As I’m sure all three-year-olds do, our precious little Annabelle has an incredible imagination, and she puts it to great use. As a storyteller, of course, I’ve cherished every moment of that. Or…well, nearly all of them.
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it here, but one of my proudest moments as a father so far was when, barely a year old, Annabelle first started playing dragon. I started growling at her when she was teeny tiny — it was adorable, seeing her startle, and then clap and laugh. As she got closer and closer to her birthday, though, she started growling right back, chasing me around the living room and down the hall….
And…well, it’s not just that she was playing dragon, but that she was playing dragon nine months before she ever started playing princess. “That,” I’d tell visitors, as they watched her stomp around and swipe at them with her terrible claws, “that’s my girl!”
When she got old enough for words, I taught her how to use that pretense. If she told me she was scared of something, I’d act a little thoughtful, and then ask, “Well…would a dragon be scared of those shadows?”
And she’d laugh and say, “No, silly!”
And I’d say, “Well, why don’t you just be a dragon? One good growl at those shadows, and they won’t dare mess with you!”
I didn’t mind too much when she finally did start playing princess, though. That went hand-in-hand with playing dress-up, and she was just so terribly lovely, clopping down the hall in kid-sized attire that still looked monstrously oversized on her tiny frame, preening as perfectly as any pureblood princess ever did.
I love the way she sees every story as an interactive opportunity, new material for her pretend time, no matter how much she likes the actual show. And she sees that sort of opportunity everywhere she goes, in everything she does.
I never know, from one day to the next, what I’m going to come home to. Sometimes it’s, “Hi, Daddy! I’m glad you’re home! I’m a puppy!” Sometimes, “Hi, Daddy! I’m glad you’re home! I’m a medical doctor!” And, no matter what else, she’s also always a superhero.
It’s absolutely precious…most of the time. The last year it’s taken on a new aspect, though. See…she’s paid especially shrew attention to the new interloper in her home — Baby Alexander — and she picked up with an astonishing rapidity that he got away with things she doesn’t get away with.
And, ever since, she’s added a new persona to her repertoire. “I’m a baby!” She throws a toy, or grabs something away from her brother or cousin, and then when we go to scold her, she looks up with a big smile and says, “I don’t understand. I’m just a baby.”
She remembered lessons I’d taught her a year earlier, and figured out how to use pretending to her advantage. All of a sudden, it wasn’t so cute.
One night she was sitting in her chair at the table when Trish brought her a plate of dinner and she grunted, “Nuh uh! I don’t want this.”
I looked her in the eye, and said, “That’s what we’re having.”
“It’s not what brother’s having.”
“Brother’s a baby,” I said, knowing immediately what her answer would be.
“I’m a baby!”
I thought for a moment, and then said, “Are you sure?” She nodded, and I shrugged. “Okay,” I said. “Well, you may not know this, but babies don’t get to do a lot of the things big girls get to do. They don’t get to watch TV.”
Her face fell. I went on gravely, “And they don’t get to play with crayons or paint or bubbles. They don’t get to play on all your big girl toys outside. And they don’t get to go swimming, or eat ice cream, or read at bedtime–”
And I watched her eyes get wider and wider through it all, thinking to myself, I am such a genius. As I rambled on, she finally waved both hands frantically to get me to stop, shaking her head.
I cut myself short, and she took a deep breath, and then said, “Silly Daddy. I’m not that kind of baby. I’m a big girl baby.”
I smiled patronizingly (appropriately enough). “There’s no such thing as big girl babies.”
“Of course there is!” she said seriously. “Me!” And she beamed, thrilled in her total victory. “Now get me some cereal.”