In a conversation at the lunch table, I had the opportunity to work with a little friend of mine, Jack, on growing his flexibility. Jack was sitting with Billy, Emma, and Catherine. Two of the children, Billy and Catherine, were talking about dragons. Billy said that they shot water out of their mouths, and Catherine said that they used to shoot fire. I could not resist asking Catherine how the dragons had made that transition. She responded matter of factly that she didn’t know. Jack then piped up that dragons didn’t exist. My heart sank a little, because I could see that this rather peremptory claim would not have a good effect on his friends. In fact, Billy looked a little crestfallen, but he supported his initial statement by explaining that his brother knew a lot about dragons and said they did exist. Jack again stated that they did not exist and added that if Billy wanted him to believe him, Billy should “prove it” by showing him a dragon. This, of course, put Billy on the spot, and he was silenced for the moment. I made one attempt at calling Jack’s attention to Billy’s discomfort, but he had dug his heels in and continued to insist on the need to “prove” the existence of dragons if you were going to talk about them at all. I contented myself with saying that I thought it was just as much fun to pretend as to learn about things that were real. Jack responded scornfully.
Then Catherine spoke up and said that there were dragons in China. Jack again refuted this statement. I began to feel that both he and I were getting a bit stuck, so I changed my tack. I told him that if he wanted me to prove to him that dragons did exist, he could come with me to China, and I would show him one. He protested that I was talking about pretend but he only was interested in what was real. I restated my position that pretend was fun and that kids were stronger if they could have fun with what was real and also what was in pretend. I then told him to hurry and pack his suitcase, because our flight to Shanghai left from Logan Airport in half an hour (taking into account that in pretend there are no security lines) and then announced that we had arrived at Logan, pointing out to him the United Airlines sign above the gate that said Flight 100 to Shanghai in bright red letters.
I asked, did he want to go with me? He said, no. Then Billy said that he wanted to come with me, and Catherine said she wanted to come with me, and Emma said she didn’t want to come with me. So I said, OK, I will go with Billy and Catherine and leave you two here to hold the fort, and we will find a Chinese dragon and bring him home to you. Then Emma changed her mind and said she wanted to come with us too. So I tried again to persuade Jack to come with us. He said no, that we had to prove to him that dragons were real.
I was not going to leave Jack alone in Cambridge while the rest of us had a wonderful adventure in the colorful, twisty streets of Shanghai. I insisted that we could have both pretend and real dragons, and when Jack started to contradict me, I said to the kids at the table, “Oh, now I know that Jack is tricking us. (I don’t think I mentioned that Jack is extremely intelligent.) I remember a time when Jack and I were talking about a disagreement, and he told me he that he knew two people could have two different opinions about something and both of them could be right. I glanced up at him and saw that he was smiling. I sighed internally with relief. The spell of negativity had been broken. At this point, the other children had been distracted by classroom events. I was left with the realization that it might take us many trips to the airport before we boarded that flight to Shanghai and explored that magical city together, looking for dragons.