"She fired me." Well, no one likes to be fired from a job they really want and it is interesting that "firing" even makes it into the game of running a restaurant, an imaginary restaurant that isn't actually imaginary, not even one bit. There were so many different menu items! The children had mixed saw dust, water, mud, and bits of grass and stone into various dishes. These dishes were listed on both a drive through menu as well as various other menus. They had a logo. There was a sign. There were flyers posted all around the playground. There was eat-in dining, delivery, and carry-out. This restaurant was the best restaurant, ever.
It makes sense that there were also employees and maybe there were too many. You had to have an accent to work as waitstaff or chef. It was a job requirement. The same person had been fired the day before because he hadn't fully developed his. And then there was also the employee/customer ratio problem. Working at the most fabulous imaginary-real restaurant was probably more attractive than being a customer. And such a successful enterprise needs customers. Maybe firing employees created those much-needed customers.
There were a lot of maybes, but one thing is true -- the creative energy was flowing from the creation play arc. This group, as with any other group of children engaged in extended periods of creative play, had turned things up to 11 on the idea percolation setting.
Getting fired is important conceptually. Children build in natural ebbs and flows or cycles into their play arcs. The joy is found in reentering the game, either as a new person or the same person. Reentering the game includes a systems check and a new source of creativity. It reestablishes the play arc, its guidelines and structure, and each player's place within the system and it gives everyone a chance to bring in new ideas.
You can see and hear this with any good play arc. There will be some sort of trouble that is inserted into the game. There will be illnesses, deaths, losses, all matched with sudden returns to health through magic potions, rebirth through waving of magic wands or simply jumping up, and rediscovery of lost items and missing persons using superhuman strengths.
Here is the interesting bit though when you study a roving group of children -- we, as observers, may be able to hear and see the creative growth of the play arc as each time the players reestablish their roles and the world they have created, but there are children who do not. The buy-in to the play is so complete that they are that person who does not want to lose their job. They do not want to get fired, being fired or being told what to do is comparable to being told that the very person you are will cease to exist and you are no longer part of the play.
And then I only wish for more hours, more days, more time to allow this play arc to continue. How important is this play and all of its creativity and its sorrows? Very.
"She did not fire you. She fired the person you are in the game."
Play is the time and place for developing empathy and self-compassion. It is not the me/me getting fired. It is the experiementing-with-emotions-and-resiliency-practicing me getting fired. It is also the me, who will later in life, understand the interconnectivity of our social selves and how each of us has a place with others. If a child gets stuck on the firing, the game ends and that essential practice cannot find completion. Development of the social self is disrupted for the moment.
"Staff only" -- is this a thing of exclusion? In the adult world, we know there is a staff-only space. It might be a shelf in the refrigerator, a bulletin board, or a room in a building. It might even be a state of mind. We dip our toes into the staff-only during play. When children need help understanding the subtleties of what is being expressed, adults and other children will help them see these, so the play does not stop with "I was fired." Rather, it is a means for the child to practice reentering and reinvigorating the game.
Mostly though, children need time and space to play in order to both experience and work through these social hiccups AND children should be left to their play untended and self-sustaining -- adults can create the space and the time for this to happen, but they cannot dominate the storyline or play arc. When adults involve themselves in the play with children, they instinctively and with love, surely, try to soften or eliminate the hiccups. Don't we want to create a world in which our children do not have to feel what it is like to get fired?
By taking the getting fired out of the play arc though, would curtail and even eliminate the moment of creation and recreation that naturally follows it.
It is the hiccups that are necessary. Without them, the play no longer presents the opportunities to build empathy, self compassion, and resiliency. Adults can help children look at a situation from other angles, but with too much intervention, these little "smooth outs" may eliminate the true benefits of play, and without play, social connectivity for all will falter.