Dad’s diary: Baffling words and bedtime stories

Dad’s diary: Baffling words and bedtime stories

All the grumpiness of being awoken at 6am is dispelled by a single word: ‘cug’. A ‘cug’, in my two-year-old’s nomenclature, is something halfway between a cuddle and a hug. So when I’m awoken by a persistent request for a cug, it’s hard not to be touched, however early the hour. However, making regular use of the cute words kids come up with can have its hazards.

During potty training, for some reason he began to refer to the more solid contents of the potty as ‘a log’. Imagine, then, his surprise when one day granny triumphantly set down on the table ”a lovely chocolate log”. There was an extremely baffled look on his little face as everyone happily tucked in and proclaimed it absolutely delicious!

We take for granted the ability to use words to express ideas, but it is one of the things that distinguishes us from animals: words are essential to our humanity. They also seem to be closely linked to our imagination: without words there can be no stories. Now that our toddler can understand simple sentences, I’ve discarded picture books for bedtime stories. Instead, I just make them up.

Reading or hearing stories is powerful because your own mind has to conjure the pictures of what is happening. Picture books and television do this job for you, and so maybe made-up stories help exercise the muscles of a child’s imagination. Bedtime stories of the spoken-word variety are also more fun because anything can happen. However, it’s important to mix the happy anarchy of imagination with a comfortingly familiar pattern. All consist of certain familiar characters: some are his stuffed toys, who are as real to him as nana, granddad and all the characters he encounters in his bedtime stories.

Typically, a certain little boy (with whom the audience-of-one can no doubt identify) is playing in the garden with his little sister. Then, they look up in the sky and see an airplane! Except it’s not an airplane — it’s a helicopter. Then, with a chugha-ghuga noise, the helicopter comes down and lands in the garden. It’s being flown, naturally enough, by a monkey. He does not for a moment doubt the ability of his stuffed-toy monkey to fly a helicopter that brings him safely to nana and grandad’s house to pick apples. Sometimes the monkey takes everyone for a spin on a boat, far over the sea to a special island where it’s always summer and they all make sandcastles on the beach.

Whatever happens, at the end of each story, there is always the same ending: it gets dark and the stars come out. Everybody lies down on the ground and looks up. Peter Rabbit’s mammy comes and gives everybody hot chocolate.

Then, everyone drinks the hot chocolate and sings Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Then, in whispered tones, the stories all conclude with the final words ”and then they went to bed”.

By which time, hopefully, little eyes are growing sleepy and it’s safe to turn off the light and creep slowly backwards out of the room — leaving a little boy to a happy dream-world of flying monkeys, sandcastles and special beaches where it’s always summer.