As a writer and musician, I often find myself speaking similes and metaphors. It's not as common here in the western world, but in eastern writings and life it's much more prevalent. At any rate, I think there is something beautiful about describing the world around us in more than strictly scientific facts.
About six months ago, however, I paused after a conversation with Benjamin to consider this practice. I had been conversing with a two year old about sunrise and sunset, and I spoke about "the sun getting tired and going to bed" and "the moon coming out to play with the shadows." Now, these two metaphors are not at all odd in our culture, widely understood and even widely used. But I wondered for a moment if it might be confusing to a two year old, if he might be imagining in his mind how on earth the sun actually gets into a bed, and if the sun is indeed a big ball of burning gas, how the bedsheets don't catch fire? I asked myself if I maybe shouldn't avoid speaking metaphors with one so young, so as not to confuse him about the physical workings of the world around him.
Alas, my musings led to no change in my speech, as I'm not sure I would even be able to catch myself for all the times I use metaphors in my descriptions. Also, I decided that if my two year old had a little poetry in his life, well, there is more to this world than the cold, bare facts. I'm a firm believer in teaching through example, and if I want my children to have a little lyrical lilt in their conversations, well then I must model it to them.
It seems that rather than confuse the young one, he has readily embraced the idea of metaphors. (I liken it to having a second language as a child - experts say that instead of being confusing, it actually increases a child's understanding because they have twice as many words to draw from when expressing themselves. Likewise, when trying to communicate an idea, if a child understands and can use metaphors then they are much more easily and accurately able to describe what they want to express.)
A couple weeks ago I fell victim to a nasty 12 hour flu. My stomach was churning, which caused me to shuffle around the house semi-hunched over. On seeing me clutch my stomach, Benjamin inquired, with much worry, what was wrong. "I'm sick, sweetheart," I moaned. "My stomach doesn't feel well at all."
Benjamin paused, then asked "Is there a fly, or a bee, or a spider inside?" "What do you mean?" "When I'm sick I feel like there's something in my tummy. Do you have a fly, a bee or a spider?" "A spider," I replied. "It feels like a spider is crawling all over in there."
Over the rest of the day, Benjamin continuously inquired whether or not that spider was still inside, or if it had disappeared yet. I could have explained more scientifically what was happening inside, but there will be a day for that. For now, in Benjamin's little world, the description of a spider was perfectly accurate.