"Guess Who I Am!" (charades to the rest of the world) was a favorite holiday family treat for our kids. Kids may never be more creative than when trying to silently convey a concept to the rest of the family. But that wasn't the case in our house.
Our daughter began loving "Guess Who I Am!" during family gatherings just before she turned 2 years old, and throughout the holidays that's all she wanted to play. We'd all assemble in the living room on the navy blue canvas sofa, the one with all the fossilized spit-up stains from when the kids were babies, and play our version. The rules were simple: Each player had to act out a person or thing that we all knew, without revealing who or what, while the rest of us tried to guess.
Our 4-year-old son was usually a fireman, policeman, cowboy, Superman, baseball player, basketball player, football player, Power Ranger, Ninja Turtle, fisherman, swimmer, astronaut, dinosaur hunter, lion hunter, or bear hunter. It was tough for us to distinguish one hunter from another, but we got a clue with the dinosaur hunter since my son usually looked all the way up to the ceiling before shooting. Eventually, he caught on to his "tell," and threw in giraffe hunter once in a while to trick us. For our turns, my wife and I tried to be creative, but mostly we picked similar "Guess Who" roles as our son, sticking to the rule about choosing a clue that we all knew. Sometimes, for variety, one of us would mimic a grandparent or neighbor. Our 6-month-old was amused by the game, giggling frequently, waving his arms, and kicking his legs in apparent simpatico with whoever was performing. Most of the time, though, he just added spit-up stains to the sofa.
Because our daughter did (and still does!) everything with flair and a flourish, it wasn't surprising that she developed the most unusual approach to the game. On her turn, she would always take center stage (the middle of the faux-Oriental square rug in the living room), raise her right hand in the air, put her left hand on her hip, and turn around in circles. If she was wearing a dress, her left hand held the dress out to her side as she twirled. She did this every time. Every time!! The routine never varied, nor did the secret character she was portraying—she was always, always, always either a ballerina or a teacher. While we understood the ballerina's movements, we really never got why a teacher would hold one hand in the air, the other on her hip, and twirl about. She hadn't gone to preschool yet, so she couldn't be imitating something a teacher did in class. Maybe a pirouetting princess is what she hoped her teachers would be like when she started school (and starting school was high on her list of best possible things to ever happen to a kid). When she accompanied me or my wife to drop off her older brother at preschool every day, she was so, so jealous. (Maybe one of her brother's teachers twirled while we weren't looking?)
However the ballerina-teacher thing developed, here's how our December evenings would usually play out: Our budding thespian would stand center stage, assume the position, and twirl. Her big brother would roll his eyes. We would give him "the stare," which meant he had to pretend he didn't already know the answer, to which he would usually respond by slamming his hand onto the sofa in frustration. Then we would all make random guesses, to which our little girl would happily shake her head "no," until one of us would finally ask, "Ballerina?" It was 50-50 whether we were right on any given performance. But if we didn't choose correctly, we let big brother get the final victory. "Teacher?" he would guess, feigning ignorance. "Yes!" our little actress would joyfully nod.
May your own cold December nights be warmed by ballerinas and teachers, firemen, policemen, cowboys, Superman, baseball players, basketball players, football players, Power Rangers, Ninja Turtles, fishermen, swimmers, astronauts, and hunters.
Dr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman Emeritus of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children's Hospital Colorado. He is the author of three books for parents and families, including the recent No Regrets Parenting, a Parents advisor, and a contributor to The New York Times Motherlode blog. Visit his blog at noregretsparenting.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@NoRegretsParent).
Image: Frosted window with Christmas decoration via Shutterstock