So we've been on a short holiday and Tom got to explore many aspects of French culture. Largely speaking, this involved gnawing on baguettes, pretending to drive 'holiday cars' (one of his grandfathers has so many cars that he leaves a few just for holidays) and befriending the local wildlife.
A day or so before we came home, we were wandering around a suitably picturesque Provencal village when Tom and Nik happened upon a cat who wasn't put off by his shrieking excitement and deigned to allow an approach. After a short bout of stroking, the cat nonchalantly departed but not before being declared a 'friend-a-ly cat'. By any measure it was a brief encounter. It provided a suitable opportunity for a little light language development and lessons about caution around animals but Tom was soon onto other exciting projects (including taking photographs - his choice of subject is quite eclectic - 'this dirt!', 'this road!', 'this car!!!') and the stroking fun was seemingly forgotten.
It hadn't gone far. The subject of the friend-a-ly cat was returned to in the car journey back to where we were staying. Yes, he was a very nice cat I agreed. I, too, liked him a lot. Then Tom's finely tuned sense of propriety and decorum kicked in.
We should invite the cat over for dinner.
Surely that would be a long walk, I argued. He doesn't know where we're staying.
This argument was roundly dismissed - his mummy and daddy could bring him in their car. Yes, he would like that a lot. We shall have the friend-a-ly cat for dinner.
I opted to play along. In retrospect this may have been my critical error but it was all in the name of fun language development and, well, we parents don't always know how it will pan out.
So when should we have called a halt? Before we laid a plate of rice at the table for the cat (Tom misheard me suggest 'mice' - or he just couldn't sanction such a ridiculous meal suggestion)? When I tried to use one of his soft toys as a 'pretend' friend-a-ly cat?
We had to start tea without the cat, oddly enough, although his tardiness did not go unnoticed. At some point I said to Tom 'we're only pretending aren't we?'. The tears welled up immediately and I could see Nik and her dad stifling those half-laughs/half-pouts of sympathy as Tom persisted with an increasingly tearful 'he is coming!'
'But sweetheart, cats can't talk... he can't tell his mummy and daddy where we live...'
'He can!' (thank you Pixar and Dreamworks for your witty and realistic personification)...
I tried in a similar, logical vein for a few minutes more. Tom bravely resisted reality. Then Nik came in.
'Ah, the cat has just phoned. He's sorry, but he really can't come. His mummy and daddy won't let him'.
And the crying stopped. Tom turned to me -
'He phoned me on his liccul phone', miming the cat reaching for a mobile on his belt.
The conversations with cats continue -