The Tiger Game

Arthur is our first baby. It is true that I remember many things about my little brother and sister, but I remember them as anecdotes, like flashcards in a pile, and I don't remember the stages they went through the way grandmothers remember them, down to the month and the activity. That means I get surprised every few months, when Arthur becomes a new person, and I have to learn a new set of ways to deal with him.

Right now bedtime is a great adventure for us, because we all sleep on different schedules. I work a forty-hour week, so I have to get up at the same time every morning, and I have to go to bed at something like the same time every evening, or I won't get enough rest. Things are different for my wife. Susan is a translator, so she may work ten or twelve hours one day, and then just stay at home the next; as a result, she can pick and choose when she goes to bed, and she often stays up late to look at the stock market. Arthur is the freest of us all, because he can sleep at any time in the day, and then rock all night.

And rock he does. I guess most babies are merry and full of energy, and Arthur hates to have the day end, because he has so much playing to get in. A while back I taught him how to jump on beds, and he likes to do that, up and down. He also likes to climb off the bed, and then get me to help him back up. Sometimes, he will pull up my shirt and blow on my belly, imitating the 'raspberries' that we give him, but tentatively, looking up at me to make sure that I get it. The other night he started on 'cookies.'

It was a game that I had never seen before. Arthur put his hands up to his mouth and he told me "I eating cookies!" Then he started chewing and smacking his lips heroically, gestures so broad that I could see them in the dark. He smiled, bright and wide, with a look of great satisfaction. Then he said "Daddy eat Arthur's cookie?"

It took me a moment to figure that out, but Arthur put his hand to my mouth, and I realized that I was supposed to eat another imaginary cookie. I did what I could, and he seemed quite happy with that. Then he said "Arthur eat Daddy's cookie?"

Again, it was late and I was pretty blurry, but I worked it out. Eagerly Arthur had us go through a whole list of treats, from 'dinosaur chips', which we get from the Korean market, to candy and noodles.

I was impressed, because I had never seen Arthur do this kind of make-believe before. I guess his mother must have taught him, and I regret not having done it myself, but it is the kind of thing that I would not think about. I was left wondering whether we should move forward on his playacting, to do things like loading a truck or baking cookies. Over the weeks to come I will try this.

And Arthur's mind is more able to understand other things, such as time and events. I noticed this the other night, when we tried to get Arthur to sleep.

I volunteered to take Arthur for the evening, because any interruption can keep Susan awake all night, while I tend to go back to sleep more easily. Unfortunately, Arthur was not ready to sleep. I tried to hug Arthur, in the usual way, and I tried to carry him, and to rock him, and to tickle him, and none of that worked -- he still screamed and turned red in the face, with great big tears in his eyes. Finally his mother came in and said gently "You can't do that way. Arthur is older now; you need to sing a song or tell him a story."

And so she did. She lay down with Arthur, and she said "Once there was a little baby who would always crying. And all of the other people were quiet. Then one night all of the people were sleeping, and the baby was crying, and an evil lion came along. The evil lion was hungry, and he wanted to eat someone, but the lion could not find the others because they were too quiet. Only the baby was crying and the crying told the lion where he was. So, you should not cry!"

Arthur slowed down, and then fussed on and off for a few moments, looking up into the dark. His eyes were still wet and partly focused, probably imagining some kind of creature which was cross between the lions he sees in the nature specials, and the devilish cartoon characters he sees in the 'Lion King' book.

I could tell things were getting better, and I followed up with another story. A week before I had been stranded at the train station, and I had called home to get Susan or my father-in-law to pick me up. I told this story, with the night and the cold and other people warm in their cars. At the time, Susan had tried to persuade me to take the bus back, so I guess my story had a moral too. However, Susan and Arthur were both interested, and again, I was left wondering about how much Arthur understood.

I tried this on my own a few days later. Along about daybreak Susan went out to get ready for work, and Arthur woke up, screaming for mama.

I picked him up and got him on the bed, and I tried to hug him, but he still screamed, so I looked around for a prop. Along about the top of the bed we keep a 'tiger pillow', a doll in the shape of a tiger, with a flat middle so a baby can rest his head on it. I picked it up and started walking it towards Arthur, bouncing it on its back feet, like a clothespin bouncing in a cartoon.

I said, "Once upon a time there was a tiger, and the tiger was grouchy. " I walked the tiger up to Arthur and loomed it over him, in a threatening manner. I said "This tiger was so grouchy that it wanted to bite the good boy. So - what did the good boy do? He drew back his fingers, and he grabbed the tiger by the tickle-pits. He tickled the tiger, so many times - Ha ha ha went the tiger!" And I tickled the tiger. In a moment, Arthur forgot his upset and started tickling the tiger too.

I was surprised by how well it went. I guess when we look at a child we often see a small adult, and we think that he reasons the way an adult reasons. If he is crying for his mother, we believe that he misses her, and he needs emotional solace. That is why I had tended to reassure him and give him affection, in a rather bearish way. Now I see that is probably a mistake. After all, Arthur has never 'lost' anyone, and he has almost no reason to feel that kind of emotional hurt. Instead, the baby is afraid of being bored, and he thinks that one person will give him a happier and more interesting time than another. That is why he used to cry when I left the house, in the mornings, and that is why he feels better now that his grandfather has started reading him stories whenever I head out.

Anyway, I continued with the tiger, playing a new game and getting Arthur more involved in it. I said "Once upon a time there was a tiger, and he was bored. So, the tiger decided to fly! And people asked him, 'How can you fly? Do you have an airplane?'

And the tiger said 'No - I don't have an airplane!'

And the people said, 'Then, how can you fly? Do you have wings?'

And the tiger said 'No - I don't have wings! I will fly because my buddies will help me fly!'

I picked up the doll and made it fly around over my head, not trying to flap, but smoothly, like a rocket. Arthur was delighted, and flew it a little himself.

Then we played it again. I did the tiger, boasting about how he would fly, and Arthur said 'Airplane?' and I made a long 'Noo…', like I had before. Then Arthur said 'Wings?' And I said no, and so forth. Arthur got more and more wrapped up, and suddenly he squealed 'Talking!' I couldn't tell if Arthur meant that I was talking, or he was talking, or the tiger was talking, of course; at twenty-seven months, he is still very much between one world and another.

Copyright 2000 Dan Willmore

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