In some ways, after having enough children, mothers tend to think they've pretty much seen it all. And then one of them manages to surprise you.
This time, fortunately, the surprise from my almost 5-year-old isn't of the dump-a-bottle-of-maple-syrup-on-the-floor variety like when she was a year and a half old.
No, this time her imaginary play has gone places I never expected.
When her older brother was this age, he'd either act out entire episodes of his favorite PBS shows or pretend he was a sword-wielding character from just about any Disney movie. I hadn't realized how many sword fights are in those movies until my son imitated them with butter knives, wooden spoons, and anything else roughly narrow and long. Swords are in them all, from Peter Pan to Aladdin to Sleeping Beauty.
When older sister #1 was her age, it was Barbies.
When older sister #2 was there, she loved Fisher Price Little People.
And of course, both sisters did the usual playing House and Mommy with their dolls.
My youngest has done the Barbie thing. She's very much into Polly Pocket, and she loves playing House and Mommy.
But in the last week, she's added a level to her play, one that has made me take pause and wonder just what is going on in that little brain of hers. She's thinking, that's what.
Earlier this week, her grandmother bought her a Happy Meal with a toy teddy bear in it. My daughter loves her regular-sized teddy bear and sleeps with it every night. Holding both bears, she informed me, "Look. Teddy's having a baby."
I glance over, expecting to see perhaps the teddy bear cradling the miniature one.
Instead, the baby bear is being "born." She's holding the little bear behind the big one and slowly pushing it between the big bear's legs. Sure enough, Teddy "had a baby."
I'm not entirely sure where she learned that; I don't think we've had that talk, but maybe she's overheard me discussing baby stories with the older kids or with other women?
Then the other evening, I came across her drawing her toy dog, Perrito (named after Dora the Explorer's dog). On the other side of the paper were squiggles that were supposed to be words, plus a picture of a lollipop. I complimented her on her artwork.
She looked at me with the most somber expression her cute little chubby cheeks could muster and said, "Mommy, I'm pretending that Perrito died. This is the newspaper telling about it. And this picture [the lollipop] shows how he died. He had too much candy."
I stood there trying my best to look solemn. I nodded gravely. "That's so sad," I said, trying my hardest not to smile or laugh.
She spent the next hour making additional copies to give to all the family members.
Where, oh WHERE, did she learn about obituaries?
It looks to me that she's entering that era of childhood that's coming out of the toddler phase and into big kid phase. She's grasping what life means and needs to experiment with both the beginning and the ending of life.
So in spite of my twitching mouth, I left the room pondering on how play helps her sort through her world, and how much that little mind of hers is always working.
And then I couldn't help but envy her a little bit. Wouldn't it be nice if we grown-ups could simply play our way through life's questions as we try to solve them?
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