My daughters have devised a new game of pretend. It is called, simply, "Goblin."
The game is simple. Terza, age 3, is a baby named Goblin. She is not, as I initially thought, a goblin baby. That would be absurd. Instead she is a human baby that has distinctly goblin-like characteristics, including growling, crawling on all fours and a generally aggressive disposition.
Seconda is her owner. Which is to say, her master.
You can see where this game is going. Seconda orders Terza around. Terza obeys. Terza is delighted. Second is delighted. I am mildly disturbed but they are amusing themselves so I say nothing. Seconda is a benevolent master, more maternal than anything else. She has a gentle scolding tone to her voice, but never issues a harsh rebuke.
It's all, "Oh no no no, Goblin! You know better than to bite the table!"
and, "Goblin, it's feeding time! What do you have to do if you want your bottle? That's right! Sit down."
and, to me, "You'll have to excuse my baby Goblin. She likes to bite people."
Goblin has no voice. The metaphor is not lost on me. Though I can't say Terza minds. Quite the opposite.
The other day, Seconda gave herself a character upgrade. She put on her communion veil and her communion glove and shiny, brand-new silver party shoes ("are these designer?" she asked baffled me). Goblin also got an upgrade, though not as lavish. She hasn't received first holy communion, after all, so pickings are slim. Seconda pranced around the apartment, with Terza trailing right behind her, on all fours, barking and growling and looking positively elated.
I find it's best not to think too deeply about the fucked-up power dynamics one sees played out in pretend play. After all, isn't that what pretend play is for? And isn't that was big sisterhood is all about? I remember my sister singing back-up for me in our two-girl band for our entire childhood. Did it traumatize her for life, and give her an inferiority complex? Well, probably. But, on the plus side. it also gave her grit galore.
Nicole is a parenting writer who contributes essays and articles for magazines like Parenting, Parents, American Baby and Babble. She lives in Brooklyn with three children, one husband and a morbidly obese goldfish.