"...And Make It Real Creative!": "Why Don't You Just Grow Down?"

by Andy Capp

Sometimes, I have a four year old T-Rex living in my house. He can turn the whole place into his personal hunting territory -- filled with Lesser dinosaurs, Lego buildings to crush, and the occasional two year old sibling prey to attack.

Other times, a four year old super-powered defender of justice lives with me. That's when the house takes on the appearance of Tim Burton's Gotham -- tall, dark chair/buildings to dive from, flashlight signals from headquarters on the ceiling, the occasional two year old sibling "Bad Guy" to defeat.

Once in a great while, this four year old becomes my son Nicholas, a little boy who humbles me daily with his creative imagination -- and daily torments his two year old brother with the products of that creative imagination.

I'm not telling you this as a gushing father (well, to a degree I am - hopefully that will pass by mid-article...), but as a student of the creative process who has discovered an expert group of teachers on the subject...kids.

Kids, before they're taught "the facts," before they're molded into the MTV image of the week, before they're told "no" and "you can't do that" about eight million times. These are the masters of pure, uninhibited creativity. Let's step into their classroom and learn some lessons.

Rounding Up The Shark

One day Nicholas, the undersea explorer, sailed up to me with an old softball in tow.

"Look out for this shark, Dad," he warned, jabbing the ball in my face.

Before I could catch myself, I came out with a typical negating grown-up reply, "No buddy, that's a softball."

He laughed. He pointed at the stitching. "No Dad, see? There are his teeth!"

I was blown away. It didn't matter that it was round. It didn't matter that it had no fins. What mattered was that he had seen the razor-toothed smile of a shark in the stitching of that old ball, and even though his thoughtless, jaded father almost blew away the illusion, in his mind, it was a shark.

Lesson #1: Never accept a single view of anything.

Building The Perfect Beast

Nicholas, the four year old bio-inventor, unveiled his latest creation. "That's neat son...that's the coolest, ahh, thing you've ever made."

He grinned proudly, "Yep dad, it's a Raptor!"

He was right. He had taken Mr. Potato Head's feet, a lincoln log, toy pliers, and a shoestring, and had created the dinosaur he didn't have in his store-bought Jurassic collection.

He hadn't complained (much...) that he didn't have one. He didn't tell himself that he didn't have the plastic and molds and paint to make a replica. He just decided that he was going to add a raptor to his collection and made one.

Lesson #2: Never let lack of materials or tools limit your creative goals.

The Working Recess

If you hadn't noticed yet, my son spends much of his time playing in a world of make-believe. While the parental side of me is forced to agree with his mother that he needs to get more than one toe in reality before he starts grade school, my creative side is fascinated by his play world.

It's a place where extinct creatures co-exist with futuristic robots, where toy cars fly and teddy bears are faithful partners in crime fighting, where the story line has no limits of time or space.

It's a place I try to create for myself from time to time. No, I don't tie a towel around my neck and make whoosing noises while I jump off a chair (although that might put the fear of God into the sales staff). I spend my playtime pushing buttons on the Harmonizer and seeing what new noises come out, making up new (sometimes rude) lyrics to the latest songs, and joking with my playmates in the newsroom. And while the management types of the world might deem this "goofing off," some of my best work has come from playtime, rather than sitting around trying to force it.

Lesson #3: A playful mind is a creative mind.

Back To The House At Pooh Corner

These are only three of the hundreds of lessons on raw creativity I've learned from spending time with my creative mentor. If you have children, you've probably learned a few lessons of your own. If you don't have children, you may want to rent one for a few days to see what I mean. (No, sales folk and morning show hosts don't qualify -- we're talking children, not childish.)

Watch, learn, then look for that little person inside yourself that still believes everything is possible. That little person holds creative possibilities that we gave up long ago to become an "adult."

Finally, to my creative mentor: may you grow up without losing that world of possibilities that's growing in your mind, even though the "real world" will try to convince you it can't exist. And may I be a wise enough student/parent to nurture that creative place rather than to add to the disbelief...unless, of course, you use your little brother one more time as an unsuspecting kick-boxing partner....