Kids who enjoy games of pretend as much as my 7-year-old does – the technical term, I now know after having two children go through kindergarten, is “dramatic play,” but the use of the word “dramatic” always makes me laugh in the context of small children – tend to favor scenarios depicting real-life events. My daughter and her friends play school, house and birthday party; they never play “climbing Mount Everest” or “deep-sea scuba expedition.” Although I’m occasionally surprised that my daughter still keeps busy with imaginary friends well into second grade, the pretending games themselves aren’t foreign to me; my sisters and I played a game in which we were caterers until we were, okay, if not old enough to hire our own caterers then at least old enough to get jobs with real caterers.
Still, the allure of reality-based pretending exceeded even my experience yesterday afternoon when, as I prepared dinner, Holly announced we were going to play “Meeting.” She instructed me to meet her in the kitchen with a notebook and pen, because I’d have a lot of notes to take during this pretend meeting.
It’s so amusing to me that she chooses one of the hands-down most mundane elements of adult life to turn into a game. I think of meetings as one of my least favorite components in a typical week. I’ve been known to declare at church that I’d rather single-handedly update the entire membership directory in longhand than attend a meeting about it.
At yesterday’s pretend meeting, which Holly explained to me was a gathering of “the Rufflemuffle Committee” (“and you have to be invited,” she clarified, so I guess I was meant to feel honored), the first order of business was for me to be introduced individually to each of the other two-dozen or so participants. Even as she presented me to each of my invisible peers, Holly made small talk about how she was sure I’d met most of them before: “Kayla was at that party I had last spring. Jenna owns the house where I house-sat over Christmas. Petey was on that other committee with you last year. Ellen –“
“—ran over my dog,” I interrupted.
Holly glared at me. She never appreciates my obnoxious attempts to amuse myself at her imaginary friends’ expense.
Introductions over, Holly brought the meeting to order and gave us our assignment. “Everybody write a list of the things you like about ice cream,” she instructed. That was easy; I could complete the task even while I tore up lettuce leaves for a salad. “Variety of flavors. Sweet. Creamy. Rich,” I wrote.
“Good. Now everybody write a list of the things you like about cake,” Holly ordered. This exercise, I discovered, was a little bit more challenging. I do love cake but couldn’t come up with as many reasons. “Crumbly. Moist. The frosting,” I wrote a little bit more pensively.
The last instruction proved to be the hardest. “Now, a list of what you like about meetings,” Holly said.
Meetings! I don’t like anything about meetings! I looked at Holly and she frowned back at me. “Write!” she hissed. “Everyone else is!” I could almost hear their imaginary pencils scratching against imaginary paper.
“Refreshments,” I wrote. “A comfortable place to sit down.” I thought harder. “Getting together with other people.” There had to be more. “Coming up with ideas. Feeling like you’re going to accomplish something as a group.”
Strange, I realized as I was writing, this isn’t as hard as I thought it would be. And it made me appreciate Holly’s pretending in a way I hadn’t before, because by turning a regular element of my life into something of a masquerade, she had helped me see it in a different way. All of the components on my last list really were things I liked about meetings.
Perhaps not coincidentally, I actually had a meeting that evening after dinner, the monthly meeting of a nonprofit board of which I’m a member. As I sat at that meeting taking notes, I had to acknowledge that I actually was having more fun than usual. People were making amusing comments; some of the issues we needed to resolve were thought-provoking; and the decisions about whom to invite as a keynote speaker at our spring event would be fun to discuss.
So I learned something, thanks to Holly. Meetings aren’t so bad, as seen through a child’s eyes. Now maybe we can play an imaginary game of dental surgery or trip to the Registry of Motor Vehicles. Maybe Holly and her imaginary posse can make events even that mundane seem fun too.