Tonawanda News

October 20, 2010

Imagination is a wonderful — and scary — thing

By Jill Keppeler

NORTH TONAWANDA — There was a tiger in our front lawn a few weeks ago.

At least, that’s what Sam told us. He bounced up and down in front of the window, chattering away and pointing, until my husband dropped what he was doing and went to look. (I followed the safari via the telephone from work).

I thought perhaps he’d spied a tabby cat or other feline prowling the neighborhood, something with at least an ancestral connection to the tiger genes. Then my husband started to laugh.

Nope. Just one of the innumerable squirrels that populate our yard ... or perhaps a tiger that existed only in the fertile imagination of a toddler. I guess we’ll never know.

At 2 years old, Sam is my flight-of-fancy child. Tigers in the front yard, castles in the backyard, toy car racetracks in the lids of storage containers ... everything seems to be a little more than meets the eye. I look at the speculative look in his blue eyes sometimes and think, “What on Earth is he seeing?”

Jim, while capable of quite a bit of imagination while playing or reading, seems more pragmatic when it comes to daily life. I see him looking at his brother out of the corner of his eye sometimes himself, with a speaking glance that says, “What the HECK are you talking about?”

I was the same way as a child, so I’m getting a kick out of it. Imagination can be a wonderful thing ... and with it, I figure he’ll never be bored.

But sometimes, imagination can be a scary thing, too.

My parents recently brought out a long-forgotten Christmas present for the boys, something that had fallen behind the tree and been passed up on Christmas Eve: one of those motorized little hamster-like critters that runs around on circles on the floor.

Placed in our dining room, it scurried around under battery power, bumping into furniture, startling a giggle out of Jim ...

... and completely scaring the daylights out of Sam.

He ran to his grandmother, climbing up in her arms with a cry of terror ... then abandoning her to run to Daddy, the tallest person in the house and thus further away from The Hamster-Thing of Horror. He was so scared he was shaking. I hastened to turn the toy off and get it out of sight.

All that, from a toy hamster? From the child who has never met the real critter he’s afraid of, from real hamsters to giant dogs? The child who begged to go on all the big-kid rides at every amusement park and carnival we attended this summer?

What image did his imagination provide when he looked at that toy critter? I may never know. It’s up on a top shelf now — well out of toddler eyeshot — for a good long time. Maybe we’re try it again someday, when the line between toddler imagination and reality is just a little bit wider.

For now, we’ll stick with imaginary tigers.