Once upon a time there was a boy called Tommy. He was a wolf. And one day he went into the forest and he saw a bear and he fighted the bear and then he banged the bear into another field. Then a lion came and a snake and an angry zebra and an angry giraffe and they all fighted. Tommy went home after the fight and he saw the King wolf at his window. The King wolf is not his friend and is angry and is mad at him and always says he is stupid. But it wasn't the King, it was Tommy's brother and he was pretending. Then they all went to a party on a farm. There was loads of tractors and bulls. Tommy loves tractors. His favourite is a New Holland. The end. – Sam, aged 5
I have an admission to make. I secretly make recordings of my children. I started doing it when my son was five years old and have been doing it ever since. I have amassed a back catalogue that stretches to several hours in length.
Most of the recordings comprise fantastical stories. More often than not these feature wild animals, farm machinery and parties. They are populated by people that bear a close resemblance to people my children know in real life. When they themselves make an appearance in their own story, they are always the hero.
As acts of espionage go, my attempt is pretty rudimentary. I don’t have microscopic devices planted around the room. All I have is my phone. And that’s all I need.
It’s safe to assume that almost everybody reading this has a smartphone and that smartphone is capable of recording events in a whole host of ways. Some we are more familiar with than others. Who among us isn’t stuffing the “cloud” full of photographs and videos on an almost daily basis?
I would wager though that very few of you record your children’s voices in isolation. You should though. Because a window exists during which their imagination is like a portal into another world. For obvious reasons, they can’t transport you there by written word. And if your kids are anything like mine, performance takes over from storytelling when they know a video is being captured.
By recording their voices on their own, the focus remains the story itself – and the imagination that fuels the story.
Strangely enough, there doesn’t appear to be any academic consensus on where our imagination comes from or why it exists. One theory suggests it is an evolutionary hangover to language creation – a way for early humans to make sense of their world before they had the ability to put things into words. For others it is a tool that evolved to keep us safe. By imagining a crocodile in the water, our ancestors were less likely to wade into swamps without hesitation.
Wherever it came from, one thing seems certain. Imagination (much like my hairline) fades with time. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that it changes. And those changes mean that it doesn’t compare to a child’s in terms of its propensity to do the fantastic.
I won’t pretend to fully understand the science at play here, suffice to say that as we age and gather more and more life experience, it seems we become prisoners of that experience.
It’s harder for a grown adult to conceive of a wolf going to a birthday party because somewhere in our brain we have stored the information that wolves do not attend parties. They are notoriously party shy. And everyone knows that a wolf would never say that a New Holland is their favourite tractor.
Our children are not burdened by those constraints. But eventually they will be. It’s an inescapable part (and also the tragedy) of growing older.
So do your future selves a favour while you can – record for prosperity now that which will disappear tomorrow.
If nothing else, it will be even more ammunition to embarrass them with at their 21st birthday party.
Kieran Cuddihy presents The Hard Shoulder on Newstalk each weekday from 4pm to 7pm