Posted by: sulya | 8 December 2009

You Are Not the Boss of My Imagination

The first rule in improv is say, “Yes.”

If your partner or stage-mate approaches you in the posture of a monkey and starts to make monkey sounds you do NOT look at them and say, “You are not a monkey.”

You feed them a banana.  You grind an organ and see what kind of dance might happen (you might wind up choreographing something the Joffrey Ballet would be proud of for all you know).  You make your own monkey sounds and groom out some fleas to eat.

You say “Yes” to whatever it is they’re offering and then you can take it somewhere else.  You don’t want to keep going with the monkey theme? Find a magic wand at some point (in fur while picking for fleas?)  and turn yourself into something else if you want.  But give it time to breathe.  Say, “Yes” first and trust that your ideas will be greenlit too.

I hope I do not need to point out the broader implications of this particular Drama/Acting Class lesson.  I mean, it’s THE lesson really.  The one that can save all kinds of relationships, see them through the crap and into the light if we can actually learn it and I had to teach a variation of it to my four year-old tonight in the car on the way home from a play date.

Frankly, it’s the only aspect of my parenting today of which I am even remotely proud because winter has hit hard and fast, she’s playing dirty with my rear car doors again and I’m a bitter, bitter wench about it  – my mind wanting to leave my body and fly away – thus being able to be soft and articulate and patient at the level of a four year-old for even five seconds is hard so this conversation really was quite the accomplishment…

In any case, a ways into the discourse, he was saying things to me like, “So, she does not get to tell me what to do with my imagination.  She can’t tell me that my superhero can’t fly and he can’t tell me that my robot can’t go super-fast.  Because it’s my imagination and she’s not the boss of my imagination.”

“That’s right, Baby, but it’s more complicated than that okay?  I’m glad you understand that. But here’s the really hard part okay?  No one gets to tell us what to do with our imaginations BUUUUUuuuuuutttt we also have to find ways to make sure our imaginations can play nicely with our friends’ imaginations or it isn’t fun for anyone.  You can’t say no to everything either.  Our imaginations must work together.”

We talked some more.  By the time we’d gotten out of the car and he’d moved on to his exact feelings about how a little girl in his preschool class doesn’t sit next to him anymore and doesn’t love him and how sad he is and I was thinking that there isn’t enough wine in the known universe for me to be able to cope with the very sincere and painful heartache of my very, very small child… We had discussed more robots, more superheroes, that his robot could choose to eat a duck but that if his friend really wanted the robot to eat a rabbit instead that he should be willing to consider this if his friend has ok’d the superspeed of his robot and so on and so forth…

And I really do think that maybe he has the beginning of the understanding of what it means to collaborate, to stand up for your more passionately held ideas but be willing to compromise and to share the stage of life and learn and write a whole new story if it means more people can play.

And for right now I am proud of this.  It may all backfire in a storm of fury and brimstone but for now… For now…  I feel like this may be one of the most important conversations we’ve ever had and I didn’t totally screw it up.

Only time will tell and if any of it has made me emotional it’s that I hope with everything I am that he knows that I work my ass off to say, “Yes” to his “monkey” whenever I bloody well can…  That I wish I could do it even more than I do…


And, so you all know I have joined Holidailies this year…  Click the icon with the penguin to learn more.



  1. Hi, I just wandered over from Holidailies and enjoyed your post. I’m getting ready to have my first child any week now, but I’ve also spent the last 10 weeks as a “manny” for 3-yr-old twins, and it’s been fascinating watching them at work. In some ways, they may be better at the interpersonal stuff than your average 3-yr-old, but then again, what kind of faint praise is THAT? The girl twin is much better at giving in to the boy twin’s imagination than vice versa, which probably worries me more than it should–I hate to see them falling into male-dominant-female-submissive patterns at 3.

    Anyway, my point was just to acknowledge the challenge it is to get kids at this age to acknowledge the validity of other peoples’ wants sometimes.

    Well, happy holidays, and great job parenting!

    • Hi John! Thanks for popping over and good luck with all the joy and and challenge that awaits you! Exciting times and I can’t think of better training than twin 3 year-olds though a newborn is a whole other game (smile)! I totally hear you about the anticipation of cringeworthy stereotypical behaviour… I hear my son rolling with his little guy friends saying things like, “No girls allowed” and it’s not pretty inside my head… And, yes, empathy is a difficult thing to teach. Sounds to me like you are well ahead of the curve, though. Thanks for the kudos on parenting… I readily accept your kindness if for no other reason than I’m sure I’ll be feeling like a parenting moron again very soon…

  2. Yaaay! This post is being featured on Best of Holidailies! Way to go, superstar!

    • Thanks Honey. It’s kind of cool [insert an image of me shuffling my feet through some dirt and smiling at my toes] though now I’m mentally preparing myself to disappoint people in style for the rest of the month (smile).

  3. Yayay Sulya, Best of Holidailies!!!

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