There’s a public footpath not far from our house that runs between three thatched-roof cottages (I am not making this up- it’s unbelievably picture perfect). It’s a convenient short cut to get from our street to the main road. If we’re going to the village playground or the one shop it makes sense to use it.
The first half of it has mature trees on either side whose branches meet in the middle. Given E. went through a huge tunnel phase earlier in the summer it quickly became known as the tree tunnel. When the grass in the second half sprouted up and became so long that E. had to push his way through, that section became known as the grass tunnel. For weeks, whenever we had to go into the rest of the village, E. would demand that we “Go in tree tunnel and gass tunnel!”
Until one day, suddenly, he didn’t. Instead he asked to go by the road. “Ee-mon no want to go in tree tunnel, no want to go in gass tunnel,” he said.
Q. and I were both puzzled by this but we went along with it. There were always other ways to get to wherever we were going, and we’ve learned not to grow too accustomed to any particular whim of the toddler mind.
Last weekend, close to a month after E. suddenly stopped wanting to use the tunnel route, he and I were walking up to the corner store to buy a newspaper. When we reached the public footpath, I asked him, as I always do, which way he wanted to go.
“Go on road,” he told me in no uncertain terms. “Ee-mon no want to go in tunnels.”
“Why don’t you like the tunnels anymore, little love?” I asked him. “You used to love the tree tunnel.”
E. was quiet for a moment. “Maybe dog coming in tree tunnel,” he said at last.
“Oh, are you worried about the dog that lives in the cottage next to the tree tunnel?” There is, indeed, a dog that lives next to the entrance to the public footpath, a friendly but dopey and rather boisterous Chocolate Lab who usually comes over to say hello to anyone he spies and who isn’t always very good at respecting personal space. “He’s a nice dog,” I continued. “He’s a friendly dog.”
E. thought about this. “Maybe bad dog coming in tree tunnel,” was all he said in reply.
He’s scared of meeting an unfriendly dog in that narrow passageway, where he is so little and they are (so often) so big.
It was a real lightbulb moment for me. He’s been a bit more wary of dogs ever since his beloved Outside Bunny (a stuffed toy, I hasten to add, and not a real live rabbit) was picked up by a dog when he and Q. were outside weeding one day. Q. rescued her and no harm was done, but it clearly left a huge impression on him as we hear about “Outside Bunny getting eaten by a puppy!” on a daily basis long after the original incident. I’d noticed he wasn’t keen to approach the (many, many) dogs we see out for walks in the village, but hadn’t realized just how worried he was about them.
“Thank you,” I told him. “Thank you for telling Mummy why you don’t want to go in the tree tunnel any more. We’ll walk along the road to get to the shop.”
We carried on to the shop, hand in hand, without incident.
It was the first time he’s been able to really work through his feelings and explain to us exactly what was bothering him.
When did he get so big?