I asked for ten minutes. I wanted a few minutes to get ready for the day, a few minutes to throw in some laundry, and a few minutes of peace this morning. "Just two things: No jumping on beds, and No Rough Hands."
It started the way most Independent Playtime begins in this house, purposeless running up and down the hall with narrow misses, shrieks of delight, and breath-holding by me, waiting for the cry and the "MMMMOOOOOOOOMMMM!!!" But then, Max said, "Oh no, Evan! Dragons are coming!" To which Evan responded, "Dragons, Max?!" and Max replied, "Yes! Dragons! THREE dragons!" More running ensued, which I assumed to be the start of the Dragon Hunt, but then Evan said, "Max, you're not going to believe this! They're baby dragons! And they need our help! We're Baby Dragon Rescuers!"
I listened and waited for Max to dissent...he had clearly been imagining something a little more medieval folktale-ish. But instead heard, "Oh! Tiny baby dragons! So sweet babies!" The Dragon Rescue continued until all were accounted for...and then the Martians arrived.
The boys hid. The dragons were in danger. The boys faced the Martians to protect the dragons. The Martians were scared off. The dragons were safe, and were later reunited with their mothers.
And all the while, I stood quietly in my bathroom, afraid that my appearance would disrupt the play. And I listened. I was amazed that the Little One so easily followed the story line of this imaginary world and that the Big One so readily accepted the input of his brother to change the direction of the story (the Martians were Definitely Not his idea). I can't believe that we're already Here: where they can play together without toys and understand/accommodate/follow the direction of pretense set forth by the other.
It was a beautiful thing to witness.
One of my favorite courses in college (one of many favorites...NERD ALERT!) was a seminar I took as a graduate student called "The Child's Discovery of the Mind." Throughout it, we read a book by the same name, written by Janet Wilde Astington. We discussed how children (beginning in infancy) learn about the mind, mental states (including desire, fear, and sadness in particular), perception vs. reality, pretense, imagination, and metacognition (thinking about your thinking), among other things. It was a fascinating book then, but so much more so now that I'm watching this Discovery of the Mind happen in my kids.
Isn't it amazing that a two-year old can imagine a world of dragons, Martians, and baby dragon rescuers when he's had no real-world experience with any of the three? They weren't playing house or even fire fighters. It was completely imagined...yet this world "existed" simultaneously in two little minds with relative synchronicity.
And isn't it interesting that my then-three year old could understand and explain, with scientific accuracy, that dinosaurs lived a long time ago and are now extinct, yet demanded that we serve his Imaginary Dinosaur Friends dinner every night? There was a divergence between his reality and his "reality." Evan could explain that No, Annie et al. Really Couldn't Be Real. But still, they were hungry and sad and...real.
And how is it that you can pick up a banana and place a "phone" call without severely stunting the vocabulary acquisition of your baby?
Kids, and their hard-working, ever-growing brains, are unbelievable.