It seems like yesterday I was pouring over ‘The Wonder Weeks’, marvelling at each step in brain development for my dependent darling (and silently weeping at the negative way every leap seemed to present itself: clinginess, crying, attention-seeking, refusal, appetite loss…). To think that he’s come from just being able to focus on an object and physically sequence a few movements together to the sassy, savvy little man that stands before me, making me dance like a puppet now – wow! That’s quite some journey young master Harry.
It truly amazes me that such a literal being, dealing in the present and the concrete, can suddenly jump in to a world of make-believe. I feel this entire post should be read with the lilting voice of Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder) singing ‘Pure Imagination’ as a soundtrack; the lyrics are just too fitting.
“Come with me
And you’ll be
In a world of pure imagination
Take a look and you’ll see
Into your imagination
We’ll begin with a spin
Travelling in the world of my creation
What we’ll see will defy explanation”
Roald Dahl, pure genius: fact! Roald Dahl, creator of monsters: also fact. Yet, having not been exposed to this literary hero of mine, then where the hell has Harry’s recent obsession with monsters come from?
He started with the usual imaginative play. Serving me ‘cake’ (I know where that came from), creating train disasters in which Percy is usually at fault (“Oh no Percies!” – he always pluralises the Percy) and having his toys over for lunch (food theme here – hmmm). More recently though he’s developed a strange pre-occupation with what is behind the door to the office. Whenever it’s closed, he talks of the ‘monsters’ behind it. It’s not a fearful discussion – he doesn’t wail when I take him in there other than when it’s for a bum change (yep, the office has become the most sanitary baby-changing facility – it’s no wonder Daddy doesn’t opt more for working from home!). He seems more intrigued and reflective as I try to reassure him there are no monsters in there.
I haven’t exposed him to horror. He’s a strictly U-rated child. However it has made me realise how much we expose little people people to the language of monstrosity. As he’s grown I’ve talked about him being a little monster (affectionately); we celebrate the homecoming of the Daddy Monster each night and Daddy refers to me as the Mummy Monster in play. During ‘Tale of the Brave’ – one of his preferred Thomas movies – Percy learns to be courageous and stop seeing monsters everywhere, hiding in the trees, as he goes about his nightly duties. Then there are the obligatory boys t-shirts with monsters emblazoned on them and the picture books that celebrate beasts of all shapes and sizes. So the monsters are out there – but it seems we normalise and realise them with our everyday acceptance.
How much I have realised it is my concern. He doesn’t suffer from night terrors and his hunt for the elusive office monster seems more curious than fearful. Rather than shy away from the topic and quash his flourishing imagination, I’d rather explore it further and present the facts: monsters don’t exist but they can be lots of fun.
Exhibit A: Where The Wild Things Are – by Maurice Sendak
Can you believe this book is older than me! Published in 1963 (by Random House), it is still an absolute classic tale of misbehaviour and wild adventure. What child wouldn’t want a forest to grow in their room and to sail in and out of days, weeks and years, to become King of the Wild Things. To be fair, what adult wouldn’t fancy a wild rumpus – I reckon there’s a few pages Maurice missed out where the Wild Things neck jagerbombs and attempt some pole-dancing on the palm trees. If you are going to meet some monsters Harry, then these guys seem pretty tameable. If you can command my every move, you’ll have no trouble with them.
Exhibit B: The Gruffalo – by Julia Donaldson
Who doesn’t love this terribly tusked, clawed and jawed individual? We live near the forest and I reckon Harry could learn a thing or two from him about communing with nature and strolling for more than five feet before he gets tired and wants to go home. It also helps to reinforce the point that not even a mouse is scared of a monster – and Harry has witnessed a traumatised mouse quivering on our patio so I reckon Julia’s work lessens the fear factor as well as promoting forest fun.
Exhibit C: Fungus The Bogeyman – By Raymond Briggs.
Harry is a snot monster – I label him as such regularly. Maybe this is what he believes to be lurking behind the pine doors? Another oldie but goodie (published by Penguin in 1977). It is a true celebration of all things slimy, mucky and stinky. Fabulous! As this is an apt summary of Harry as he exits nursery on Friday, I’d say Briggs has created a monster that can be related to; an everyday average citizen (of Bogeydom in his case) who loves his gruesome family, his home comforts and takes pride in doing his job (of scaring people). Though the text is extremely advanced, what toddler wouldn’t love recreating the images of slime and bogeys.
I have no desire to leave my child a quivering wreck, nor send him to sleep reading Stephen King novels but I do need to accept that we have brought monsters in to his life and they need to be addressed. I’d say these three exhibits go some way to bring out the fun in all things monstrous. If you are looking for more ideas I’d recommend: Monstersaurus by Claire Freedman and Ben Cort; Flanimals by Ricky Gervais and of course Monsters Inc – the Pixar movie. Sleep well all… I’m off to the offi…. ahhhhhhhhh.
I’d love your comments if you have had to deal with similar. How have you tackled monsters and things that go bump in the night with little people? What wild and wacky things have their imaginations come up with? Please drop me a line!