For the Parents

Nicker isn’t just some ordinary sea dragon. He was part of a highly interactive game between a father and son, and sometimes others. It’s something just about any parent can do. It requires no special tools, props, paints, not so much as a sock over your hand. The key is to let imagination blend with reality. Let the child BE a child – don’t force or control that world, just let it happen. If you join in, so will the child.

I’m a freelance writer, photographer and editor. That gives me the luxury of working from home. I was very much a part of the pregnancy, birthing and care of my growing child and even wrote a book about it called, “The New Father’s Panic Book.” At this time, I also designed and had our home built, which became another book, “Be Your Own Architect.” Involvement with elder care led to “The Caregiver’s Manual” with Patie Kay, and after we teamed with my brother, David Williams, this became “The Baby Boomer’s Guide to Caring for Your Aging Parent.”

This meant I was there to read to my son, and tell him stories, and play games. He loved that interaction. I’ve yet to meet the child – or adult – who doesn’t. His favorite was Bill and Fred. I would paint faces on the sides of my hands and use the thumb as a lower jaw. Danny could talk to his two friends.

The downside of being freelance is that when a deadline comes, there is no one to fall back on. I had a multi-book contract to complete, and for a few months caught my sleep a few hours at a time, and otherwise was at the keyboard, in the darkroom, or spreading things out to coordinate the projects so they would get out on time. Of course, I still made time for Danny, and my dear wife was already just about the best mother a child could even dream of having.

One night I was so tired that just the idea of painting my hands, playing the game, then washing off the paint … well, I just wanted some sleep! Danny, though, wanted to talk. Then I got what I thought was a good compromise. I used a hand as a tickly spider. That wasn’t enough – Danny wanted to talk. I used a hand as a wiggly snake. Nope, not enough – Danny wanted to talk!

Okay, so the compromise was to make the snake talk. Trouble is, my son was –and is – pretty bright. That didn’t fool him for one minute. He growled, “Snakes don’t talk.” I was just about to get up and paint my hands when he grabbed my wrist and shouted into my fingers, “YOU’RE A SEA DRAGON!”

Ah, the imagination of a child.

This began a game that lasted for some years, and that kept growing. There was a boy sea dragon named Nicker, so he had to have a mother. That was Emily. She was always sweet and understanding, but it was clear that she had something much more. The father was Simon. He was huge, and powerful, and could bite holes through mountains if he had to – afraid of nothing in the world, except Emily.

There were many others. Glicker was the newborn baby girl, and Danny taught her how to talk, and about patience and manners. Arful, the world’s fastest creature, came about when I had an itch on my back and reached to scratch. “What was THAT?” from Danny became this sea dragon who’d lost his memory after banging his head against a steel freighter. Slicker was the cousin who helped Simon patrol the oceans for “bad creatures,” Danny’s version to address his thoughts about bullies.

As I wrote these stories for the book, a main goal was to find ways to blend reality and fantasy, just as the game itself did. Just as you can! You’ll find this even in the art.

In one story, Danny and Nicker go on a picnic. Look at the art and you will see the blue pillow that was supposed to be the island where they went. Nicker loves peanuts, saw a bush with yellow berries and began to eat them. They were scary berries, which make someone, even a sea dragon, afraid of everything. In the game, I was moving my arm fast, trying to hide it under everything. Meanwhile, Danny was throwing everything off the bed until I had nowhere left to go. The story tells of how Nicker took a dive into a hole. That was really me shoving my hand and arm under the mattress, and Danny still clinging to my arm. Needless to say, the mattress came crashing off the bed, knocked over the nightstand and lamp and smacked into the closet door. (A father, son, and wiggly, frightened sea dragon don’t fit well under a mattress.) My wife came rushing in at the noise to find me on the floor, my foot caught on the box spring, the mattress on top of me and Danny on top of that.

In the first book, this is a two-page drawing, and for just a moment, the fantasy comes back into reality, which goes back into fantasy when Danny crawls under the mattress to comfort his friend.

Other stories have Nicker making a shambles in a grocery store. Yes, I really did shove my arm behind some displays and knocked over a whole rack of potato chips. Nicker and Danny were a little leery of Simon, because he is so huge and powerful, with a deep, gruff voice. The Gordie is coming, which is Simon’s father. He’s also my father, and Danny wasn’t comfortable having his grandfather come for a visit. That’s the reality. In the story, both boys were nervous, only to find out that grandpa had a wonderful sense of humor and told embarrassing stories about Simon when he was young – just as my father did to me.

It goes on and on that way. The two had the same birthday. Their experiences in life were different, of course, yet were much the same. They started school together. Danny’s first teacher was Mrs. Washington (really!), so Nicker’s teacher was Mrs. Lincoln.

All this gave Danny, the real boy, a chance to explore the world but from an imaginary perspective, and also from a unique and wonderful “multicultural” perspective. I rarely directed what was going to happen in the game. More often than not, I was just as surprised as my son when something happened in the game. It just … happened!

I would follow Danny’s lead, and he would follow mine. It could be in bed at night, in the swimming pool, even in the grocery store. His cousins, about his age, would even call on the phone and ask to speak with Nicker to tell him their problems.

Nicker, and the others, became more than just hands and voices. They became fantasies that were real.

Another true story … I agree to be the photographer at a friend’s wedding. I sat down on a couch to change the film in one camera. A mother dragged her obnoxious and loud little boy and plopped him down next to me for a “time out,” and he didn’t like that one little bit.

I don’t know why I did it. I pushed my arm under a back cushion on the couch and brought up my hand. “Hi, my name is Nicker.”

He wanted nothing to do with that, but for whatever reason, within a few minutes he was telling my hand his life’s story and why he was in trouble. His mother came to get him a little while later, and he went back to the party. Before I left, his mother came to me and asked, “What in the world did you DO? He came back in and was a perfect angel.”

There is a magic in this. At least there can be. All you really have to do is let it happen.

The stories themselves are interactive. When you read them to your child – or have your child read them – or you yourself read them – pose the questions, and answer them. What WOULD the classroom of a sea dragon look like?

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