2016-01-01 / Family Matters

Really Seeing Maddie’s World

David Rockower

In addition to being a daughter, sister, friend, student and dog owner, my daughter, Made­line Eve Rockower, is also the owner and oper­ator of the Littlest Pet Shop imagination zone. This 8-foot by 10-foot portal of play occupies a sizeable section of our family room — and it’s Maddie’s happy place. I must admit, when I first entered the Littlest Pet Shop imagina­tion zone, I was taken aback. It’s a brightly col­ored whirl of stuff, the carpet literally covered in tiny animals, miniature castles, water parks, colored pencils, spools of ribbon and multi-colored tape set up to form a rectangle.

Maddie sat inside of this rectangular array, orchestrating the interactions of her littlest friends. She says it’s “my favor­ite area in the house” and “a place where time just flies by.” It’s also a place where Maddie prefers to be. Last fall, instead of getting ready for soccer prac­tice, Maddie would complain of not wanting to go and ask her mother if she could please just stay and work on renovating the Littlest Pet Shop hos­pital wing instead.

I wanted to see this area as Maddie saw it, so I sat down and talked with her about the world she has created.

Dad: What kind of pretending do you do?

Maddie: Mostly, I use Littlest Pet Shop. There are dogs, cats, zebras, lions, all kinds of animals. I have several buildings I use to pre­tend where the animals live. Some we bought at the store, and some I made. This one has nine beds, a kitchen, a living room and a din­ing room. I created a wooden hospital with five beds and a front desk, where injured ani­mals can check in after an injury. I use ribbon for little casts on their paws or legs. I some­times use a red marker to color it a bit, so it looks like they are bleeding. Oh, and this is the mall; right now the circus hat, beach hat and a crown are all on sale.

Dad: Why do you pretend, Maddie?

Maddie: I love to create and make crafts. It gets my mind settled. If I’m mad or upset, it helps me calm down because it’s something I love. When I play, it makes me go into the zone, it makes me want to create and create and create.

Dad: Do you think pretending helps you as a person?

Maddie: It helps my brain become more imaginative. When I grow up and become a toymaker, I can use some of my creative, imaginary ideas. Sometimes in school, we have to make up our own stories. Pretending helps me come up with crazy names, creatures and places. I made a cotton ball bed for one of my creatures, and I had the idea to use it in a story I would write. Wouldn’t it be cool for a char­acter to have a cotton ball bed with fuzz ball pillows?

Dad: Some kids your age say that they are getting too old for pretending. What would you say to them?

Maddie: I don’t care what they say. It matter how old I am. I enjoy it, and I’m to keep doing it forever. Someone who grows up to create shows like “My Little Pony” doesn’t ever stop pretending and imagining. How else could they come up with names like Twilight Sparkle, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash? Also, there are jobs, like a toymaker, who have to pretend forever.

Dad: I noticed that your brother often complains about being bored, but you don’t. Does pretending help fight boredom?

Maddie (jumping up and down): Yes! I feel like I have my own little companions. It makes me feel comfortable, because I have so many little characters that become my friends.

After our interview, I took a closer look at Maddie’s play area. What I had seen as a mess 15 minutes earlier, I now saw as a warm, child-inspired commu­nity with a diverse collection of friends, all in­side a world of bright colors. It reminded me of the classic children’s book “Goodnight Moon.” That book always left me with feelings of com­fort, security and the certainty that tomorrow would be awesome. And aren’t these the very things we want our children to imagine?

My brief interview with Maddie reminded me to look past the mess and realize, remem­ber and embrace the worlds that our children create. They are often the ones in which we should be living. •SCM

With a sports-obsessed 11-year-old son, a spirited 9-year-old daughter and a goldendoodle who looks like a muppet, teacher David Rockower has a lot to write about.

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