Thursday, October 4, 2012

You can't go back. Or can you?

For the past couple of months, the Grape (who is just north of three years old) has decided he wishes to be a baby.

At first I laughed and ignored his insistent pronouncements. All toddlers like to pretend. On any given day a preschooler could decide to be a child of the opposite sex, a dog, a cow, a rhinoceros, an astronaut, a sailor, a parent... You get the idea. Playing pretend forms the cornerstone of many children's games that are probably as old as childhood itself. "You be the teacher. I'll be the doctor," etc.

I am all about imaginary play. The Grape may be a sheltered only child, but he's not an unusually babyish kid. He has an excellent vocabulary, good motor control, and that irrepressible urge to insist on doing everything by himself. He can transition from one thing to the next without a freak out, and he's blessed with a near saintly attention span.

But this week, I've started wondering: What if the Grape isn't pulling my leg? He jumps into and out of all kinds of pretend roles throughout the course of a typical day at home or school. He is beginning to understand what's real and what's made up. He knows, when he measures my blood pressure with the cuff in his doctor kit, that whatever ailment I land with during the course of the game is in his head. And it's never something a bandaid can't fix.

The Grape has been telling me for the past couple of weeks that he wants to go back to the two-year-old room at school. At first I thought he might be homesick. We went to say hello to his old teachers and then proceeded to the three-year-old room, which is packed with his little friends. He likes these friends. He talks about how much fun they are all the time.

We said hi to the former teachers in the hallway a couple of times and then the Grape dropped the request. For about a week, he bounded happily into the three-year-old room. Until this week.

Since the weekend, he has insisted he wants to go back to the two-year-old room. He doesn't want to go to school if it means going to the three-year-old room, even though I remind him that he always tells me how much fun it was, and that I sometimes have to drag him away because he's so engrossed.

For example, I've told him to eat his dinner. He says, "Only if I can go back to the two-year-old room." He'll be tucked in for the night and ask if the next morning is a school day. If I say yes, he'll say he's going to the two-year-old room.


"It's fun there."

"Is it fun in the three-year-old room?"


"You said it was so fun this afternoon."

"I want the two-year-old room."

I try appealing to reason. "Are you a big boy?"

And fail: "No. I'm a baby. Not a big boy. I'm Mamma's little baby." He wedges his little self as close to me as possible. Score: Grape, alias Baby 1, Mamma 0

This morning the grumblings of the past few weeks came to a head. The Grape yelled from his bedroom that today would be two-year-old room day. I said we'll see. In exchange for nibbling at his breakfast, he extorted a promise that we could visit the two-year-old room when we arrived at the preschool.

He must have sensed I might renege, because he dragged his feet all the way to school, and reminded me at least twenty-three times that he was going to the two-year-old room.

Luckily, we ran into friends from the three-year-old room outside the school. I exhaled. He could stop playing at being a baby now. The Grape said hello to his pals, bounded inside with them, then pulled up short in the hallway. He grabbed my hand and walked the long way around into the two-year-old room (so we didn't cross his actual classroom on the way).

We said hello to his former teachers and I told the Grape it was time for Mamma to leave so he had to go to his own class now. I said his friends were waiting. "They might miss you," I added brightly.

"I. Am. Staying. Here." The Grape settled himself into the two-year-olds' kitchen area and started directing pretend cake making like he owned the place.

I moved to physically remove the Grape. He wailed. He went boneless like a protestor under arrest. The actual two-year-olds began to congregate, to gawk in mingled amusement and amazement at the spectacle escaped from the big kids' room.

One of the teachers said they'd return the Grape to the three-year-old room in ten or fifteen minutes. I planted a kiss on my little tyrant's forehead, excused myself and turned to go. "I'll see you later, in the three-year-old room," I said.

"Nope. I'll be here, Mamma."

The Grape's face was unmistakable: Grape 2, Mamma Zip.

I called R. on the way out. "Do you think the Grape likes his old teachers better?" he asked.

At first I suspected such an obvious situation, but I think we have more of a gestalt problem. The two-year-old room rhythm works for the Grape. They propel out to the playground or some adventure, then come back and do an activity, then lunch and a fairly long story/rest/nap time. The three-year-olds stay in school for an activity, then head outdoors, and after lunch, they also have downtime, but it's much shorter.

"The little princeling also demands a high level of service," I said to R. He likes the three teachers to one kid ratio in the two-year-old room. It jumps to about 5 to 1 (counting the student teacher) in his current classroom. The bigger tots are well-superivised but perhaps not fawned over in quite the same way as the babies.

"Can we switch him back?" R. asked, his two other lines clanging in the background.

I'm sure we could. Some folks find the school's director fearsome, but I very much appreciate her forthright, capable manner and regard her as quite approachable. She wouldn't dismiss the idea out of hand, especially since the Grape is the youngest in his class.

But I don't know that I want to make that request.

The Grape wouldn't grasp that he needs to pick a team; he can't flit from class to class depending on his mood each morning. He'd be separated from the kids he knows, the kids he was with last year (when I never heard a complaint about going to school).

And nothing against the legitimate two-year-olds, but they aren't as chatty as the Grape. He might get bored with their conversation, or worse, become that awful large mouthed kid that holds forth so nobody else can insert a word edgewise.

So here we are. Mentally in the three-year-old room, emotionally in the two-year-old room. Should the left brain or right win this one?

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