Parenting and The First Rule of Improv

A disturbance in the room makes us both hold our breath. A sound, a scraping, perhaps a drag. Or was it a step?

“I heard something” Abby whispers.

“Shhh. I heard it too.” I whisper, even quieter.

The air under the blanket is close, moist from our exhalations. We crouch low on the couch, not moving, both of us holding the thick cloth over our heads.

“What is it?” I ask.

“A monster.” Abigail whispers. Then, “Lets look.”

We bring the blanket down slowly, the cool air stirs my hair, fans my forehead, is a relief. My eyes take in the empty living-room and kitchen.

“I don’t see it…” I whisper.

“There it is!” She says, and we yank the blanket over our heads as quickly as we can.

Later, I convince her that it’s gone, and as we lounge against the cushions looking at the ceiling she says, “Look daddy, fireworks!”

I say, “Yes! And they’re in different shapes. What’s that one?”

“A princess!” she says.

A few minutes into the imaginary fireworks display which is taking place somewhere near the ceiling I hear her say, “The monster is back.”

“What’s it doing?” I ask.

“It’s eating the fireworks!”

“Oh no! Tell it to stop! Tell it we like the fireworks, and when it eats them, we can’t see them anymore.  Tell it that this makes us sad. I’m sure it doesn’t want to make us sad.”

And she does. And luckily, the fireworks eating monster which we have created sympathizes with us, and spits the fireworks out. We thank it, and offer suggestions about other things it might eat, instead of our lovely fireworks, and it goes away.

The first rule of improv is, say “yes, and”. If you’re working with someone to create a scene out of thin air, out of imagination, you mustn’t sabotage this work. Disagreeing with them blocks the scene, and the action, and causes things to sort of fall apart, so when they present some new aspect of the story you’re sharing, agree with it, and then add something of your own. Say, “yes, and…”.

When Abby says, “There’s an elephant in that tree!” any reasonable person could say “Elephants don’t live in trees, you silly goose.” I recommend that we, as parents, stop being reasonable. Maybe it’s more important to uplift our children’s wild, rampant, dangerous imaginations, than it is to make sure that they understand the physical limitations imposed on elephants, by gravity.

“Yes, and it’s drinking a milkshake!” is a suitable answer, or maybe “Yes, and it’s teaching the baby birds how to fly!” Embrace the power of “Yes, and.” Play with your children, and help them create fantastic worlds, so that when they’re adults, they’ll know that there’s so much more to our world than what our eyes tell us.

“Everybody has a secret world inside of them. All of the people of the world, I mean everybody. No matter how dull and boring they are on the outside, inside them they’ve all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds. Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands maybe.”
~Neil Gaiman


Magnificent worlds

(Kate was asleep. I know you were wondering. I’m sure she was dreaming about something incredible.)


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