Archive for June, 2017

Considering his fascination with monsters, tunnels and dark places, I imagine that if we left our son Magnus to his own devices he’d probably develop a rich mythology, even a religion, within a few years. It is impossible to truly grasp what it is that he is thinking when he talks of these things, but the reverence, awe and fear with which he regards them exhibits the attribution of agency to natural phenomena that underlies our rather sorry invention of religion and superstition.

Recently his focus has shifted significantly to an obsession with tools and machines, which are his favourite objects and, more often than not, playthings. He certainly enjoys playing with toy cars, trucks and animals, but these are almost invariably trumped by a desire to play with or impersonate screw-drivers, Allen keys, drills, saws, scrapers, trowels, air blowers, chainsaws and whipper-snippers. Every day he begs us repeatedly to play with my tools, of which I own but a few and which, if such a wish is granted, leads to him making a buzzing, whirring, sawing or grinding noise, while pretending to fix things about the house.

His favourite “book” at the moment is a hardware catalogue from Mitre 10, which he flips through repeatedly while naming all the tools. On a recent morning, I took him for a walk through the wonderfully overgrown Newtown Cemetery before proceeding to the hardware store to look at tools, and now, having associated these two things, he asks me daily if I will take him “to the cemetery to look at the tools.” On a second visit to the hardware store, we were approached by a member of staff who quizzed him about the names of things, and Magnus was able to answer every question with impressive accuracy. I was especially proud of his response “that’s a measuring tape” when presented with arguably the most challenging question of them all; his use of the more formal title seemed to surprise his questioner considerably.

At the moment our house is undergoing renovations and we have been fortunate in staying at a friend’s house which is presently vacant. Initially Magnus was desperate to return home – as one might expect – but now he only really wants to go there to see the huge array of tools being used by the builders. “That’s an electric saw. That’s an electric drill…” It is almost impossible to stop him from trying to pick them up and examine them or play with them, and hence something of a concern with regards to his safety. At home, he likes to play with knives at every opportunity, which he sees as just another tool, and so these must all be kept high up out of his reach in the cupboards above the stove. His obsession with tools is such that he gets upset if we don’t stop outside the window of the crappy pawn shop on the corner of King Street, where a rather moribund collection of dusty and rusty screw-drivers is on offer. For him it is like visiting a shrine and, having made his obeisance, he is content to move on.

Were he to elevate his obsession into a religion, then I suspect that the chief deity in his pantheon would be a vacuum cleaner. Whenever he hears one, sees one, hears something that sounds like one, or sees anything remotely vacuum-cleaner shaped, he becomes immensely excited. Once, watching a TV show, in which a vacuum cleaner appeared very briefly, he spent the entire next ten minutes asking “Where is the vacuum cleaner? Where is the vacuum cleaner?” With his limited understanding of narrative, it might as well have been the protagonist. Nothing else mattered.

While vacuum cleaners might sit at the top of the pantheon, any kind of machine that cuts, digs, chops, sands or hammers comes close in status and respect. Recently the whipper-snipper came into vogue after a trip to a public park in Marrickville where the council were maintaining the lawns. Magnus uses the verb “need” in place of “use,” and, consequently, after witnessing the whipper snipper in action, he kept repeating: “Man is needing whipper-snipper. Man needs whipper-snipper.” From that day forth the whipper-snipper has featured regularly in his games. He will pick up anything, however unlike a whipper snipper it may appear, and walk around making a sawing sound whilst intoning “I cutting the walls” and “I cleaning the leaves.” He refers to my mother’s travel hairbrush as a  “whipper-snipper” and asks her for it almost immediately when she visits.

One very positive upshot of his obsession is that he loves the idea of cleaning things. Despite being far better at making a mess than cleaning up after himself, whenever any liquid is spilled on the ground, he heads for the bottom drawer in the kitchen to grab a tea-towel or swab and tries to join in the efforts to dry the floor. Upon every visit we make to the local supermarket, he wriggles out of my arms and runs towards the aisle with all the cleaning products, grabbing either a “sprinker” (his word for a cleaning spray) or one of the mops and brooms hanging from the rack. He will then proceed to clean the floor in the supermarket, leaving me little choice but to humour him or else risk a meltdown and tantrum that is best avoided. We can only hope that this obsession with and willingness to clean carries on throughout his youth, not merely because we’d like him to help around the house, but because recent studies have shown a close correlation between doing household chores during childhood and being successful in life. If his behaviour so far is anything to go on, then it looks as though he will be a very successful person indeed.

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