One of the greatest pleasures as a grandparent is to hear your grandchildren chattering. I sit there taking notes. Children's talk doesn't pay attention to adult rules and conventions, which is why it's so entertaining. At the age of 3, like Thomas, they haven't quite mastered the rules of grammar yet, either. English verbs and pronouns are a particular challenge:
I don't brush my teeth now. I did it when Granddad was came to my home.
I played that game with Mummy and I beated him.
Thomas is still in awe of his elder brother:
I like all the things what Alex likes!
When I'm bigger than Alex, I'll go to school. (Touches the top of his head) ... I'm this big!
When Thomas plays, he makes up his own rules for board games. We don't want to read the dructions [instructions], he tells his dad, and he's very definite about where his toy cars should be placed on the road mat: This car goes at the really back!
Being boys, my grandsons and their friends play terribly warlike games, although, with a Quaker mum, and having heard at school about the 1st World War, Alexander is beginning to ask questions. On one of our bus rides he suddenly asked me, Do you wear a white poppy? I told him I liked to wear both red and a white poppies on remembrance days, and (briefly!) why. He then gave me his version of the story of his great grandmother's cousin, a pacifist who'd died on active service in the Friends' Ambulance Brigade of the 2nd World War. Alex had obviously been mulling it over in his mind. Emma told me that he had insisted on buying his own red poppy this year.
At his birthday party, with glowsticks as the weapons of choice, not much pacifism was in evidence. Alex ran around shouting Disintegrate, disintegrate! and, in the garden, I'm going to kill you with ultimate bombs! I noticed that his slightly younger friend Fares, from the Palestinian-Jordanian family next door, was concerned for little Thomas when he tried to join in the wild game: You can play in here but try not to get hurt by us. (Good advice, insultingly condescending to Thomas though, who always wants to be part of the fray.) Fares suggested that Thomas play the role of the medical corps––When you're not actually hurt, you just use a healing glowstick! Thomas comes and heals you. But Thomas objected to that, preferring to be part of the heap of bodies on the floor.
Emma points out that these war games always seem to be played in a spirit of fairness, and I myself heard one of the boys say, at one point, We've got to equal the stuff out. Interesting!
These are the baddies, says Thomas, reliving the excitement with his toy warriors afterwards. They hit people with the pokey things.
What are they? I ask.
They're the things what poke out! he answers, amazed by my stupidity. The battle ensues with many sound effects and fierce facial contortions from their régisseur. Them fighted and they all got dead! he concludes, with great satisfaction. Sometimes the children's lego warriors sustain serious injuries, but it's not the end of the world: He throwed his head off and Daddy puts it back on.
Emma took us and her sons to the Kingston Quaker meeting on the last Sunday of our visit, but the children didn't discuss the pros and cons of war there. They made Christmas decorations for the rowan tree in the Meeting House courtyard and talked about which Christmas carols they liked best. Apparently their three top favourite carols were Silent Night, O Come All Ye Faithful and Rudolf The Red Nosed Reindeer.