My almost-four-year-old has entered a new phase of development. I like to call it “Alternate Reality.” She is someone or something else, living somewhere and doing something else, all the time. Various creatures have taken her particular fancy: mermaids, princesses, and ballerinas were all to be expected, I suppose. But to this list she has added an impressive collection of random animals, such as snails, owls, and puppies. One day last week she was a snail all afternoon, a baby turtle in her bath, and a mermaid at bedtime.
The rules for assuming a new identity are quite loose–any habits or behaviors may be assumed (and are volubly explained), such as, “I’m being a turtle right now and turtles always need a big pile of pillows.” The pretend world requires (A) an imagined identity and (B) an imagined location. Favored locations include the library, picnics, and nests. If Harriet approaches the scene, she immediately becomes the “stister” of the turtle or whatever creature is in play.
As I have observed this phenomenon I have noted various complicating factors. One, Norah’s recent fascination with having babies is generally manifested by stuffing Goat (who is enjoying a revival in Norah’s affections) under her shirt and being each creature about to give birth. (Not sure what puts these things in her head.) Two, she often can’t decide which of her many favorite creatures to be and tries to combine them in some way: “I’m an owl that lives in a snail shell, Honey, and Goat is my little baby owl in my snail shell. Isn’t that great?” And finally, she has only the haziest idea of the actual facts about her various favored creatures and will generally take them far afield from their natural habitat: “I’m being an owl ballerina having a baby owl at the library, Mommy! And then we’re having a picnic!”
Often she’s so lost in pretend world that she can’t hear anything but her own voice spinning out her ideas. If interruption of these scenes is necessary, for best results I have learned to enter the imaginary world rather than seek to dispel it. “Hi, Mer-Dog and Baby Mer-Dog. Would you swim into the bathroom to wash your paws for lunch?”
The things you never thought you’d say.