This piece originally appeared in the January 2010 issue of Practical Parenting Magazine.
Last week, one of Keith’s work colleagues said warmly ‘Tell me about little Peanut. Is she three? I bet it’s a pink and frilly Princess-land at your place.’ Not so much, Keith replied, as he tried to explain his daughter’s interests in blood, bones, death and dinosaurs. ‘Maybe she’ll be an anatomist,’ his colleague suggested. ‘Yes,’ said Keith. ‘Or a sociopath.’
When dress-up day at pre-school arrived, I suggested that Peanut dress up as a cat, but she had other ideas. ‘I’m the Black Ghost, Mummy,’ she cried. ‘The Ghost who might kill everybody in the whole world!’ I let the Black Ghost go to school, but as I watched the other animals, fairies and superheroes file in, I felt nervous and hoped that she’d keep her plans for mass murder to herself.
I admit that I’ve never been a very pink-sprinkly-cupcakes kind of mother, but I still don’t know where this tiny emo of ours came from. Family chat around the dinner table doesn’t tend to cover cremation or haemorrhage or surgery. I don’t put Peanut to sleep reading passages from the Tibetan Book of the Dead. She and two-year-old T-Bone watch
Plus, she’s three, and so all of her ideas have a slightly surreal, absurd bent to them. ‘Don’t eat hot poo, Mummy,’ she told me recently, in passing conversation. ‘It will deaden you.’ To what, I wondered? Contemporary social mores? Gourmet taste sensations? ‘You would die,’ she insisted, and two-year old T-Bone, her faithful sidekick agreed. ‘Hot poo! Die!’ he affirmed.
Lately, however, it’s all about dinosaurs. Peanut keeps a green clothes-peg marking her favourite page of the dinosaur book, where a Tyrannosaurus Rex is brutally slaying a Stegosaurus. Blood, bones and gore abound, but she can stare happily at this page for hours, re-enact it, and discuss it at length. ‘Let’s talks about the T-Rex, Mama,’ she likes to suggest. ‘He’s a meat-eater.’ Peanut combines this macabre interest with a naturally dramatic personality, so now every time she stubs a toe or squishes a finger, she moans ‘Oh no, I feel like I died!’
Often I try and understand what’s going on inside her little gothic brain, but it’s not always clear, especially when T-Bone joins the conversation. Playing Doctors last week, I called for my next patient. ‘What’s the problem, Miss?’ I asked. ‘A T-Rex bit my leg off,’ Peanut told me. ‘How does it feel?’ I asked. Predictably, Peanut replied ‘Like I died.’ I sensed a Teachable Moment. ‘How old are people when they die, Peanut?’ I asked. ‘A hundred,’ she relied knowledgably. ‘And what kinds of things can you die from?’ I asked, but Teddy knew that one, and he leapt in before she could answer. ‘Hot poo, Mama!’ he shouted with delight. ‘Hot poo!’ I give up. Mark another win up to the Black Ghost.