This essay was originally written in October, 2003, just before my orange-lovin' boy's 5th birthday. It's still one of my favorites. I hope you like it too!
My five year old likes to play a game I call “What If?” Those of you out there who are exposed to four and five year olds will probably recognize the game as I describe it. Usually it takes place in the car, while I am trying to concentrate on driving. He’ll land on a topic and imagine amazing things about it, requiring some input from me as he concludes. Here’s a typical game:
“What if our car could fly? What if we could just push a button and zoom to the grocery store? No! Wait! What if we could be invisible while we fly? No! What if our car could also be a rocket and we could go to the moon? No—wait! What if while we go to the moon we could zoom to Ben’s house and pick him up and take him with us?”
And so on. Eventually, our car is not only an invisible flying rocket, but it has room in it for all of his favorite cousins and other people, decorated with flames, and when we arrived at our destination, all we have to do is push a special button to make our car fold up into it’s own carrying case so we can put it in our pockets and not worry about having to find a parking spot.
My usual response—carefully thought out so that I don’t squash his exuberant enthusiasm or his desire to imagine the possibilities is, “That would be something!” As things become more incredible and amazing, my response changes to “That would be something” and later as his imaginings border on the truly fantastic, “That really would be something!” This satisfies him, and allows me keep the car on the road where it is supposed to be, as opposed to ending up on the sidewalk, around a tree, or up the tailpipe of the vehicle in front of me.
As his mother, I smile and wonder to myself what other mothers do in these creative and imaginative settings. I like to think that when Oliver Wright said, “What if I could build a machine that could fly people around like the birds?” or Thomas Edison said “What if I could get this little piece of tungsten wire to light up?” or Mr. Nokia (or whoever pioneered the cell phone) said, “What if we could talk on radio waves?” the response from those close to them was “That really would be something!”
Now my version of the “What If” game is a little different. Sometimes it’s “What if your room was always clean?” or “What if our five-month-old really did sleep through all of the night?” or “What if the dishes really did wash themselves?” But if allowed to let my creative imagination truly run wild, I would also say to this precious five year old boy, “What if you always stayed just the right size to snuggle here on my lap? What if you always stayed just as you are, right now? What if I could make the world so safe and all of the people in the world so kind and nice that you would never have the chance of being in danger or getting your feelings hurt?”
That really would be something.
And that’s the other side.