Keeping House in an Imaginary World

Genevieve Kineke is editor of Canticle, the Voice of Today's Catholic Woman.

Granted, the Lincoln Logs are hewn from trees but the stain and scale demand that they get their own cubbyhole, and Playmobil — by dint of its price and thematic nature — rates its very own Tupperware container complete with matching lid. This receptacle has grown over the years to keep up with the kids’ (read: my) great affection for various accoutrements that no home should be without: Victorian tub, fancy birdcage and bird, not to mention the hedgehog family for the woodpile out back. There are countless little pieces from curry combs to ice skates but I don’t mind taking the time occasionally so that all the logos rest surrounded by similar kind ‘til the next go-round.

It’s what happens in the course of play that mystifies me and has caused me occasionally to rethink my worldview. These children of mine don’t seem to understand “brand names” and “like kinds” as I thought they would. There is the preeminent dumping that takes place before each session — any mother knows that sound. But it is followed with the most confusing compilation of creatures, comprising little worlds that push even the most eclectic boundaries: the Victorian schoolgirl chatting with the Native Americans from a totally different continent, not to mention befriending the Fisher-Price Racecar driver who’s a whole different gauge completely. The inhabitants of the medieval castle are skating with the hockey team on a makeshift rink and both my children and their well-turned-out varsity players seem to conveniently ignore the fact that the castle riff raff have neither gear — nor legs!

Wilderness folk hunt side-by-side with city slickers and ride about on Brio trains despite the size and period differential and Bob the Builder will give a lift to anyone who looks to be in need — whether he has the Lego-like ability to stick onto the colorful construction vehicles or not. He’s even crammed in various Veggies, Pound Puppies, and Beanie Babies when they’ve had to relocate for whatever reason. There’s an ecumenism at play here that keeps me guessing and causes me to constantly question my reactions.

In my imagination (or leftover childhood wish list) I see a Playmobil village which only awaits another matching piece or new camper to expand the vacation options. I can also envision a frontier farm with livestock and sustainable vegetation or a block town serviced by a loping train bringing all the necessities in its own sweet time. I’ve hoped for the perfect zoo set up with uniform cages but my offspring insist on the plastic lion sitting down with the cross-town lamb from two entirely different union shops. Children of all races and logos play merrily across timelines and borders and they refuse to acknowledge that those without proper attire should not be invited to tea.

I know that these children are regular Mass-goers and have been taught the golden rule but aren’t there limits to “the highways and byways?” — really! If folks are to walk that extra mile with their brother, shouldn’t they at least consider the length of the legs and the size of the heads? And, truly — why can’t we at least consider which store shelf the various warriors hail from before banding together to fight the local dragon? The serpent’s hardly recognizable as it is, assembled for a long forgotten school project, and presently slinks about with missing limbs and garbled features. Perhaps there’s more truth than I’d like to admit concerning dragons wandering incognito. Could these youngsters have learned that all who fight such dragons share something more important than UPC codes?

No, let me just get back to my containers and get these things picked up. Segregation is clean and simple in its place. Peace is a product of right order and I’ll deal with this diverse crowd in my own way — giving them the best digs I can muster according to label and fiber content. There’s only so much room in this house and once I get these toys divided and arranged, I can move on with the next meal. What are these kids thinking with such broadmindedness? The next thing I know, they’ll be arranging a communal banquet for every creature they own…

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