The for­est and the trees

Maryland Independent - - Classified - Twit­ter: @right­meg

Up un­til re­cently, my son’s in­ter­est in books has been to gnaw at the edges un­til they dis­solve.

As a pas­sion­ate reader (and writer, and English ma­jor . . .), this broke my heart a lit­tle. OK: a lot. I once had th­ese vi­sions of rock­ing a child to sleep with an Eric Carle book in hand, but the re­al­ity of Oliver — and his ac­tive, ac­tive mind — has been quite dif­fer­ent.

From the time he could scoot away and get into mis­chief, that’s been his daily goal. And he’s re­ally good at it. Not sub­tle, though; his lit­tle feet are less a pit­ter-pat­ter, more gigan­oto­saurus clomp­ing to­ward the al­lyou-can-eat di­nosaur buf­fet. We should be glad for that, I guess, con­sid­er­ing he can’t ex­actly sneak any­where. Guess those skills kick in around age 16?

“Book” was one of Oliver’s first words, but I think it was just in the con­text of snack­ing. And think­ing back on it, the book he loved the most — the one we had to phys­i­cally hide, be­cause he wouldn’t stop bit­ing at the cor­ner of it — was a John Deere pic­ture book fea­tur­ing trac­tors: a word we now hear ap­prox­i­mately 1,000 times a day.

De­spite Ol­lie’s in­ter­est in lit­er­ally anything else, I’ve per­sisted in my at­tempt to turn my first­born into a bona fide book­worm. Shelves in his room are lined with tales of “Cu­ri­ous Ge­orge,” “Padding­ton Bear” and one very “Hun­gry Cater­pil­lar” — many of them spe­cial baby shower gifts from fam­ily and friends.

Down­stairs I cleared off two shelves of my own book­case for chil­dren’s sto­ries: an act of love if ever there was one. Dozens are stacked there, wait­ing to be­come beloved by the Johnson kids. Hadley is off the hook for the mo­ment, given she’s pre­oc­cu­pied with the re­cent dis­cov­ery of her hands and feet, but 2-year-old Ol­lie isn’t.

I know that shov­ing some­thing down your kids’ throats is a good way to make them rebel, but is that true for adorable pop-up books? I’ll ad­mit that I gave up for a while, too tired dur­ing my sec­ond preg­nancy to force my wild man to sit when he didn’t want to, but I feel ex­cited — ob­li­gated, even — to try again.

I saw my open­ing a few months ago. Ol­lie was newly ob­sessed with “The Lo­rax,” Dr. Seuss’ clas­sic en­vi­ron­men­tal tale, and we’d watched the an­i­mated movie at least a dozen times. It’s one of the first films he re­ally con­nected with and re­quested (“Lull-ax! Lull-ax!”) and, you know, it was a cute movie; I couldn’t deny him that.

See­ing some cross­over pos­si­bil­i­ties, I waited un­til he was to­tally into all things “Lo­rax” be­fore I grabbed a book his grandma gave us when he was born — one of many sweet story-and-stuffed-an­i­mal pairs sold at our fa­vorite de­part­ment store.

Not only did we have Dr. Seuss’ hard­cover, but we also had a Lo­rax doll: fluffy and yel­low and pos­i­tively de­light­ful to Ol­lie, who be­gan car­ry­ing him around ever ywhere.

The book ver­sion also kept us com­pany. He loved it so much that I re­moved the dust jacket so he’d have “The Lo­rax” — or “Trees,” per Ol­lie — to keep in the car. I tried read­ing it aloud to him many times, but he would by­pass my rhymes and head straight for the col­or­ful pages with truf­fula trees.

This went on for a while. The book had to go ev­ery­where with us, even to bed — but his at­ten­tion even­tu­ally re­turned to trac­tors, and “The Lo­rax” even­tu­ally fell into the dusty un­der­belly of his bed.

We were clean­ing in his room on Satur­day when Ol­lie, crouched down, be­gan ex­cit­edly point­ing to some­thing. “Trees! It’s trees,” he re­peated, and I pushed aside the mum­mi­fied cookie crumbs and LEGO peo­ple and stray socks to even­tu­ally put my fin­gers on “The Lo­rax” once more.

De­spite hav­ing not seen the book in weeks (decades, re­ally, in tod­dler years), he im­me­di­ately opened to the mid­way point of the story: where the bright, col­or­ful, whim­si­cal truf­fula trees first ap­pear. He even let me read a few lines of the story. Then I got cocky. At bed­time that night, Ol­lie sprawled out on the floor with “The Lo­rax” open in front of him. My log­i­cal my mom brain knew he was stalling, but the hope­ful part of me wanted to be­lieve he ac­tu­ally wanted a bed­time story. Fi­nally!

We were sprawled on the floor on our bel­lies, heads bent to­gether, and I hap­pily turned to the be­gin­ning to start with the story of the grickle-grass and bar-ba-loots and ram­pant de­struc­tion of Earth’s pre­cious re­sources. You know: good light­hearted stuff.

Oliver wasn’t into that, of course. All he wanted to do was ad­mire the trees and turn the pages, search­ing for the Lo­rax him­self. I had to tamp down my ir­ri­ta­tion and let him rum­ple the pages he flipped with a heavy tod­dler hand. While I do be­lieve books shouldn’t be kept un­der glass, tears and wrin­kles make me itchy.

“Trees” floated in and out of Ol­lie’s at­ten­tion over the week­end. Spencer and I spent the ma­jor­ity of the time try­ing to dis­tract him away from YouTube trac­tor videos and stay out of the bath­room sink, where he loves to splash water. I man­aged to get his at­ten­tion with a search-and-find book (there’s a farm page . . .), but that was short-lived.

Bed­time isn’t the howl­ing match it once was, but it still takes some coax­ing to get Ol­lie up­stairs. His bed is lined with stuffed an­i­mals and ac­tion fig­ures, tiny cars and blan­kets. There is, of course, his toy trac­tor pi­loted by Man, as well as a few small books of an­i­mals he once took an in­ter­est in but prob­a­bly hasn’t looked at since.

When I walked up with him Sun­day evening, Ol­lie was oddly ac­cept­ing of his sleepy fate. I was braced for the melt­down, but it never came. He sur­prised me by also pulling some­thing from be­neath his pil­low: “The Lo­rax.” I hadn’t even seen him put it there.

He flipped a few pages, I gave him a kiss and qui­etly closed the door. I fig­ured that would be the end of it. But as I tip­toed by his door again, I could hear him softly talk­ing to him­self: re­peat­ing in gib­ber­ish the lines I’d been at­tempt­ing to read many times. Oc­ca­sion­ally he would sing the tune of a silly song I’d been re­peat­ing, too.

He’d been lis­ten­ing . . . even when I thought for sure he wasn’t.

To­mor­row? Shake­speare. You can never start too early.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.