Tarantulas over truffulas
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.