The Boy is 4 and a half.
“Mummy, what happens if you leave your car in the car park?”
“Eventually someone will call the police and they will take it away. Then it will cost you a lot of money to get it back.”
“But what if the police don’t come and take it away?”
“Well, then it will just stay there.”
“And then what?”
“It will just stay there.”
“And then what?”
“Well, eventually, after a very long time, everything falls apart. The car will start to rust and fall to pieces.”
“And then what, Mummy?”
“And then what what?”
“After the car has fallen to pieces, what will happen then? Can they fix it?”
This is the Boy’s new hobby. Anything interesting that comes up, he wants to follow the process through to its ultimate conclusion. What are the eventual consequences? My husband and I promised each other that we would take our children’s questions seriously, and give them a real answer – as long as it was age appropriate of course. So we do this: we answer his “and then”s ad infinitum.
Sometimes, the questions come from scientific curiosity.
Sometimes, from worries. He has recently discovered that there is such a thing as death, and it seems sometimes that he is checking whether a decision could lead to something disappearing from this world, either through death or by breaking beyond repair and Mummy throwing it away. If I warn him not to do or touch something, he wants to know what the consequences might be: if he did step in dog poo, what would happen? Would the shoe need to be thrown away? Would he get sick? How sick? If he dropped his Paw Patrol playset on the floor, would it break? Would Daddy still be able to fix it?
Sometimes you can see that he is assessing the risks and benefits of being naughty. So eating something off the floor might give you a poorly tummy. And then what? You might have a very sore stomach and throw up. And then what? Do you have to go to hospital? No? Do you have to go to the doctor? Not always? You can see the cogs whirring: this doesn’t sound too bad, perhaps a risk I could take if it is a very tasty bit of cake that has dropped on the floor.
Something I always liked about the Numberjacks was how they seemed to exemplify their age. Numberjack 2 is very two: everything is “mine!” This where our Girl is at. 3 wants to do everything herself and 4 likes rules. Numberjack 5 is the one who asks “What if…?” It would seem our four and a half year old has levelled up ahead of time.
While writing this, the Boy has turned up next to me, his head on one side, a proud grin on his face. I notice that he has tucked a small Lego piece into his ear and is balancing it there, waiting for me to notice his clever trick.
“No!” I shout. “Don’t put stuff in your ear! It might get stuck!”
I’m sure you can guess his answer.