Growing up, my favorite TV shows to watch were Sesame Street and The Muppet Show. Hearing these silly jokes and stories from a talking green frog, a prissy, glamorous pig, and a drummer aptly called Animal was great fun. So it seemed natural to entertain my younger brothers and sisters by making all their stuffed toys talk. What I should have realized is that some people don't make their dolls speak, ever. I learned this the hard way when a couple hired me to babysit.
I was to watch a five-year-old boy and his four-year-old sister. The instructions were simple; they were to have dinner and be in bed by eight o'clock. So I promised to read them a couple of stories to get them to bed on time. In the corner of their room was a pile of stuffed animals. As I read the stories, I picked up different toys and gave them voices like the characters in the book. When their parents came home, they were happy to see their kids tucked in for the night. The next day, though, their mother called me. "Celeste, what did you do to the kids' toys? They're both very upset because their toys aren't talking to them this morning. Why would their toys talk to them?"
I said, "You don't make funny voices with their stuffed animals?"
"No. That's ridiculous. I'm sorry, but we won't be able to use your services in the future."
This flashback still makes me laugh. I kind of felt sorry that these kids' parents didn't have a sense of humor or imagination. At the beginning of the evening, the children weren't sure of me and were missing mom and dad. But when I started talking to them, using their toys, they started laughing and eager to have a conversation with me. I was able to put them at ease and distract them from worrying about their parents out for the evening.
This event didn't deter me from continuing to come up with different voices for different toys and objects. I did some substitute teaching and could connect quickly with the students by making their toys talk to them. For example, a first grader, Joe, didn't want to have his lunch one day. A teacher told me earlier that he usually refused to eat. I picked up his lunchbox to hand to him, and he shook his head from side to side and said, "I'm not hungry." I put the lunchbox up to my ear and said, "I'm sorry, but he doesn't want to eat you today." The lunchbox replied, "Oh, thank goodness, I'm so glad to hear that!" In an instant, Joe grabbed his lunch and opened it up. The lunchbox said, "Hey, wait a minute. You're not about to bite into us. Just close the lid." Joe ate his entire lunch while I made dying sounds with every bite.
It may seem absurd to make inanimate objects talk, but it's hilarious when I see adults answer ventriloquist's questions to the doll instead of the person. I dare anyone to have a conversation with Bert and Ernie and only look at the puppeteer. We all need to open the door to imagination and be creative without fear of judgment. I believe in the power of being a little goofy and helping others lower their anxiety to make way for much-needed laughs. It's also a wonderful way to encourage young people to find their voice and learn to be silly.