…Daddy is stuck in the clouds. How are we going to get him down?’
…We need to move all the big rocks in case they fall on us. Quick!’
…The big fish swallowed me in his belly. How am I going to get out?’
…Our car is stuck and I can see a gorilla/giraffe/dinosaur. It’s coming to eat me.’
…I am a dragon and I breathe fire’. It’s VERY HOT. Look, you’re on fire!’
…You need to dig a big, big hole in the ground so I can get in. I am a wiggly worm’
…I can see the Monster. It’s coming to get me.’
‘Mummy, I don’t like bad dreams’.
Something has happened to Little Pip. Someone has entered the fuse box in his head, and flicked the switch labelled ‘Imagination’ to ON. Each day we have great surging volts of imagination fuelling our play. It’s a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs. He adventures from being a captain to a spider, from a dragon to an elf. Next time I turn around, he’s a hopping bunny. No scenario seems impossible for his small mind to create. There is the car with the wheels that have come off , leaving him stranded whilst child eating giraffes approach. There is the pirate treasure buried in the garden, protected by fierce, defensive slugs. There is the river we must cross without our lost boat. And finally, the frequent moment where he adopts the persona of a dinosaur and roars very, very loudly after telling me to 'clap my ears'. Some of his mental adventures are endearingly sweet. Some are not so, they are darker. He recently started to use the word ‘MONSTER’. I don’t even know where he learnt about monsters. But he doesn’t like them. Wherever he learnt about them, he also learnt, that monsters aren’t good. They’re the bad guys. 'Monster' usually comes to visit Little Pip around teatime, when it’s getting dark, and as far as I can tell, seems to be something to do with the light reflected in the kitchen windows. Usually the net result of ‘Monster’ visiting is either eating tea on mummy’s lap or just crying and refusing to eat any at all.
I have a sneaking suspicion that there is a connection between this upsurge in creative play and the hideously bad, sleepless nights we have all experienced recently. Last week, most nights we were woken in the middle of the night with hysterical screaming. When I went to his room he was hopping round, mad as Rumplestiltskin. I could not reason with him, I could not placate him; nothing would work, except waiting for him to cry it out (and then getting into bed with him until he went back to sleep.) He was just beside himself. Then, each night, I found as bedtime approached, his face would look sorrowful, and as I pulled back the covers for him to climb into bed, he would say; ‘ I don’t like bad dreams, Mummy.’
It is so hard to know what to do for the best. His vocabulary is good for his age, but his comprehension is still catching up, and that’s tough. In the middle of the night, he can’t disassociate himself from the dream. He can’t understand in that moment that it isn’t real. I tried to teach him a little hex, (that word makes me sound like a witch but I can’t think of any other way to put it). I showed him how to put his fingers to his temples, and told him if he did that, it would go away. Now I catch him at bedtime, talking to himself. He does the little action and I can hear him saying happily; ‘I just do this if I have a bad dream, and then it goes away’. But in the middle of the night, it’s no good. He’s forgotten. He is past the point of reason.
So this week, I’ve been sitting here questioning myself, my parenting. Is this just a completely natural stage or have I exposed him to things that are fuelling this?
Ever since he was very young, I’ve read stories to him. Our house is like a little library. I love reading with him, the way he cuddles up, makes his funny observations and shows such interest in a story. Most of the books we read are about animals, because that’s what he loves, but they don’t contain anything sinister, or that I’d consider worrying for a small child. Likewise with TV, I am careful to only let him watch age appropriate programmes. Peppa Pig, Mickey Mouse and Ben and Holly’s little Kingdom are his favourites. And (moments of desperation aside), I have a no TV in the day rule, which most of the time I am quite good at enforcing. So, he is definitely not an overexposed toddler TV addict. However, it doesn’t seem to matter, he still seems to take the content he sees and twist it round. Which I’m sure is why last week he had been swallowed by a fish. Because this is what happened to the elf submarine, (as in..Ben and Holly ). It was eaten by big bad Barry, (a fish) and the only way for it to get out again was for the elves to make big bad Barry laugh. So there was I, trying to replicate a similar scenario, so our imaginary big bad Barry would laugh and let Little Pip out of its tummy.
On the one hand, I love the fact that he has such a vivid imagination. Yet, on the other, I don’t want him to exhaust himself needlessly by scaring himself, either in day ie, 'Monster teatime' or at nightime. And to be honest, the sleepless nights are driving me slightly crazy too. We’re all getting tired and a bit cranky through lack of sleep now. My gut instinct tells me it's just a stage. To nurture the fun stuff, and try and delicately manoeuvre him away from the darker scenarios. I don't really know what else I can do.
Looking on the bright side, there have also been some classic moments. Such as this one yesterday, on the potty:
“ Mummy, I have just squeezed a lemon out of my botty”
“Quick! We’ve got to get out of here....it’s coming to get us!”.
Lemon scented deposits in the potty. That’s one imaginary scenario I would be happy with in real life.