I’m watching K’s private swimming lesson from the viewing area of the local pool, just like I do every Tuesday this term. Part watching, part typing on my laptop, taking advantage of this 30 minutes time slot to catch up on my e-mails and stuff. This time there is another private lesson taking place in the same small pool: a girl of about the same age as K swimming widths accompanied by her teacher, several yards away from K. I vaguely hear both teachers giving instruction to the kids, their voices melting into the general background noise of the pool… In this melting pot of voices coming from all three pools – the big pool, the small and the baby pool – only one voice makes me jump up every time I hear it, makes me lift my eyes off my notes, looking at the source of the sound in sheer amazement: the voice of the little girl having her lesson short distance from K. Every time she answers her teacher out loud, her voice rings like a bell standing out from the background noises of the pool, and I stare at the scene as if I have just witnessed some kind of magic. Is this normal? Can six year olds do that? Just reply to a grown up, just like this, out loud? I’m so used to K’s silent ways that I forgot what is ‘normal’, and this girl seems to me nothing short of a miracle. Will I ever hear K’s voice like this one day too?
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K is lying on the couch, his long hair almost sweeping the floor, he bare feet in his hands, dreamily looking at the ceiling and smiling shyly at something, his thoughts. “Mama, remember how I forgot to give my present to Ded Moroz this year?” (Ded Moroz is the Russian version of Santa who comes towards New Years. Every year Gleb dresses up as one and pretends to arrive towards midnight on the 31st to give out presents. This year K drew a picture for him before his arrival and wanted to give it him but forgot). “Yes, but you’ll have a chance to give it to him next year” I say. K, even more dreamily, half-whispering “Next year I want to try to talk to Ded Moroz out loud…” (he means talking out loud to Gleb who comes disguised as Ded Moroz). “That’s a good idea,” I say, matching his whisper, “We can practice in advance if you like to”. He had never explicitly expressed his hope to be able to speak out loud to someone, not to his friends, not to his teachers, not to the train driver… But he wants to try and speak out loud to Ded Moroz. Maybe he can practice with Gleb pretending to be Ded Moroz, before Gleb actually arrives at New Years dressed up as Ded Moroz to give out presents so K won’t recognise him…
* * *
K had a bad dream, about a scary old lady who laughs and tickles his tummy and maybe wants to eat him. That was after a book we read one night at bed time. Not the “Hansel and Gretel” horror story. We had read a chapter of the Comet in Moominland, and there was an old lady there who was nice and sweet and helpful, but in K’s dream she became evil. So one day he tells me about her. It turns out he met her more than once in his dreams. I ask some questions, and he suddenly starts crying and crying and saying he is scared to go to bed at night now because he will have to see her again. I’m trying hard to think of ways to keep the scary old lady away from K’s dreams. I suggest that he tries to think about nice things before going to bed so that she wouldn’t come, so that he will only dream about nice things. Can he do that? No, he says he can’t think about only good things, that he’ll think about her anyway (that’s true, who can control their thoughts? nobody). OK, how about we make him prepared then for next time he meets her? I say, “When you see her next time and she scares you, you can try and drive her away. Remember, she is not real, she is only in your dream, but YOU are real. You’re a real boy. Can you tell her that? If you tell her that, she’ll get scared herself and might even run away. Can you do that?” He cries even more: “But you know that I can’t talk to strangers!” I guess that’s true, you’re right, what should we do, what should we do then? I can’t allow SM to terrorise him in his dreams as well as in real life. “Look, K, she IS not real, she lives only in your head, and you DO talk in your head, don’t you?” He does of course. “Well, then, don’t tell her out loud, tell her IN YOUR HEAD, in your dream, tell her to go away and that she’s not real… Can you do that?” He’s not sure, maybe… I tell him to practice now saying it in his head, and then again, before going to bed. “If she comes into year head while you’re awake, tell her “GO AWAY! You’re not real, I’m real!” He falls silent for a few moments, thinking, looking past me for some time… then frowns his eyebrows…. then says sternly and quietly to somebody who is not in the room “GO AWAY! You’re not real! I am real!” I applaud: “Yes! You did it! And you said it out loud too! What did she say?” He replies hesitantly: “I think she got smaller and then ran away…” “See? It worked! Yay! Do that again, every time she comes during the day, and then at night, if she dares to show up, you’ll be used to driving her away, even if you won’t say it out loud but only in your head.” And then for the rest of the evening I see him regularly lifting his head from whatever he’s doing and yelling bravely into the empty room, “Go away! You’re not real! I’m real! I’m not scared of you!”, preparing for the night….