A cater­pil­lar’s re­turn

The Enterprise - - Southern Maryland Classified - Twit­ter: @right­meg

What’s your ear­li­est mem­ory? My sis­ter and I of­ten joke that we’re not sure what we ac­tu­ally re­mem­ber and what we’ve just seen in home movies. Our par­ents have chron­i­cled all the big and small mo­ments of our lives through video and photos, so Katie and I have footage of most Christ­mases, birthdays, grad­u­a­tions, va­ca­tions.

Those “big” days are fun to watch — but not what ap­peal to me most. Our world cen­tered around the Wal­dorf home in which we grew up, and most videos were filmed in the very liv­ing room in which we’d later watch them. Kate and I loved to make note of back­ground fur­ni­ture that had since been re­placed, toys we’d loved and lost, old board games with long-miss­ing pieces.

What’s hap­pen­ing in the back­ground of these videos is as in­ter­est­ing to me as what’s hap­pen­ing at cen­ter stage. The dayto-day com­mer­cials we watch and snacks we eat make up a life as com­pletely as mile­stone oc­ca­sions like a wed­ding day.

I’ve al­ways stud­ied the bits and baubles of daily life: less glit­tery, cer­tainly, but just as im­por­tant.

Hence this whole col­umn. The con­ver­sa­tion in my first mem­ory isn’t cap­tured on video, which is why I trust that it prob­a­bly is my first. I’m sit­ting on the old play­set in our back­yard with my mother, who is push­ing me on a bench swing. Mom is telling me I’m go­ing to be a big sis­ter. That a baby is com­ing and I won’t be able to play with her (or him) yet, but some­day we’ll be best friends.

Is that too cheesy and per­fect to be my first mem­ory? Maybe. But it’s so sharp that I don’t doubt it. Katie was born five days af­ter my third birth­day, so I was prob­a­bly around two and a half: the same age my son is now.

When my hus­band and I dip into our col­lec­tive well of pa­tience and dis­cover it’s run dry, I think about how we can be great, even-tem­pered par­ents 90 per­cent of the time and just have to hope the ugly 10 per­cent goes un­no­ticed. Oliver won’t re­mem­ber this, I think. Hadley can’t re­mem­ber this.

But we’re reach­ing the edge of brush­ing off those bat­tles. Ol­lie cer­tainly has no trou­ble re­mem­ber­ing where we’ve stashed the left­over Hal­loween candy, so it’s rea­son­able to as­sume he’s go­ing to re­call more of our day-to-day mo­ments.

That’s a good thing — and a scary one. He will soon have a con­cept of time. If I say we can do some­thing “to­mor­row,” I’d bet­ter be pre­pared to de­liver. Same for “later.” Or “in a few min­utes.”

It is re­ally amaz­ing to see Ol­lie’s sense of cause-and-ef­fect de­vel­op­ing. As my mom likes to say, he’s reach­ing the age of rea­son: we’re start­ing to dis­cuss ideas of “if/then,” which is re­ally cool.

If you fin­ish your chicken nuggets, we can watch “Up.”

If you put on your socks and shoes, we can walk out­side.

If you stop go­ing stiff as a board and ac­ci­den­tally kicking me in the face as I wres­tle you into your car seat, we can look for school buses on our drive to Mom-Mom’s.

And so on.

Spence and I have been try­ing to en­force stricter screen time rules, which . . . has not been go­ing well. We’ve been let­ting Ol­lie watch his chil­dren’s YouTube videos while I make din­ner, then turn­ing off the iPad when we sit down to eat.

Last week Spence turned off Blippi, Oliver’s ed­u­ca­tional video hero, and the en­su­ing melt­down was one for the baby book. Note the time, date and place: Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017, ap­prox­i­mately 6:30 p.m. Ol­lie had a three-hour-long freak-out that drove me to the brink of send­ing a post­card from Bora Bora. Only the thought of my baby daugh­ter and lov­ing hus­band kept me from haul­ing my suit­case to the drive­way.

Kid­ding. Sort of. I love my son fiercely, but it takes him only sec­onds to find and push ev­ery sin­gle one of my but­tons.

I think about how Oliver’s ear­li­est mem­ory could soon be me dump­ing his un­eaten din­ner in the trash with an ex­as­per­ated sigh, or a less-than-pa­tient mo­ment of de­mand­ing he lo­cate his sneak­ers when we’re late get­ting out the door.

That grounds me. There are many first-mem­ory-wor­thy mo­ments be­ing made, but we all tend to re­mem­ber the rain more than the sun.

We’re into week two of Ol­lie sleep­ing in his tod­dler bed, and the evenings have got­ten eas­ier. Sto­ry­time has fi­nally be­come a solid rou­tine. I’ve writ­ten many times about en­cour­ag­ing my son’s love of read­ing, but books can be a tough sell to the mod­ern child. Heck: they’re a tough sell to many mod­ern adults.

I like quiet. I’m try­ing to find more of it. The nightly sto­ries are as sooth­ing to me, I think, as they are to him.

We bounced be­tween books last week, but fi­nally set­tled on a clas­sic that has be­come a nightly re­quest: Eric Carle’s “The Very Hun­gry Cater­pil­lar.” I have mem­o­ries of read­ing it in the li­brary at Arthur Mid­dle­ton El­e­men­tary, stretched out on my belly in­side a log cabin con­structed right by the shelves. I got two copies at my baby shower.

When Oliver was born and im­me­di­ately hos­pi­tal­ized, I stashed a few books in the di­a­per bag we shuf­fled be­tween Bal­ti­more and home. Ba­bies know their mother’s voice. I read be­cause his NICU nurses en­cour­aged it — but also be­cause I’m made of words. Brim­ming with them. Read­ing low and slow was fa­mil­iar to me. In an un­set­tled world, that was some­thing I still knew how to do.

The first story we shared? “The Very Hun­gry Cater­pil­lar.”

Of the hun­dreds of chil­dren’s books scat­tered around the house, I don’t think it’s an ac­ci­dent that Ol­lie has taken to this par­tic­u­lar one years af­ter I first whis­pered the words in that ster­ile hos­pi­tal room.

He was prac­ti­cally weight­less then; mighty, yet still so frag­ile. Now Oliver is a brick, curly-haired and wild: so solid, charm­ing and real that it hurts.

I’ve read Eric Carle’s story enough to have it mem­o­rized: eas­ier to mur­mur the words as my child stud­ies the pic­tures, run­ning his fin­gers across three plums, four straw­ber­ries, five or­anges.

“The end,” I’ll say gen­tly, and he’ll look up with wide eyes to ask “again?”

Ol­lie talks me into one more read­ing, and then one more. I yawn, think­ing of the ice cream wait­ing for me down­stairs, but stay.

Decades from now, maybe my son will think of this: a very hun­gry cater­pil­lar and his mother’s soft voice in the dark.

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