Taran­tu­las over truf­fu­las

Maryland Independent - - CLASSIFIED - Twit­ter: @right­meg

Na­ture ver­sus nur­ture. It’s fas­ci­nat­ing to me how, with lit­tle en­cour­age­ment, my son has al­ready be­come ob­sessed with trac­tors, trucks and many things “dude.”

Un­for­tu­nately for me, this in­ter­est has also ex­tended to spi­ders. All bugs, re­ally, but spi­ders — or “spyyyy-ders” — for sure.

I’ve been read­ing to this kid since birth, but his in­ter­est in books has been lim­ited to turn­ing pages and wor­ry­ing the cor­ners of spines un­til they dis­in­te­grate. As a baby, he would have just hap­pily chewed them all to a pulp.

This bummed me out, of course. Dur­ing my first preg­nancy, I was adrift on flights of book­ish fancy as I imag­ined cud­dling with my child over clas­sics by Beatrix Potter and Frances Hodgson Bur­nett. I ac­tu­ally be­gan col­lect­ing books for my fu­ture kids long be­fore hav­ing any — a fact I ad­mit­ted to my now-hus­band only af­ter he saw my weirdly large col­lec­tion of new chil­dren’s sto­ries.

Like many tod­dlers, Ol­lie’s at­ten­tion span — for any­thing be­yond YouTube videos — is pretty short. I told my­self we weren’t go­ing to plop him down with the iPad, but truth­fully? Some­times our san­ity is worth a few repet­i­tive chil­dren’s songs. Par­tic­u­larly when an in­fant needs your at­ten­tion at the same time a tod­dler is dump­ing his ap­ple juice.

Re­mem­ber my tale of shame from go­ing out to a steak­house — one of very few restau­rants we’ve vis­ited since 2015 — and putting on “An­gry Birds” so Spencer and I could eat a hot meal? Well. That’s child’s play com­pared to a typ­i­cal screen­filled af­ter­noon at the Johnson res­i­dence. We’re work­ing on it. For the first few weeks af­ter Hadley’s birth, I felt like I was los­ing my mind. If I thought I was stressed with the de­mands of an al­most two-year-old be­fore, hav­ing both the two-year-old and a new­born at home of­fered new les­sons in pa­tience, hu­mil­ity and the power of caf­feine.

When Hadley needs to be fed, changed or held (which is pretty much al­ways; she’s my sweet Velcro baby), I try lur­ing Ol­lie over to the couch with his prized blan­ket and a stack of books. He has taken a shine to a few: namely “Hand, Hand, Fin­gers, Thumb” by Al Perkins, a gift from a friend whose own boys loved it. It’s easy to mem­o­rize, so some­times we re­cite it to pre­vent a tantrum in the car or gro­cery store.

There are many others I love, though Oliver is in­dif­fer­ent. Nancy Till­man’s “On the Night You Were Born” could turn even the hard­est heart into marsh­mal­low fluff. I made the mis­take of read­ing it while Ol­lie was in the NICU; I still can’t get through it with­out cry­ing. Many kids’ books seem de­signed to turn par­ents into blub­ber­ing messes.

But for all the emo­tional sway many sto­ries have over me, my son isn’t there yet. His re­cent ob­ses­sion with “Dr. Seuss’ The Lo­rax” — the 2012 an­i­mated film, that is — has, how­ever, in­spired Ol­lie to fi­nally look at its source ma­te­rial.

Like many gen­er­a­tions of young read­ers, I loved Dr. Seuss (thanks in large part to our awe­some el­e­men­tary school li­brar­ian; hi, Mrs. Ben­ton!). We have a pile of Seuss hard­cov­ers in Ol­lie’s room. “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish” is my fa­vorite. As a kid, I re­mem­ber open­ing a cup­board in my mom’s child­hood bed­room to find her orig­i­nal copy on a shelf. With its rhymes and col­ors and un­pre­dictable language, it still seems quite mag­i­cal.

Ol­lie re­cently made it through about half of my spir­ited read­ing of “The Lo­rax” be­fore leav­ing in search of vanilla pud­ding. I con­sider that a win.

A col­or­ful board book show­ing the names and pho­tos of 100 an­i­mals also ac­com­pa­nies Oliver these days. It doesn’t fea­ture his beloved trac­tors, but the names of its more ex­otic crea­tures — tigers, tou­cans — are ones he of­ten asks to re­peat.

The book’s last pages are filled with pic­tures of bugs. I of­ten think about how I don’t want to visit my fears upon in­no­cent chil­dren, so I’m try­ing to keep my cool about the spi­der thing. When he reaches out to “pet” the taran­tula, I . . . smile? Kind of? Ol­lie pro­claims ev­ery­thing he doesn’t like to be “yuck,” and that’s def­i­nitely my re­ac­tion to creepy crawlers. But I don’t want him to know that.

Some­times I can’t help it, though. We were leav­ing the house Tues­day when I re­al­ized Oliver had paused back on the porch. As I got closer, I saw a gi­ant brown moth. In his hands.

I screamed, of course. Even if I’d had a few sec­onds to process that my kid was hold­ing a bug and pull my­self to­gether, I doubt I would have re­acted dif­fer­ently.

My sur­prise scared poor Ol­lie, who jumped and be­gan wav­ing his hands around like he was shak­ing off wa­ter. I apol­o­gized, mov­ing Hadley in her car seat far­ther away from the moth mo­tel by the door, then helped my son off the porch. He looked star­tled for a while.

When Oliver brings his “100 An­i­mals” over now, I try keep­ing my ex­pres­sion neu­tral as we point out the spi­der’s hairy legs and beady eyes. The pup­pies are much more my speed, but hey — if the kid likes a book, we’re read­ing it.

Plus it’s some­thing be­yond “The Lo­rax,” which I prob­a­bly re­cite in my sleep.

One can only take so many truf­fula trees.

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