I've been thinking about how improvisational comedy relates to parenting (or, indeed, to any relationship).
The first rule of improv is to
The negative form of this rule is "Don't deny" or "Don't block."
In other words, you're standing on the improv stage, and your partner says, "Chris, there you are! All the other acrobats are waiting for the circus to start!" A bad improv response is to go, "What acrobats? This isn't a circus! And my name's not Chris!" Because now what's your partner going to do? You've just killed the whole scene.
I'm not a good improv actor1, but let's say a decent response would be, "Sorry, Ringmaster, I was helping the lion tamer rehearse — and there's been a slight accident…"
You're validating your partner's starting point, and the "and" part is that you're helping the scene to continue.
It's a way of being generous, of entering into the spirit of what your partner's creating, of making both of you look good and honoring the fun.
I was thinking about how I want to be a "yes — and" parent.
Mikko was entranced with the flubber at Schule. Sam stopped on the way home to buy school glue and food coloring. (Recipe coming soon…)
Mikko saw me knitting and wanted to make his grandma a scarf, too — yellow, because it's her favorite color. I didn't say, even though I was thinking, Four-year-olds can't knit. I set about brainstorming how we might be able to put something together as a team. (Whether Grandma will want to wear it or not is another story, but that's unimportant.)
There are so many opportunities in the day to block our kids and deny their requests, and I don't mean that in a guilt-inducing way, because we're usually being completely reasonable when that's our first instinct.
I'm just trying to be a little less reasonable, a little more open, a little more free-spirited.
I might not grant every request (today Mikko wanted to buy, in quick succession, a dog, a star, and a frying pan), and I might not do everything in the same time frame as a four-year-old would appreciate, but Sam and I try to make an effort to be good improvisational partners, particularly as we're moving into unschooling.
Do your kids want a train ride and Amtrak's out of your budget? How about hopping on the commuter train and back?
Do they want to make a tower and can't find the blocks? Break out the toilet paper rolls.
Do they beg for a pet it wouldn't be prudent for you to adopt? Think of another way you could bring animals into their lives: volunteering at a shelter or visiting friends with pets. Maybe they really just want to pretend to be an animal and have you serve lunch on the floor!
I'm trying to find ways like this where I can provide both the "yes!" enthusiasm and the "and" assistance and expansion. With Mikko's initiation, it makes for a darn good show.
How have you recently said "yes — and" to your kids? How does it feel when you enter into the spirit rather than block the action?2
1 I'm not any type of improv actor.↩
2 Thank you to the hilarious book Bossypants for making me think about improv, and to one of my inspiring college professors, Roger Lundin, for always "yes — and"-ing us in class. By the way, you, too, can have random footnotes.↩