Next door my son and daughter are playing with their extensive lego collection. So far they’ve built a three-storey tent, a wagon and a ticket barrier to let cars in. There are peals of laughter and giggles, followed by a high-pitched yodelled “Achoooneeaaah!” from my daughter. “He can still breathe, look, he can still breathe” she adds. My son emits a non-ceasing ‘tune’ peppered with “tshh”, “dukudukuduku” and explosive sound effects. Daughter suggests, “Pretend there’s an invisible person that is 5, and he needs to take the skeleton away, doesn’t he.” Son begins a fight “Bfff”, “Scorpiooon goooooo!” The conversation continues, punctuated with “Pretend he got killed” “Pretend she was a princess”, “Pretend this is a baddie”, “Pretend that’s the skeleton of fire”.
I can remember games like these with my younger brother. Aged about the ages that my children are now, we would pretend that we were going to visit different ‘lands’. He would crawl into the wardrobe in amongst our parent’s shoes, and I would insert myself under the bunk beds. Once ensconced we would call out muffled updates, ‘Mmm, I’m eating strobry cake in strobry land!’, ‘I can see a cola bottle bush in sweetieland!’ etc. At the outset of the games we would solemnly swear to each other that our games were ‘true’, because if one of us decided part way through that it was ‘just pretend’ it would have broken the spell, and instead of tasting paradise in sweetieland, we would have been wedged, lying face down in thick dust.
The games that I played as a child remain vivid in my memory, punctuated occasionally by rude interruptions from my mother. She was in charge of the other world, and was constantly busy doing mysterious grown up things. She was always there, but in the background providing the boring, but necessary intervals, in which we had to eat, sleep and go to school, before we could return to inhabit our ‘true’ pretend lives.
The game continues next door. At this point in their lives I am totally surplus to requirement. But then I hear crying sounds, “I want my Mummy”, moans a character, “Pretend she was his Mummy” suggests daughter, “You’re in your Mummy’s arms” one character tells another. This delicate world is as close as we can get to real magic in our lives, but still woven into that magical land is the security of knowing that we are mothered.