Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Flying Wise Men

Toby has a lovely nativity scene.

And right now it looks something like this:

The wise men, all three of them, were jumping on the top of the stable.  It's a good thing the shepherd was busy eating a pretend bagel in the kitchen, because I'm sure his staff would have broken in the excitement as well.

This little set is the center of Toby's 3-year-old understanding of the Christmas story.  He asks me to act out the story with the people, he hunts me down to ask for clarification on their names, and then, when he is alone with the set, he incorporates the story into his own play.  Sometimes I hear snippets of the familiar story.  He looks at Joseph and Mary and tells them, "There is no room for you."  Or he parades the pieces in one at a time and has them say "Hi Jesus!" to the baby.  But just as often he goes off on his own tangents, and sometimes that means that the wise men start jumping on the stable, and somebody loses a foot.
I remember, as a child, tipping my own nativity scene over sideways, calling it a boat, and loading the holy family and all their friends in it for adventures.  This sort of play is the beginning of claiming the story as our own.  When children play stories, the stories are no longer the property of a written page or of an adult.  Their play is less linear, less logical, than our adult questions--but it gives them the authority to ask the questions that might seem more at home in a Bible study classroom.  How did young Mary experience that night?  Who gets shut out of the Inn today?  What gift do you bring to welcome the Christ child?  These sorts of questions require us to play our way into the story, to see where our lives intersect the old texts.

And the crazy thing in play, whether through a child bouncing their toys or an adult wondering outloud, is that sometimes the answers we play into are different from what we've heard before.  Play is a place of creativity and possibility.  Sometimes in our play someone gets hurt, somebody loses a foot.  Or sometimes a new idea is created that allows an old story to make sense in a new life.  As a parent, it means taking a break from passing along my beliefs and leaving space for Toby to experiment with his own.  Turns out that's a skill that starts when he's young, too.

And now I am off to find some wood glue.

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