Fingers, What Are You Doing?

This is a game for when your creative energy’s running dry. Rebecca invented it at the beginning of the summer when it became obvious that I didn’t want to hear “Tell me a story” any more, especially first thing in the morning. Instead, she asks, “Pinky, what are you doing?” Then she asks each of the other four (anthropomorphic) fingers in turn what they’re doing. On the first iteration through my hand, the fingers are involved mostly in separate activities–whatever pops into my head. Then we go back through the hand and ask each finger what s/he’s up to again. Two or three iterations is usually good. Sounds simple, right? But it’s a wonderful vehicle for emergent stories.

The fingers’ activities don’t remain separate for long. That’s the nature of creativity; it’s easier to come up with an answer related to what the other fingers are doing than it is to think up new answers whole cloth. Subsequent answers can complicate previous answers:

Birdie: I’m opening a beer, a tub of ice cream, and a package of powerberries.
Pointer: I’m really upset about the fight Birdie and I just had.

Or cast light on them:

Pinky: I’m splashing in a waterfall. Wheee!
Ringman: The sink’s overflowing! I’m turning off the water and trying to clean up the puddles, but Pinky keeps splashing me.

It works best if the fingers can’t talk to each other. Rebecca loves to read between the lines to figure out what’s going on, then convey urgent information between the fingers:

Rebecca: Thumbkin, you’re eating Pinky!
Thumbkin: What? I thought it was a sausage.
Rebecca: No, Pinky was sleeping in the sausage drawer!
Thumbkin: OH NO! Quick, tell Ringman to get the vacuum!

Thumbkin, the mom, is nearsighted and part ogre, so she eats Pinky by mistake fairly often. Then Ringman has to vacuum Pinky out of her stomach. I haven’t seen many stories about bumbling moms, but we’ve both really enjoyed playing Thumbkin that way, with Ringman as the responsible, competent dad. I’m feeling stretched to keep up with both kids at the same time, so poking fun at Thumbkin and her inability to keep track of Pinky feels good.

Once we’d played that game for a while, Rebecca started expecting the fingers’ activities to be secretly related, so sometimes she suggests things that don’t really fit with the story (“Ringman, that’s not a maraca! You’re shaking Pinky!”). I usually go with it anyway, because she seems to have more fun that way than in figuring out whatever I was thinking.

Does seeing the fingers’ lives as interlocking parts help Rebecca think of our lives as interlocking parts, too? I like to think so, but she’s still early in that process. She’s fascinated by how different people can have different takes on the same thing or different approaches to a problem. Lately much of our pretend play involves Rebecca asking me to switch through a lengthy list of characters from Winnie the Pooh or My Little Pony, so that she can see how each one is going to react. After about a month of that, she’s starting to shift her own character more readily and to come up with appropriate activities for that character, though she still has major trouble figuring out how to react in character. It’ll come.