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I love five-year-olds. Part of what makes the age so much fun is that five is the beginning of middle childhood, that magical state I blogged about earlier when kids start acting like (mostly) rational agents and can do stuff. Simon’s ability to play basketball or soccer, learn a tennis swing, work on his catch-up-stroke (precursor to freestyle), sit through and describe a 90-minute soccer game with Matt (“Villa clears it! Poor Wolves…”), and discuss atmospheric layers and dwarf planets is all part and parcel with middle childhood. As is his starting to read and his continued interest in math and numbers.

But the other side of five that I adore is when Simon vacillates away from being a rational, seemingly mature agent and goes deep into five-year-old flights of fancy.  We saw this last night when shortly after describing every person on Man City who touched a ball during a given run, Simon ran upstairs to grab his basketball trophies so he could present them to the winner of the car race he was acting out with Hot Wheels on the couch.

The only downside to this charming back-and-forth is that sometimes it can be hard to tell which Simon we’re dealing with. That’s how on Monday we can watch rational Simon choose to stay in the dentist’s chair for an extra 20-25 minutes to avoid having to make an additional trip and then find ourselves at Seneca Park a few hours later with an entirely different creature.

I thought we were there for soccer drills in the absence of his regular weekday practice (canceled for spring break), as did Matt. But whenever Simon failed to block a kick in his role as goalie, he moped and accused us of kicking too hard, too far away, and generally “ruining my fun”. He was being downright petulant, until finally Matt barked at him in frustration: “Simon, do you only want us to kick soft, slow balls straight at your feet?”

He said no, but something about the look in his eye suggested otherwise. So for the next 10 minutes or so, that’s exactly what we did. We made a great show of setting up crosses and taking corner kicks, but ultimately lightly tapped each one within a foot of Simon on either side.

He blocked every one, beaming with pleasure while he was at it. And that’s when it hit us: we were not with the coachable, determined Simon who wanted to develop his skills. We were with that other Simon, the one lost in a world of his imagining. In fact, this wasn’t Simon at all; this was Burt Handsome of Sunderland having the best goal-keeping game of his entire life. This was Simon engaging in some hero play-acting.

The rest of our day went much smoother, and both Simons went to bed happy and satisfied. The first one telling me I was his best friend of all and trying to add three-digit numbers in his head, and the other meowing as Baby Kitten and telling me that he’d be one-year-old on July 13.

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