‘We’re switching the TV off’, I said to Bigger Boy a couple of days ago after a showing of Peppa Pig followed by 3rd and Bird. Dora The Explorer was threatening to rear her ugly head and I couldn’t take it. ‘We can’t watch too much television or your eyes will go square. They’ll turn into the shape of the TV.’ I couldn’t quite believe I was peddling this kind of nonsense, but it was the first thing that came out of my mouth. Bigger Boy looked into the distance and I could see the cogs whirring. ‘But in that case, Mummy, my eyes will turn rectangle.’
Yesterday I was starting to break up a cardboard box, then suddenly realised it wasn’t just a cardboard box. I saw the panic welling up in Bigger as he started skipping from foot to foot. ‘Mummy, leave that there! It’s the dinosaur’s nest!’ And anyone knows you shouldn’t mess with a dinosaur’s nest – or, more dangerously, a three year old’s imagination.
Three year olds are so entirely sensible one minute and fantastically imaginative the next. Bigger can be talking a stegosaurus through his meal as he feeds him from his plate, but then burst out laughing when I suggest that he might give lunch to some other inanimate pet of his as well. ‘But Mummy’, he patiently explains, ‘it’s not a real monkey/ladybird/rabbit, it can’t eat food!’ as if I’m the deluded one. If he is in a literal frame of mind he can be unsure which part of the nonsense to deal with first; the other day when I was listing what he could have on his toast and after the usual butter/jam/peanut butter options had been exhausted I began on the ‘worms and mud’-type possibilities, he said, ‘I can’t have worms and mud on toast! We haven’t got a garden!’
This to-ing and fro-ing between reality and fantasy remind me how the rules in his mind are completely different from mine. When I play along with his rules, he either welcomes me into it as a playmate, or finds it slightly unnerving that I should be looking at the world through his eyes. He wants to exercise his imagination, and involve me in it, yet he still looks to me as an anchor into the ‘real world’, relying on me to provide the voice of reason. I’m hoping he won’t still be investing such trust in me when he comes home with maths homework in ten years’ time.