She says to me, “want to play daughter”? Of course I do.
This means I will play the daughter and she will play the “momma”. So she gets to make all the rules, which is the whole point of the operation – a carnivalesque flip of the power dynamic.
She orders me to get into bed (the couch); she pulls a blanket over me.
“Read to me,” I say. I play my part by saying things she would say.
“No,” she says. “I won’t read to you because you didn’t listen to me.”
“I need a hug and kiss.”
“Hug but no kiss.”
She’ll enforce the pretend sleeping – if I open my eyes I find her standing over me, vigilant, ready to threaten the suspension of dessert prospects, or milk rights. But after a spell, after she’s put the pretend puppy to bed and she’s pretend slept herself, she wakes me up, and offers dinner. It’s really a plastic turkey on a plastic saucer, but that’s not how she spins it.
“Here, it’s pepperoni and cheese and watermelon and peanut pizza but I have to take off the peanuts because I’m allergic.”
After dinner we have to drive to a picnic. I sit on the floor and she straps me into the child seat with the sash from a bathrobe. She sits on a wood box, mimics the steering wheel, and makes maybe the cutest driving sound I have ever heard.
It’s all warped and distorted, but it’s clearly a portrait of her world. Little chores, duties, orders given. Punishments and rewards. Do we really seem this stern to her? Does she really think we’d serve her peanuts?
The journey takes about half a second. We get out and we go to the store to get food for the picnic. “Come with me!” she says, and opens the fridge. She starts looking for food.
Real food, I note.
I come out of character and insist certain things aren’t taken out of the fridge. It’s starting to look like the pretend picnic is morphing into real eating, as we’re playing to kill time while her mom makes dinner and she’s starting to get real hungry.
We negotiate, and settle on a handful of blueberries. I get four spoons as ordered, and a bowl. Pretty soon real dinner happens, and play stops. She’s not the boss anymore.