“Let’s be dogs.”
“No, I want to be a cat.”
“Okay, you’re a cat; I’m a dog.”
And so for the next five minutes—make that two—they are their favorite pet. Pets that talk between woofs and meows. But then a new idea comes.
“I’m Malibu Barbie.”
“Ew. I’m Superman.”
“Then I’m Batman.”
“You can’t be Batman. You’re a girl. You’re Catwoman.”
“Blech. I’m Robin. Robin can be a boy or girl.”
Round two. The imaginative play is fluid. They can revert to earlier rounds. They can have long intermissions for when, say, Superman needs a tissue and a Band-aid. (Perhaps the cape has a defect.) The rounds can go on until there’s a TKO—“Johnny! Dinner!”
Maybe next time there will be elephants and Martians. Or ninjas and train engineers hauling fourteen thousand ka-billion jillion boxcars of kryptonite.
“That’s not a real number.”
“It is now.”
To the participants, the play is real. They know an octopus can’t fly and Santa doesn’t make deliveries in August but they go with it. It’s fun. It feels right.
Adults need this, too. I’m not saying we need time to be talking dogs or creepy Martians, but we can gain something from letting down our guard and believing in fantasy. Think of the Sheldons and the Leonards who talk endlessly about comic book characters and ponder the Stars—“-Trek” versus “-Wars”. These people are easy for the rest of us to dismiss. Dungeons & Dragons geeks. But fantasy is healthy. We all need heroes. Gandhi and our grandfather may be the beauty pageant answers, but sometimes we need more. Yes, I’m talking superheroes.
It doesn’t have to be Luke Skywalker or Captain America. It can be Katniss Everdeen. It can be Christian Grey, I suppose. I’ve identified with many fictional characters. Jan Brady. Hermey the Elf. Chandler Bing. Carrie Bradshaw and Miranda Hobbes. Many more, no doubt. But Mary Richards is the one fictional character who feels the most real. She is flawed and yet an enduring role model. Even when she comes undone, she seems together. Mary is normalcy in an unpredictable world. And, to me, that is the ultimate. Mary is gosh-golly super.
Our fantasy characters, whoever they may be, help us cope. My Mary may be more realistic in terms of her humanness but who am I to dismiss someone’s connection to Captain Kirk? Find your beacons, caped, polyester space-suited or otherwise. Mine just happens to look amazing in slim-fitting sweaters and bell bottoms.
I am pretty sure I can convince my therapist that I know Mary Richards is not real. I can tell him that she is not a part of me, sitting alongside My Inner Voice. In fact, I’m astute enough to know not to bring up Mary. (Therapists were the play naysayers growing up. They never got past dogs-don’t-fly. We left them in the sandbox alone while we took to the trees as gibbons and those dreadful flying monkeys.) The truth is I can’t part with Mary. She is as real as anyone I know. Just better dressed, friendlier and a reminder that sometimes the best people don’t get exactly what they wish for.
I drove 12,000 during my summer road trip. Chasing Mary was the impetus but her adopted town was not my final destination. I left Minneapolis without buying Mary’s house. (Damn mortgage calculator!) And it’s true that I wilted when the time came to triumphantly toss my hat in the air. The moment wasn’t right. Looking back, it seems that the toss was not meant to be. Minneapolis was Mary’s town, not mine. Truth is, I’m still not sure I’ve found my Minneapolis and I certainly don’t feel I’ve reached the point where I can say with any certainty say that I’m gonna make it after all. I don’t quite know how to handle all the situations that come my way, comic and otherwise.
Still, I’ll keep searching and I’ll keep trying. It’s what Mary would do.