From time to time I’m called upon to babysit my granddaughter. She’s only two years old, and for most people this might seem to be a minor thing to deal with. Those people are the same people who have never babysat a two year old.
Now, if my wife is present, it doesn’t really present a problem, because all I have to do is concoct some lame excuse to leave the room and not return for a couple of hours. If she is not, however, I am faced with a truly grave crises. And that is because young children come equipped with a vigorous imagination which they expect you to possess also, unaware that people my age have imaginations which have ossified to the consistency of petrified wood.
Of course I do my best to keep up, but it’s really a losing battle. She generally begins by telling me that her doll or action figure, or plastic animal is in the process of some improbable adventure or another which I’m supposed to advance by having my own plastic figure take some action that is just as interesting or more interesting than her character’s action, which her character will then react to, and so forth ad infinitum. And I mean ad infinitum!
If this weren’t bad enough, I also have to be extremely sensitive to the challenges of identity confusion. Without so much as a nod to my mental health, she will expect me to be a father, a monster, her little sister, a space alien, or a hero from her favorite TV show, often within the space of ten minutes. Furthermore, heaven help me if I should not observe the proper character voice, pitch, and inflection appropriate to my assigned age, gender, and species. Failure on any of these points will result in an hysterical fit sufficient to terrify a battle-hardened Navy SEAL.
That’s not to mention the danger of violating any number of obscure rules of behavior intrinsic to the story line which she alone knows and Albert Einstein couldn’t figure out with a super computer.
Needless to say, there’s potential here for this sort of thing to go on for an hour or more if the adult involved is not prepared with sufficient defensive mechanisms. Distraction is the secret for the most part. Although I’m a novice to the childcare game and still learning, I have developed a few useful techniques which I don’t mind sharing. Some of these include food bribing, TV bribing, killing off of characters, terrifying plot twists, deliberate errors of story line, ignoring my turn, or just bouncing my character along the ground in the hopes she might make some kind of sense in that and take her turn again, pretending to be asleep or that my character has died, and so forth.
None of this is foolproof, of course; I’m often forced to “play, pretend” for long, nerve wracking periods of time. My only hope is that this imagination thing is only a temporary phase of her development and I can rely on her genetic make up, inherited from a long line of dull, unimaginative people to eventually kick in and draw her back to the TV screen and the carefully crafted, uncomplicated programming where our kind belongs and has always felt most at home and comfortable.
At least her Nanna and I are optimistic.