COVID-19 BLOG: Finding your inner child

Alexandra+Garner+and+her+younger+sister+Sophie+take+a+photo+together+in+September+2019.+Photo+courtesy+of+Alexandra+Garner.

Alexandra Garner and her younger sister Sophie take a photo together in September 2019. Photo courtesy of Alexandra Garner.

During this time at home, I have spent a lot of time with my family, as have many people across the nation and world.

While trying to continue schoolwork, make plans for the summer and stay on top of COVID-19 updates, I have also spent a lot of time with my 5-year-old sister, Sophie. We watch movies like “Frozen 2,” “Onward” and “Wreck-It Ralph,” and I have taught her how to say “Cheerio” in a British accent on my own personal journey to master the accent with my extra time.

Despite all these activities, we spend a lot of time playing games, such as UNO, Sequence, Barbies, Sorry! and LEGOs. Sophie also really likes to color, play with Play-Doh and play restaurant or doctor. 

I’ve played with her countless times — during this time and in the past — but I’ve never really grasped how imaginative she is or how pure her spirit is.

Although I remember playing when I was her age — creating characters and little storylines — and playing with other kids through volunteer opportunities and community events, I didn’t fully appreciate the seemingly innate creativity that kids have.

This struck me when I was playing with Sophie one afternoon. It was very warm outside so my step-dad decided to get Sophie’s water table out so she could play with it in the driveway.

She has two toys that resemble Little People toys (whom she named “Mommy” and “Daddy” for my mom and step-dad), a fish, dolphin, a wind-up purple alligator, flat animal toys — an orange shark, orange starfish and a blue octopus — and some mini plastic shovels. 

We divided the water table into an upper and a lower section. The upper part we deemed “water” and the lower section we deemed “lava,” only in which the alligator (Mr. Alligator), shark and octopus could survive. The two Little People, fish (Franky the Fish), starfish (Sparky the Starfish) and dolphin could only survive in the “water” area. All around the water table was lava.

We threw birthday parties for the Little People, held jumping contests off a yellow diving board between the toys and created a feud between the “water” and “lava” groups (which was resolved with a heart-to-heart between both parties about the “lava” group being upset they weren’t invited to the Little People’s birthday parties).

My favorite of the stories we created was sending the Little People on a quest to find “The Magical Thing” (a green fly swatter) that was at the depths of the “Dark Lagoon” (a black milk crate). This green fly swatter was granted the ability to keep the “lava” hot in order to save the home of the alligator, shark and octopus, who could only survive in hot areas. “The Magical Thing” also had a special healing ability, so when the shark got hurt from trying to steal it (because he wanted to save his home), the “water” and “lava” groups worked together to save him. 

As we played — setting toys off to achieve unimaginable feats, giving different toys special abilities (water-resistant or lava-resistant) to save or visit their friends, creating and solving conflict — I realized again why kids are so awesome: they are natural storytellers.

Alexandra Garner and her younger sister Sophie play together on the beach in July 2018. Photo courtesy of Alexandra Garner.

This ability to create stories out of thin air, out of words and an idea, seemed to be second nature to Sophie; she had little hesitation creating new obstacles and events and switching between characters. And the more we played, the more I felt myself doing the same thing. 

The characters’ voices and experiences came to me as if they were my own stories, as if I had traveled to the “Dark Lagoon” or ate the strawberry-watermelon-lemon cake (a pink-green-yellow marbled squishy water ball) at “Mommy’s” birthday party. 

Kids, like my little sister, have the amazing gift of telling stories. They are creative at heart, seeing worlds and creatures that have not yet been seen, or may never be seen. 

Playing and creating are powerful, and they are things that I think we lose at a certain age, when being creative is deemed unimportant, silly or childish. 

One of the only situations in which we can experience the beauty of storytelling again is when we play with kids. As we get older, we crave this creativity and miss being kids because we feel our spirits have dimmed or even died. We want to get lost in those worlds again. 

Sophie and I will continue to play and create during this time, and we will play many times after it is over. 

I know that not everyone’s situation is the same. I know that people have other priorities, whether that be financial or familial. I just ask that if you have any younger siblings or family members, you encourage them to play and support their creativity.

I also encourage you to play with them so you can find that child in you again.

This story was written by Alexandra Garner. She can be reached at alexandra.garner@marquette.edu.