Let's face it, you have to be a particularly abhorrent two year old not to be adorable. Especially if you spend most of the day immersed in a pretend (and much more satisfactory) world. This week I’ve been reminded that things are not always what they seem, and that sometimes this is a decidedly good thing.
I've been reprimanded for stepping on the Impster's imaginary dogs, not hearing her imaginary cats meowing, and accidentally washing up a chopping board with her imaginary olive pesto ('and now,' she hollers outraged, 'I have to start all over again!' Oops). To get her into the bath it is necessary to make believe picnics and train rides, and to get her out again, tents and camels; to get into pyjamas, ball dresses and glass slippers, and to bed a hastily improvised story on a subject of her choosing. I have been allocated the unflattering roles of Ugly Sister and Big Ears, but happily have also been permitted to marry a prince and eat strawberry tart, which seems like a fair enough trade.
It turns out that Christmas time has been specially designed for two year olds. On Christmas Eve I took the Impster to the children's service at the cathedral, dressed as an angel (any occasion which calls for the wearing of fairy wings in public goes down very well with the both of us). Just a few minutes before the service I hastily bastardised her white bridesmaid dress, fashioned a tinsel halo, and accidentally stabbed her with the needle a few times in a fervent attempt to attach the wings. Ta-da! - one angelic child.
But when we arrive, things get kind of complicated. 'Where's the Angel Gabriel?' she asks. To which I point out all the other angelically-attired children. 'No, the Angel Gabriel'. Oh, the real one. I see. 'Well, he's probably in the sky somewhere at the moment. He only pops down occasionally when someone really needs his help.' She ignores this unsatisfactory response and provides her own: 'He's upstairs with the baby Jesus I 'spect.' I nod sagely.
Ditto the wise men, ditto Mary, ditto the shepherds. Yes yes, she can see the children dressed up (durr Mummy!) but when are the real ones going to turn up? 'I can see the stable,' she says, looking up at the wooden screen in front of the choir. And as a baby starts crying mid-carol, she turns to me and says, 'That's the baby Jesus going waa waa waa I s'pose.'
The service, heaving with several hundred barely-continent toddlers does not last long, and there is a rush for the doors. But not for us. The Impster is not leaving until she has located 'the real baby Jesus'.
My explanation of how he lived a rather long time ago and isn't a baby any longer and how we are just remembering the story, suddenly seems fraudulent. You see, only the day before we have taken her on a steam train and she has met 'the real Father Christmas' who has given her presents and everything. Just like the story.
Now, if a two year old indulges in pretend it is a beautiful and charming thing. But somewhere along the line, pretending becomes dishonest and wrong, and we despise grown ups with any hint of 'pretence' about them. That’s why some very dedicated Christians actually refuse to let their children believe in Father Christmas. But without him, surely childhood is a bit, well, serious. If we stoke our imagination when it's young, let it run riot, fuel the furnace with all sorts of fantastical nonsense and whimsy and amusement, then just maybe we are expanding our capacity for belief; to believe in whatever we finally decide is worthwhile believing in.
So right now, as well as being ceaselessly entertained, I'm utterly evangelical about indulging in as much Christmas magic as you can conjure. I will never stop believing in Father Christmas. And if you've spent the week playing charades and feeling all bah humbug, do me a favour and just pretend.