killing My Kids' Creativity... And It's Killing Me!
The 3 Most Creative People I Know
The Apples Don't Fall Far...
I am a writer. No, really – I have a Creative Writing Degree from Oberlin College and upon graduating I took a job as a writer for American Greetings. That’s right – I wrote greeting cards, son! I did that for four years. And while writing greeting cards I also worked on screenplays and musicals and skits and songs and novels and a really cool epic poem inspired by a mash up between The Illiad and Boys in the Hood and written in iambic pentameter! I know, right? Trust me – it’s amazing! I also write and participate in puppet shows and live dramatic performances! And whenever my children have birthday parties I attend dressed up as a superhero I created called, Captain Ka-Boom!
Oh and don’t get me started on superheroes!
I have a spreadsheet on the very computer that I am writing this piece from that contains over 100 heroes and villains that I've created! Yes, I plan to start out as the number 3 comic character producer behind Marvel and DC and then finish as number one! Mwhahahahaha! Check for me in a couple of years, bro!
And I haven’t even touched on movies yet! I am a movie FREAKING FANATIC! At its pinnacle my DVD collection topped out at 500 discs. Because of Netflix and a few other ways of streaming movies to my computer that collection has taken a little bit of a hit but it’s still probably bigger than yours. And I go to the movies as much as I can. It’s a little less now that I am juggling three kids and my wife’s doctor work schedule, but still if I was allowed to I would go find a dark theater to sit in everyday of the week. And twice on Friday! Get at me, sis!
And I have scripted and directed little short low-budget films and videos for churches, schools and other organizations with the hopes of one day breaking into Hollywood! Yeah, the cats out the bag, now! I’m going to Hollywood, suckas!!
So to say that creativity is a huge part of my life is the understatement of the century. Creativity IS my life. I create! Not only do I create stories and characters and scenes and settings... but I also create solutions to problems. And I think of creative ways to approach people. I try to think outside of the box in everything I do. Of course that doesn't always lead to the greatest results, but I’d rather die trying than to live sitting here wondering what could have happened. There will be enough time for wondering in the afterlife. Here’s my number, JC! Call me anytime!
I value my creativity over pretty much any other aspect of who I am. It’s the only thing I am truly confident about. Sure, there are other great things about me. I’m a great dancer, I’m a super friendly guy and I make a mean scrambled egg! Come see me, Remy - I ain't gonna rat you out! Zing, baby!! But all of that aside, it’s my creativity that defines me. Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll say, "hey, that Steff is a pretty creative guy!"
So if creativity is so important to me then why is it that I am actively taking part in the destruction and death of my own kids’ creativity? WHY???
I mean, I’m not only destroying it... I’m dragging it through the dirt, kicking it in the teeth and dropping elbows from the top rope on it! I think I've even taken my metaphorical dog on a walk through it. And you know what metaphorical dogs do in metaphorical spaces? They take metaphorical dumps! That’s what they do! Those are the worst kinds!
What did my kids do to deserve that? Nothing! They did nothing to deserve my systematic extermination of their little muses. But I am doing it nonetheless. How am I doing it, you ask? I will tell you how...
I’m using the word STOP! Yes, that simple four-letter word is my murder weapon (in the Study, with Mr. Mustard - I'll never confess, Hasbro! Call my lawyer!)
Stop jumping on the bed!
Stop singing so loud!
Stop using that fork as a lightsaber!
Stop putting on your mother’s dresses!
Stop using my replica lightsaber as a baseball bat!
Stop cutting up my good printer paper to make superhero masks!
Stop running in the house!
What the heck is a Monster High Doll?!
Stop racing your cars in the kitchen!
Stop using your toothbrushes as lightsabers!
Stop riding your brother like a show pony!
Stop making Barbie and Ken kiss! What??
Stop wearing my Jordans!
STOP RUNNING IN THE HOUSE!
I might as well take a lightsaber, fire it up and start slicing up my kids’ creativity as if it was an angry Anakin Skywalker on the planet of Mustafar.... Wait a minute. Does that mean my kids’ creativity will be rebuilt into a cybernetic, breathing-impaired mad man with designs on ruling the galaxy and crushing the rebel forces? That would be awesome! And there are three of them! Triple Awesome!
But, as usual, I digress. The point is that we are all born with these wild and creative imaginations! When we’re 3 we want to be pirates and princesses and astronauts and cage fighters and ninja turtles and we want to enroll in Monsters University and live happily ever after with our Prince Charmings and be superheroes with special powers and we wish with every bit of our being that lightsabers were real! I mean, have you seen all the things lightsabers can do?
But then reality starts creeping in. Adults begin to tell us that you can’t really be a princess – that’s impossible. And a bit of our creativity dies. They tell us, stop jumping around like a ninja; you’re supposed to be sitting down reading a boring book. And a bit of our muse fades away. They tell us, you have to meet all of these standardized academic standards and that there is no time for art and carpentry and creative writing and there’s no money for music and dance. And skateboarding and photography and graffiti and Parkour and go-karting are all frivolous activities with no merit other than to entertain us. And a bit of our imagination slips away. We’re told that real jobs and grown-up activities take discipline... the kind of discipline it takes to sit in a cubicle or behind a desk or in a classroom for the rest of your life. And we are beaten and battered with the notion that all the creative, imaginative things we dreamed about as children are impossible or unreasonable or simply stupid. And our creativity is systematically stripped from us until we become the inside-the-box adults we are today. I’m not saying we’re all unhappy with the lives we have – I am saying that we are all creative by nature. And if we can tap into that creative nature that we were born with and apply it to even a small aspect of our lives, I believe life will be so much more fulfilling!
Video games are not immature! They are a creative release! They can become immature when we totally neglect our adult responsibilities because of them. But a desire to play Halo or Wii Tennis should not be exclusive to children and teens.
Having an imaginary friend is not immature. It’s a great way to force you to think outside the box. “If I was someone else, what would I do? How would that someone else approach this situation?” Now, if this imaginary friend goes all “here’s Johnny” on you, then call Egon, Venkman and the rest of the crew and get out of there... fast!
It’s easy for us to fall into patterns. It’s necessary for us to function in a world that’s full of patterns and “social norms.” And we believe that training our children to abide by these patterns and norms and “standards” is the right thing to do. And yeah, sure it is. We’re not doing our duty if we don’t teach our kids how to operate in this world. But sometimes our effort to train our kids how to survive in the world becomes the very thing that hinders our kids from thriving in the world. Read the biography of any hugely successful person on this planet - from Bill Gates to Jay-Z to Oprah Winfrey to Hulk Hogan to Jesus Christ – and they will all say the same thing. This person did it differently. This person thought outside the box. This person was creative and imaginative and radical. This person NEVER STOPPED. No matter what anyone told them, they didn't stop! No matter how many times they failed, they didn't stop! No matter how many people said they should stop, they didn't stop! They kept going. They kept dreaming.
I have to find the right balance. A balance that allows me to teach my kids that there is a time and place for ALL aspects of who they are. Yes, they will have to conform at certain times. Yes, they will have to fall in step with the crowd on occasion. And yes, there will be times when they will have to follow what someone else has already laid out in order to get the job done. But at other times the box will be too small, or shaped incorrectly or totally unnecessary altogether. And I want to make sure that they are ready to seize those moments. You wanna be a ninja? Be a freaking ninja? Find a ninja school. Train with the best ninja’s out there! Get in touch with Chuck Norris! What’s he up to nowadays anyway... other than being awesome!
You wanna be princess! Go be a princess! How? I have no flipping idea. But that doesn't mean it can’t be done. I know women who work for Disney that get to be princesses every day. I once threw a princess party for my daughters and had women dressed as princesses attend the party! The girls loved it! I've also taken my girls to a Princess Ball thrown by a college softball team. And the entire softball team dressed as princesses and took pictures with the girls and danced with the girls while trying to avoid all the creepy stares of the fathers, uncles and big brothers who escorted the girls. It was amazing! You can be a princess too! Make. It. Happen!
You wanna be a Ninja-Princess? Be my guess!
Ninja Princesses Rule!
All I'm saying is, stop using "stop" so much! Stop stopping our kids from being more. Stop killing the creativity that they were born with.
I have to stop saying stop so much. Yes, there are times when it is absolutely necessary for me to say “stop,” as in, “stop getting knives out of the kitchen drawer!” But other times, not so much. I don’t need to tell my middle child to stop singing so loud just because it’s a little piercing to my ears. I don’t need to tell my youngest to stop having the Indy 500 in my kitchen just because I might slip on a Hotwheels and re-injure my surgically repaired knee. I don’t need to tell my oldest she can’t be the next Wonder Woman. You know how amazing that would be? To have a daughter that is a superhero! Hook a brother up, DC!
I just need to stop. And I need to think about the fact that if my parents would have told me to stop, my life would be so much different.
I refuse to be responsible for Killing my Kids’ Creativity.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I've gotta go clean up a few messes.
My Legend Grows, Calliope! HUZZAH!