Thursday, June 2, 2011

Little Bear's Chinese Tunnel

I always find it fascinating to trace the origins of a conversation after four or five topic changes - trying to see how we got from outlining the next day's itinerary to explaining the finer points of an aerial attack during World War II, or discussing the inner-workings of an earthworm. Normally I enjoy long chats with friends or family, and hob-knobbing with children oftentimes yields hours of entertainment. This past week, however, I became embroiled in the Conversation Of Doom with a five year old. It began simply:

"Mommy's going to let us stay up ALL NIGHT!!"

Disregarding the possibility that this statement was completely false, I made sounds of wonder and awe that were guaranteed not to get my head bitten off for doubting his word. I knew exactly where the desire to forego sleep had originated as I'd been the one to let them watch an episode of Little Bear wherein he tries to stay up and see the sunrise, just like Father Bear. Unfortunately, the creators of the episode didn't fully explain the part where Little Bear actually does fall asleep and begins to dream amazing dreams.

It was all either of the boys could talk about all through lunch. They just couldn't wait to stay up all night and see fireflies and bats, walk around the neighborhood without their parents, fly around like super-heroes, and just have the most amazing adventure of their young lives.

After the three year old went down for his nap, the five year old and I sat down at the kitchen table to draw, and the conversation picked up again.

"When Little Bear wishes for things, they ALWAYS come true!"

I tried to explain that Little Bear has a very good imagination and when it looks like his wishes come true, he's actually just pretending. He repeated what I had said in a very disillusioned, questioning way and I verified it. A moment passed, and he repeated his above comment as if to reassure himself that I hadn't actually meant what I said. Before I could correct him again he cut me off with another question:

"How do wishes come true?"

Ah-ha! For once I have a Catholic child in my care and so I began to explain that wishes come true when God grants them. I told him that he should pray about it and ask God to make his wish come true. It quickly became apparent that he expected his wishes to come true just as quickly as Little Bear's always did, so I began to explain that they usually take a long time to come true and even then it's not certain they will. This led to explaining that God always does what is best for us, even when we wished for the opposite, and that He doesn't do things like give people wings because people aren't supposed to have wings.

I could see that this wasn't what he wanted to hear, so I expected some sort of argument or gem of childhood "wisdom". What I didn't expect was what I got:

"What if I wished that I could walk through a tunnel to China?"

. . . ??? Even after two years of experience as a nanny, the randomness of children continues to surprise me. What kid wants to walk to China? Apparently this one.

Anyway, I gave him some sort of answer, I forget what it was, but it didn't satisfy him, so I had to try again. I explained that there was no tunnel that led from America to China and that the only way to get to China was to take either a boat or a plane. (Yes, hot-air balloons were discussed, but that's not terribly relevant.) That answer didn't satisfy him either. We went around and around in circles of illogical arguments for a good half hour, finally arriving at the solution that when he grew up he could dig the tunnel so that he could walk through it. But he reasoned that this idea wouldn't work either because if he was the one to dig the tunnel, he'd have to be in China already, so he couldn't walk through the tunnel to get there. I told him to dig the tunnel, walk back to the beginning, turn around and walk through the tunnel to China. He still wasn't pleased, but before he could start up again I checked my watch and announced that we had missed the beginning of Quiet Time. For my part, I was ecstatic - finally I could just sit quietly and read a book and all thoughts of Chinese tunnels could vanish with the whims of a five year old boy's attention span. Silly, silly me.

For once the, "OK, it's Quiet Time," announcement didn't phase him. The questions continued. Having learned my lesson in the past, however, I shut him down and wouldn't argue anymore, so he finally went off to do his own thing.

Periodically throughout Quiet Time he would ask something along the lines of, "Do you still think the only way I can get to China is on a plane or a boat?" But if he got an answer at all it was, "It's Quiet Time right now." My hope was to kill the conversation through lack of participation. But then Quiet Time ended and my shield dissipated with my hopes.

Solutions were suggested: pretend like Little Bear does (which he did for a bit, but apparently the other side of the basement doesn't look like China despite my best impersonation of a Chinese lady); ask mom and dad if the family can take a trip (his idea - he felt they wouldn't mind, but I was a little more skeptical); wait until he's old enough to do it himself (but this didn't satisfy his need for instant gratification).

Thankfully, the three year old killed the conversation with a question of his own:

"WHAT are you guys TALKING about?"

This brought the five year old's mind back to the beginning and once more we were discussing the amazing things they'd be doing after everyone else was in bed. Exclamations of anticipation and excitement were numerous, and they were planning every detail very eagerly. They were still discussing plans at the top of their lungs when their mom came home, heard what they were planning and killed it:

"What? I told you that you could stay up all night as long as you stayed in your room!"