We try to take everything Ryan says with a grain of salt. Sure, he’s three and can talk pretty well (although Nathan still sometimes wishes wistfully for when Ryan is five and can talk better), but there are lots of little idiosyncratic things to remind us that, well, he’s only three. Some are just cute wordplays: when he’s upset, for example, he talks about how he needs a treat because “that will feel me better.” (Why he thinks we’ll give him a treat is beyond me, but he’s a very optimistic child.)
Some are obvious fictions. He’ll tell anyone who cares to listen that his mother is still alive, that his mother is Marybeth, and that she is in space. Only one of these things is true. He’s very insistent about them, though. When I ask him who I am, then, he just looks at me like I’m an idiot. “You’re Mommy,” he says. Duh.
But occasionally something baffles us for a while. Lately he’s been quite positive that he hates sugar. “I hate sugar,” he’ll tell me casually, as he’s walking through the kitchen with one or another toy held (no matter what it is) like a gun. This is a surprising statement; although he doesn’t have nearly the sweet tooth of his brother, he’s quick to ask for brown sugar on his oatmeal, is delighted when Dave makes no-bake cookies, and has no objection at all to being slipped a few chocolate chips. But he’s been adamant about it for several weeks now, and I just assumed that there was a disconnect between our ideas of what, exactly, comprises sugar.
No, it turns out that the disconnect was something else entirely. Yesterday Ryan was playing with Dave and informed him, repeatedly but without apparent rancor, that he hated him. And Dave, fortunately, had the wit to ask the obvious question: “If you hate me, does that mean that you like me, or you don’t like me?” Ryan was quite forthcoming: it meant that he liked Dave. In fact, he was quite willing to explore the fact that he loved Dave, and also that he hated him.
Attempts to reframe his idea of what “hate” means were met with indifference, the same indifference that he produces when I try to convince him that I am his mother (and not in space). He doesn’t get upset about it, just calmly continues to insist on his view of the world.
Which is fine. At least now that Dave clarified the issue, his world is a great deal less confusing to us.