The apogee of three

My son, who is three and a half, was having one of his favourite conversations with me: “Mummy, what ‘bread’ means? What ‘Goldilocks’ means? What ‘toothbrush’ means?”. And so on, with the three-year-old’s relentless pursuit of meaning, to a degree that would have had Plato snapping “sometimes things just DON’T MEAN ANYTHING, OK?”. It’s not that he doesn’t know any of these things – he likes asking for the meaning of a familiar or unfamiliar word, or one he’s just invented. He just likes the process. And I was, as patiently as I could manage, answering his questions: bread means a type of food, Goldilocks means that girl in the story with the bears, toothbrush means what you clean your teeth with, etc etc etc. And then he asked me the second most three-year-old question ever: “Mummy, what does ‘means’ mean?”.

It delighted me to answer him that “‘Means’ means ‘means'”, and I took a little moment to enjoy the grammatical beauty of that sentence and, if I’m honest, the thirty seconds of silence from my son. But he trumped it with the very most three-year-old sentence possible: “But Mummy, WHY ‘means’ means ‘means’?”.

That must be Peak Three, right? And that means we’re past the worst of it, and it will be a steady stroll from here to a reasonable, sleep-all-night, “OK Mummy if you say so”, four-year-old. Please?

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