By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
Our 3-year-old daughter has moved out of the house and into a world of her own making. Sure, she’s still here physically, evidenced by the cracker crumbs on the kitchen floor and the pink clothes in the hamper. But her mind has taken up residence in the land of make believe.
Her two older brothers were pretenders, too. Most of their pretend games involved Matchbox cars and lots of sound effects with engines revving and loud crashes. But Kate’s preferences for pretending are much more detailed and time-consuming. On some days, she only leaves her make-believe castle long enough to scarf down some Spaghettio’s and then she’s back to work – saving her favorite cartoon characters from the scary dragon. Or shopping for pretend groceries with her doll in a grocery cart. Or tucking her stuffed animals into their pretend beds (made of bath towels) and singing them a lullaby after issuing a stern (and familiar) warning not to get out of their beds.
The other day she trotted up to me wearing a crown made of shiny gold paper we acquired from someone’s birthday party. She handed me a thin blanket from her bed and asked me to make it into a princess cape. So I tied two of the corners together around her neck and let the rest flow out behind her. Once she was satisfied with the cape, she picked up a pink magic wand and charged into her imagination, fully dressed for the part.
Later that day at dinnertime, 5-year-old Jack came into the kitchen with Kate lagging behind because her arms were full of stuffed animals. Jack climbed up on a kitchen barstool and watched as his sister sat her stuffed animals in chairs around the table. Then she opened a lower cabinet and took out three paper plates, which she placed, one by one, in front of the three plush dinner guests.
Once the table was set, she retrieved a bag of miniature marshmallows from the pantry and began doling out a small handful on each of the paper plates. Jack sidled up next to me and motioned for me to lean down so he could whisper in my ear.
“Mom, why is she giving them marshmallows? They can’t really eat them,” he said, worried that perhaps his sister had gone delusional.
“Well, she’s just pretending. You and I can eat a few of them when she’s not looking, okay?” I said.
“Okay!” he whispered, grinning ear-to-ear because he was in on the joke.
Kate stayed busy walking back and forth from the table to the pantry, pouring imaginary drinks and such, so it was easy for Jack to swipe a few marshmallows when her back was turned. He’d eat a few and then bring a few to me, slipping them covertly into my palm.
It didn’t take long until all the mini-marshmallows were gone, and those stuffed animals were staring down at empty plates.
“Look, Kate! Your animals ate all their food,” I said, pointing toward the table. Jack and I exchanged a knowing grin while Kate’s jaw dropped open.
“What happened to their food?” she asked, incredulous.
“I guess they ate it,” I said.
“And it went into their tummies?” she asked.
“Well, that is where food goes,” I confirmed.
She sat there for a few quiet moments, trying to figure out how her pretend game suddenly turned so real.
“Oh, they must want some MORE food!” she exclaimed, heading back to the pantry to scavenge for treats. She found a bag of low-calorie shortbread cookies and began putting two on each plate. Jack scurried over and motioned to me for another private conversation.
“Mom, I’ve got a problem,” he whispered. “I don’t like those cookies she’s feeding them.”
“It’s okay. You don’t have to eat them,” I said, laughing under my breath.
The shortbread cookies sat untouched while I served the kids chicken nuggets at the bar. When Kate wondered why her stuffed animals weren’t eating, I told her they were probably full from all those marshmallows.
And we certainly were.