Two days later, a different scenario:
[His red plastic cell phone rings, and he answers enthusiastically:] "Hello? How are you? Oh good. Nothing really. We're just taking Nanny—that's my grandmother—to a little quickie trip to the hospital. [Pause.] Yes. I know. No, it's okay.
[Aside to me:] Mom, it's a different doctor for Nan. I told him she's fine.
[Back to phone, brow creased in concentration:] Well, we didn't give her all the pills, just the morning ones. The red one, you can't crush. [Pause.] Well, we're just going to use a little oxygen tank. And the taxi is coming. [Snaps his flip phone shut with a flourish.]
Mom, I told the doctor we're taking good care of Nanny. I'm going to dress myself while you get ready, and then we can go, okay?"
Yes, he made a play scenario out of something very serious (once seemingly dire) from our real life; playing doctor has not been quite the same since we visited his great-grandmother in the hospital over a few weeks in January. During the first instant of my eavesdropping on his "phone call," I was grinning at his deft role play. For the next few, I was troubled by the topic of his conversation. Now my mindset about the whole thing falls somewhere in the middle—he's still pretending, after all, and he has a true sense of what's going on within our family...and it's life. I can present it to him in age-appropriate ways, I can protect him from what I can, and I can explain and hug and be a role model: caregiver, nurturer, juggler, mother, granddaughter, wife, daughter, editor, professional, human. But I can't hide him from the world. And I don't want to.
We're In It Together
His checking in on his great-grandmother regularly, with tenderness and real concern; his telling me he needs to cheer her up on occasion; his supreme patience in countless medical waiting rooms—he should not be exposed to these things at the age of 3. Yet he makes me proud, and I am comforted to have him as my companion on this part of my life journey, and to accompany him on this part of his. And yes, we can still have some imaginary fun.