Every day I’ve gone to work for the past few years, I’ve had stowaways in my backpack.
One day it’s a duck and a tiger. The next day it’s a pelican and a giraffe. Yesterday it was a lynx and a unicorn. A different odd couple each morning.
Stuffed animals, stuffed into my backpack with love by my animal-loving children.
At first, it was just one animal, selected by my then-3-year-old boy. Then when my little girl got a little older, she joined in the fun. Ever since, it’s been a pair of animals each day, marching 2 by 2 into their Jansport ark. Kind of like in the story of Noah, but without all the catastrophic flash flooding and wanton obliteration of humanity. (Which is good because my morning commute is challenging enough as it is.)
When my bird-loving Greyson first started sending a stuffed bird with me each morning, I used it simply as a desk mascot. I would set the meadowlark or mockingbird near my keyboard as a little morale boost, so that I would have a reminder of my little boy all day long.
Then one day, I decided to make a video on my lunch break. I took the stuffed animal into an empty classroom of the law school where I work, gave it a goofy little voice (nothing remotely Pixar-caliber, I assure you), and used my iPhone to film the animal conveying a message to the kids. Probably something about missing them, and hoping they were being good for Mama, and telling them about helping me at work. Then I texted it to my wife to show both kids (including Violet, who was 1).
Well, let’s just say it went over quite well. The kids were tickled. And as a result, I have made videos for Greyson and Violet almost every work day for several years.
Some days I do it out of playful joy, and some days I do it out of sheer, wearying contractual obligation. I just can’t bear to endure the disappointed looks on my kids’ faces if I miss a day.
I’ve come to realize that my ability to spark a good idea for these videos on a given week is a kind of bellwether for my mental health. When I am up, when I feel myself, I easily think of all sorts of goofy and creative premises for my little stuffed animal sketches.
I’ve filmed the animals on benches, behind blinds, up in trees, stacked on top of each other, and in various nooks and crannies around campus. I’ve had the animals write messages on a whiteboard with dry erase markers. I’ve used my water bottle as a prop in multiple different ways. I’ve done an Abbott and Costello style routine.
But when I am down, when I don’t feel myself, it takes all my mental power to conjure up an idea for a sketch. And that idea is usually a blah, recycled one. My improv skills are thwarted by a deadening mental block, so the video is slapdash and uninspired.
At least it’s uninspired in my eyes. The kids never seem to notice or judge these gradations in my performance. They are the most generous audience any sketch comedy troupe, stuffed or human, has ever performed for. They smile or laugh at just about any cheesy, strained joke I put into my videos. When I get home from work and ask them about it, they regale me with a wide-eyed plot synopsis of what happened in that day’s sketch.
Their appreciation is a beautiful, pristine thing. Even when my mental health is not.
And so I will keep churning out a video each day, even on the days when I have no ideas left. Because those videos, clever or not, inspired or not, are the lifeline connecting me to my kids in the middle of every workday.
Reminding me of why I go to work. Reminding me of the simple value of creativity. Reminding me to not take myself too seriously.
And hopefully reminding my kids how deeply they’re loved.
After all, I feel self-conscious and sometimes downright ridiculous when I improvise a goofy conversation between a stuffed cat and a stuffed cardinal. And I am not inclined to make myself feel self-conscious for just anyone.
But for those two beautiful, beaming, bright-eyed children?
Sign me up for improv.
One thought on “The Improv Comedy Troupe in My Backpack”
See, now you have to post some of your video’s here. Why shouldn’t WE get to enjoy some great dad-ing? And we gotta love how your kids love your work even when you think it’s not all that. Love is love, as the poet says.