How Imaginary Ninja Battles Can Teach Me to Be More Adaptable and Gracious in My Life


ninjaToday is International Ninja Day, and while some people will celebrate by learning about the history of ninjas (check out National Geographic’s Ninjas Secret History Of The Ninja Uncovered Full Documentary or watching Japanese cinema – I recommend Ninja, a Band of Assassins or if you want something more kid-friendly you could always watch some awesome Miyazaki anime like My Neighbor Totoro or Kiki’s Delivery Service – both of which have no Ninjas but are great Japanese films which are available on Netflix). Others might think that it is a good time to watch American Ninja Warrior or imagine what it would be like being a ninja while playing Floor is Lava.

I, on the other hand, find myself thinking about my son’s efforts impersonating a ninja. He will often sneak around the house and then attack imaginary bad guys so that he can save us and be our hero. These battles aren’t a full-frontal attack but a carefully crafted plan that necessitates ingenuity, bravery, and honor. While it sometimes surprises me and others in our house when these battles begin, I can’t help but appreciate how the youngest member of our family is “doing his part” to keep us safe.

While I am certainly not as agile and athletic as my littlest, his embodiment of honor, trustworthiness, and adaptability are certainly showing me glimpses of his character. Maybe it is showing me an example that I should try to embody more in my life.

His battles always necessitate a variety of advanced planning and the flexibility to change course at any moment. While I can certainly identify with making 1001 plans for every occasion, I know that I sometimes struggle to keep my “can do” attitude when our family plans start to break down.

Whenever these ninja battles are raging, there are setbacks and surprises (“look out, new enemies are coming from the kitchen”), and somehow he always finds a way to improvise so that he wins the battle. He never gets stuck in the rut of doing it the way he imagined would happen before the battle started. Still, he just redirects his energy (and that of his enemies) and sees it as an opportunity to try something new rather than as a setback.

These games of make-believe also show me not only his bravery and fierceness but his humility and caring.

There is no quitting or letting the enemy capture his family or stuffed animals, no matter the odds. While he can be shy or scared at times in real life, when he enters Ninja mode, he is undaunted. And yet, he will sometimes enlist others to join in his battle when the odds are too great, happy to let daddy or his sister join in to ensure the victory and share in the glory.

His ability to stay focused on the goal of saving the village lets him ask for help before he gets too overwhelmed. How many of us forget that we can and should practice asking for help and graciously receiving it when offered??

These moments of make-believe even show me his protective streak, where he is the one to take care of others and fix the problems.

These battles are echoed when we will be walking in a parking lot, and he will put his arm out to stop me. My 7-year-old is on the lookout – watching the world and trying to protect me while I still feel the need to do that for him. He shows me glimpses of the man he will grow into, and I can’t wait to meet him.

So while I can’t jump around and battle imaginary foes for hours on end like he can, maybe if I watch more carefully, I can see the awesome lessons he can teach me to be more like a Ninja in my day to day life.

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Erika is a professor of Chemistry and Environmental Studies and mom to two kids (2010 and 2013) plus two cats (2005 and 2019). A Midwestern transplant who has lived in 32 places, she has happily called Fairfield her home for the past 12 years. At work, she directs a program to support first-generation and underrepresented student success in science. In town, she can often be found driving her kids back and forth to their respective sporting events and teams or sitting in a coffee shop using the wifi to get a little work done before pick up. Erika loves spending time enjoying the water, cooking, theater, reading, and hanging out with her husband.


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