Thomas has what appears to be a prodigious memory. This might sound like I am having a proud-parent moment, but actually I can assure you that this is Not A Good Thing.
My brain has always been the memory equivalent of one of those extreme hoarders you see on daytime television. If my mind was a semi-detached bungalow in a quiet corner of Milton Keynes, it would be full of black rubbish bags, old newspapers and piles of unidentifiable pieces of metal and plastic that might come in handy one day.
I remember verbatim, completely inconsequential conversations from when I was eight. I remember the roles I played in the long-running, elaborate pretend games we acted out at junior school. I remember the sinking feeling after I inserted the eraser from the end of a pencil up my nose and felt it disappear into the depths of my nasal passages. I remember how I felt several years later when an ENT specialist finally extracted it and everyone looked at me with raised eyebrows and a “Well? Anything you want to tell us?” expression on their faces.
I remember things that HWSNBN categorically claims he never said. And I remember HWSNBN not telling me things he is adamant he told me ages ago.
I am not at all happy that Thomas appears to have inherited this trait.
The problem with a small child who remembers absolutely everything you say is that you can’t fob them off with vague answers like “maybe tomorrow” or “we’ll see.” Because tomorrow will come and they will remember. You also have to be extraordinarily careful not to use any words or phrases that you don’t want them to pick up, because once heard, never forgotten. “Oh my God” is now Thomas’s stock response to anything going mildly wrong.
HWSNBN is very far from impressed.
But there is another problem.
When they start asking questions, you have to give an explanation that won’t come back and bite you in the future. You can’t give the simplistic version with the intention of upgrading the explanation at a later stage, when their understanding of the world has improved. Because they will remember every, single, word of the account you give.
And they will regurgitate your explanation at the most inappropriate moment possible, no doubt prefaced with “My Mummy says…” so that you look, at best, like an utter idiot, and at worst like a homophobic, racist, intolerant bigot who has given their child a narrow, homogenous view of the world around them.
I know this because I used to do it. One of my poor mother’s more unfortunate sorties into the world of child-friendly explanations involved an early attempt at sex education. It was years before I figured out the belly button wasn’t actually for what I had been given the impression it was for.
Yes, I may have been a slightly naïve child. But “When a man loves a lady then he puts his thing in the lady’s tummy.”
Really. I ask you.
Anyway, Thomas’s memory hasn’t been too much of an issue recently since his questions have tended to be about things that a three year-old is capable of understanding without too much tweaking. Things did get a little bit tricky when he wanted to know what a television aerial was for. There were vague explanations involving Mr Tumble flying through the air. An invisible Mr Tumble obviously. A very small, invisible Mr Tumble, given that he then squeezed down the aerial cable and landed in the television.
This was not my finest scientific moment, I grant you. The problem was that I began the explanation before realising that I don’t actually know how a TV aerial works myself. For all I know Mr Tumble does, in fact, flit about invisibly looking for likely aerials to plunge down.
The television conversation paled into insignificance, however, when Thomas got going on the subject of religion.
Well, he didn’t. Of course he didn’t. He’s three. But he asked what a church was for and I had another one of my panicked visions of him toddling off to pre-school and saying “My mummy says…” I may, therefore, have got a little carried away.
It’s a building where people go to…
[long pause for thought]
To what, mummy?
To think about things.
Um, important things. Nice, important things.
What important things, mummy?
Er, important things like being nice. And songs. They sing songs.
Like baa baa black sheep?
No. They sing songs about being nice and sharing things.
Because they want to. And they tell stories.
Thomas the Tank Engine stories?
No. Stories about someone called Jesus.
Jesus? Who’s Jesus?
[panic begins to set in]
Er, Jesus was a nice man. Who was nice to people. And wanted everyone to be nice to each other.
[Clearly my Jesus is channelling Bill and Ted – be excellent to one another.]
Well, because he wanted everyone to stop fighting and love each other.
Because it was important. Because he believed he was the son of….
[No. There is no way I can manage an explanation of what people believe about God]
Because some people believe he was magic. Although not everyone believes that. Mummy doesn’t believe that.
Do I believe that?
Er, you can believe anything you want to believe. Obviously.
[desperate, and slightly rubbish, attempt to change the subject]
So churches. They are also places where people go on Sundays.
Well sometimes people take babies there so that everyone can say hello to them. And sometimes people get married there.
Oh. What’s married?
Well, it is when a man and a lady really like each other [must not mention belly buttons, must not mention belly buttons] and they promise to live with each other and share all their things and be nice to each other.
[sudden panicked vision of Thomas hearing about someone having two mummies or two daddies and announcing “My mummy says marriage is for a man and a lady”]
Well, not just a man and a lady. Sometimes two men promise to be nice to each other and live together. And sometimes it is two ladies.
They just do, okay? So they go to church and promise to the vicar that they will live together.
[a thought occurrs]
Except they don’t always do that. Sometimes people live together and share their things without going to church and promising.
Because not everyone believes in….
[Nonono! We’re still not doing the God explanation]
Because people like to do things different ways.
What different ways?
Well some people go to a church, like that one, and they call themselves Christians.
Is that their name?
Not exactly. It’s just what they call their group. A bit like at nursery where you have the Bumblebee room and the Aviary room.
[This is not going well]
Some people go to a different kind of church, called a mosque, and they are called muslims. And some go to a church called a synagogue, and they are called jews. And some people don’t go to any church and they are called ag…
[Stop. Just stop. You are not going to discuss agnosticism with a 3 year-old]
They just don’t go to church.
Oh. Why are they muslims? What is muslims?
Well they are just people who go to a different church. All people are the same but they like to do different things.
Well, not the same. People look different but that doesn’t matter.
[This has the potential to go so, so wrong.]
Well, not different in a bad way. Just different because everyone’s different.
While being just the same.
[long pause for thought from the back seat]
[time to wrap this up with a short and punchy explanation]
So that’s what churches are.
Look cows! They might poo!
I should probably explain at this point that cows pooing are one of Thomas’s greatest fascinations for some reason. If Jesus had popped up and re-enacted one of his greatest miracles, Thomas would probably have just given him a “Walking on water? Is that all you’ve got?” look before returning to gazing entranced at the pooing bovines.
So in future, I intend to avoid the lengthy explanations and just find the nearest field of cows that might poo. Even if Thomas remembers the conversation, it is going to be pretty unarguable that cows poo. His future teachers might get the impression that I have a mild poo fetish, but they probably won’t think I’m a bigot.
A poo-obsessed idiot, maybe. A bigot, no.
Job’s a good’un.