Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Being a scary monster is a beautiful thing

When Max was a baby, it concerned me that he didn't have a blankie or a favorite stuffed animal or toy. So much about his development was different than my friends' babies, and I wished that this one simple thing would be typical. But Max never took to any object in particular.

When Max got older, I got him dress-up stuff—a fireman coat, a policeman uniform. Dave and I set up a mini puppet theater and did shows for him. Max wasn't particularly interested in any of it. I worried about his lack of imaginative play.

The Thomas the Tank train set and table he got at age five was a game-changer; for the first time, Max got into pushing trains around. Both his grasp and focused had improved, enabling him to play on his own. He started doing it with toy cars, too.

I've looked up information on pretend play. It seems that pretense and receptive and expressive language start developing between age one and two. Max's delays in language and cognition had affected his pretend play—and perhaps vice versa. Pretend play is shown to enhance cognition, along with linguistic competence and even problem-solving skills.

Role-playing was never his thing, but Max is full of surprises. This summer, as he rode his bicycle along our street, I heard him say "One, two, three, go!" and then he took off, pedaling as fast as he could. Max was pretending to be a race car driver.

I long ago stopped wishing for the developmental milestones that never came, wishes that caused me a lot of pain when Max was a baby. No matter how much I yearned for Max to do stuff, he would proceed through life on his own timeline, and nobody else's. I still have plenty of hope that Max will accomplish things, everything from dressing himself independently to reading proficiently, but I no longer ache for them to happen. It's patience that's come from my own maturity as a parent and, if I'm being honest, perhaps a little complacency, too.

Then Max will do something for the first time, and I get a bliss rush that's one of the best feelings I have ever known. The progress is there, slow and steady as it's always been. Like the other day in the kitchen, I said "Max, come on, you cannot have a third glass of chocolate milk!" and Max looked at me and said "Oh, OK!" It was the first time I'd ever heard him say that phrase, and I grinned. It wasn't just that he was articulating the words—there was a tone I'd ever heard before, a bit of cheerful irreverence.

The inchstones still feel major, every single one of them. (Just please God, let him never master the eye roll.)

Last night, as I sat in bed with Max reading the Monsters University book—he'd picked it out at the bookstore—he gestured toward his pillow, lay down, then sat up and gave a little yell.

If you haven't yet seen the movie, there's a scene in which monsters have to scare a robot child in a staged bedroom as part of a competition. One by one they creep up to the bed on the set, give their best "ROARRRRR!" and then robo-kid sits upright and lets out a bloodcurdling fake scream.

Max wanted to recreate the scene; he'd be the robot kid, I'd be the monster.

And so, he lay down and pretended to sleep. As he pretend snored, I shut off the lights and closed his door. I sloooowly opened it and tip-toed toward his bed. Max let out a little giggle. Then I shouted, "ROARRRRR!" and Max sat up and yelled. We both cracked up.

We did it maybe seven or eight times, each funnier than the last.

I am, evidently, an excellent scary monster. And it was all Max's idea. And I loved it.

Image: Monsters University/Pixar


  1. Imaginative play is such a difficult concept for some of our kiddos. It's definitely something worth ROARING about when it finally happens!

  2. I loved the story of you roaring! That is a favorite scene of my boyz as well. I think you should trademark the word "inchstones"! That is a perfect description of our children's progress! :-)

  3. Woooo Hoooo! Thankfulness for every single one, Ellen! I am right there with ya, sister. Exactly how I felt when I saw Faith being a mother to her baby doll! Or when she saw me cleaning the cabinets with a rag & she came out of her room with a rag of her own & started cleaning too! Unadulterated J-O-Y!!!!!

  4. Love this! Every time Samantha comes out with something new, some new phrase or intonation, I wonder, "where the heck did she get that?" I can usually figure it out based on something she was watching or reading. It's an awesome feeling to see the cogs turning in the complex machinery of our children.

  5. Great news! This is certainly an area of concern for my son too and your blog gives me hope looking forward. Thanks for sharing. Roar on!

  6. I....I can't even....that's just so....EEEEEEEEEE!

    Ok, I'm better now. Still almost hurting my face grinning, but better.

    And I'm right there with ya, momma. That goes for the inchstone ecstasy (this morning, he properly used a hypen for the first time, when writing, instead of trying to smush all the letters of his word into the remaining space on or near the line, in assorted, overlapping, and completely unclear locations), and for the developmental delays in imagination/pretend play. We even had a few teasers, like you. When Ash was a bit over two, he, out of nowhere, pretended one of his stuffed dragons was drinking from his straw-sippy cup. And then, for the next few years....NOTHIN'.

  7. Max's experience was so encouraging to read since Kyle does not yet pretend play. Like you, I used to ache but it is easier now and I am more patient, too. Thank you for sharing this story with us!

  8. I love the word "Inchstones"

  9. This is so great! Josh was about 10 before his personality really started to come out, and I remember being amazed. Before then, he mostly just followed along with me. Now, he is totally his own person and it's great to watch.

  10. "Will he/she ever get it?" The phrase that we all wrestle with.

    But like you said Ellen, when it FINALLY happens, it is "bliss rush." It becomes a New Year's Eve type of celebration.

    Before we birthed into special parenting, patience was a taboo in our family. My wife nor I had it or enjoyed it. Now, we don't only work through it, we have learned to LOVE patience. It means the surprises get better and better. Life would be so boring if it were predictable. :)

    It is these SURPRISES that keep us motivating Fayth to reach her next milestone. But never knowing when that might be. It just might jump out and "ROOOAAARRRR!!!" us and I love it.

    Thanks for sharing this AWESOME "scary" story Ellen.

  11. You're going to hear me roar, but it may not be with the voice you expect. I roar with a flute.

  12. Hey Ellen, did you get Max that Cam Jansen Spaghetti Max Mystery book yet?


Thanks for sharing!

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