About every two weeks I babysit my niece, who is eight years old, over a weekend. Unlike most girls her age, she absolutely loves Godzilla and his monster cohorts. At home she has a collection of stuffed monsters who have appeared in Godzilla movies over the decades, including different versions of Godzilla himself. On several occasions she has asked me to buy her new stuffed monsters in exchange for chores. I am probably going to have to order her a Biolante (one of Godzilla’s enemies) very soon. She has also requested a hand-made Tyrannosaurus (another Godzilla enemy) for Christmas.
When I first started taking care of my niece, she wanted to play what she called “The Game.” I don’t have any children of my own, so I was not prepared for The Game. The Game is a role-playing activity, with me taking the character of a monster and my niece taking the character of Godzilla. There is an introduction period where the characters meet and exchange pleasantries, but then The Game takes a different tone, often involving a conflict of some kind. The conflict is then worked out through help from other monsters, magic, battles, treaties, or whatever you can imagine. These last two stages of The Game should not be confused with light, unconcerned, frivolous child’s play.
What I quickly learned is that the conflicts in The Game were my niece’s way of working out whatever issues were bothering her at the moment. For example, in one Godzilla film, Minilla, Godzilla’s son, is being picked on by another monster, but has not yet learned to breathe fire. Minilla tries to run to his powerful father. Instead of protecting Minilla, Godzilla pushes Minilla back into the fray and steps on Minilla’s tail to give him additional fire-breath motivation. It works.
After seeing this scene, my niece said, “My dad does that.” At the time, my niece was learning how to ride a bike without training wheels. Her comment launched a discussion of why dads make their kids do difficult things, even when the kids don’t like it. We then had to play The Game, in which I was Minilla and got my tail stepped on.
Since starting The Game, I have lived through episodes involving aliens, God, war, cannibalism, sovereign immunity, multilingualism, civil disobedience, cursing, inappropriate body sounds, outgrowing friends, and pet ownership. I don’t think I’ve led my niece astray in any of this; she seems to be growing up to be a well-balanced, happy child.
The Game has been good for me, too. As a lawyer I am used to operating in my left brain, thinking in a linear fashion with logical causes and effects. The Game has forced me to live in my right brain, at least on a temporary basis, and reminded me that the law isn’t everything. So I guess I owe a debt of thanks to Godzilla and all of his stuffed friends….I couldn’t do it without him.