Monday, September 24, 2007

Be Careful What You Wish For

Many blogs ago I expressed sadness that my boy Noah had no interest in the book Goodnight Moon, which is one of my favorites and of course a classic besides. Well, all that has changed. We read this book almost every night now, and have for the past few months. Several weeks ago, though, something happened when we were reading, that made me think twice about my earlier lament.

I am interested to hear if anyone else already knew what I'm about to tell you, so please, let me know...As avid readers of the book Goodnight Moon know, there is a red balloon in the room, and it hangs out in the upper right hand corner of the little bunny's bedroom. Well, one night when my husband and I were reading the book outloud, my 1-year-old Noah started pointing intensely at the wall in that area of the picture of the room. "Dat! Dat! Dat!" I was confused because there was nothing there to name, and kind of glossed over it and kept reading. At the next picture of the room he did the same thing. "Dat! Dat! Dat!" with a much more disturbed tone in his voice. We continued reading until he stopped us and made us turn the pages back to those earlier ones. He pointed again. Slowly it dawned on us that he was telling us that the balloon didn't appear in those pictures in the middle of the book. We flipped ahead to the last page, when the room is dark, and the balloon was there again, but it was GONE in the middle pages. Noah began perseverating on this, going back and forth between the early pages and the middle pages, then to the end page and back to the middle, getting more and more agitated, pointing and whimpering, and at one point sounding very sad and near tears. And it didn't just happen that night. It happened every night since. After a week of it, when he would sadly give his "Dat. Dat. Dat." when we got to those balloon-less pages, my husband suggested that we hide the book, but I said no, let's work through it. We half-heartedly made up some explanation that the balloon was on the floor, but it didn't convince him or us, so we dropped that and just talked about how it happily reappeared on the last page.

Why is the balloon gone, is there something subliminal to be known here? Is it altering the myth in a way I should know? After reading so many books where the illustrator is careful to include the little butterfly on each page, or the tiny mouse dragging a banana, so children can look and point to them every time, to leave a detail out of this magnitude seems like it could only be intentional. Especially when all the other elements of the room remain from picture to picture.

We just read the book again tonight, and thankfully Noah seems to feel better about it. After weeks and weeks of dogging that balloon through the pages, he has begun to focus on the glowing red fire and the wood beside it, instead of the balloon. But I am left with lingering thoughts - with the hundreds of times I've read that book in my life I am impressed that Noah noticed this striking omission when I never did, but more importantly, why, Ms. Wise Brown, why?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Universal "Duh!"

There is a wonderful old comic strip, and unfortunately right now I can't remember whether it is Doonesbury or Bloom County - my apologies to both artists, Mommy Brain strikes again - and it depicts someone, either a person or Opus the penguin, watching "Lassie" on television. Lassie is barking at her boy, Billy or Tommy, again, no recollection of the actual name of the famous child character, and it goes something like this:

Boy: Hey girl, what is it?
Lassie: Woof, woof!
Boy: What, someone's in trouble?
Lassie: Woof, woof!
Boy: What's that? Someone's trapped in an abandoned mine three miles away and needs insulin fast?
Lassie: Woof, woof!

Now, aside from the fact that there is nothing funny at all about the tragedy of real people trapped in mines, the essence of this comic has stayed with me for over twenty years and still tickles my funny bone.

Fast forward, to my living room a few days ago. My husband and son and I had just finished dinner, and I was cleaning up while they played together in the living room. The bigger context here is that many of Noah's initial words - "Guck!" (duck), "Gat!" (cat), and "Dat!" (that) - have given way to him uttering "Duh!" or sometimes "Dah!" or "Dur!" probably sixteen to twenty thousand times a day. It means everything - "What's that? I want that! Look at that! See the wheel on that little car? I want to chew on the toe of my new shoes! See me poke the eye on my doll Lukas?" Because I am with Noah all day, I have learned to read the whole communication, which as educators and others know is much more than what is actually said outloud. This amazes my husband on a regular basis even though when he watches Noah's eyes and what Noah points at and leans toward most times he can hit the jackpot as well as to what Noah is talking or gesticulating wildly about. Note the following exchange, though, which represented a real leap from relying on body language and other nonverbal cues, with Matthew and Noah in the living room and me out of sight in the kitchen washing dishes.

Matthew: Do you want to play ball Noah?
Noah: Duh! Duh!
Matthew: How about a book?
Noah: Duh! Duh!
Me, calling from the kitchen: He wants his little flag out of the yogurt container across the room.
Matthew: Huh? Okay. (He walks across the living room, reaches for the hand-held flag and hands it to Noah.)
Noah: (Blissful silence)
Matthew: What the...?
Me: (Blissful silence)

This is a moment when I felt so good to be Noah's mother. In the light of today, of course I recognize he could have wanted something totally different but been thrilled to be handed his flag which he also loves so much, but in that moment from the kitchen sink I was so sure it was the flag that he needed and wanted that the connection was made real between us in ways that I often don't feel, like when he is flailing wildly and kicking my shoulders and head if it's close enough while I am trying to change his diaper.

And if this happening wasn't enough to make me feel as if the universe was really noticing how hard I am trying at this parenting thing, something else drove it home. After I tucked this moment and recollection of that comic away for purposes of this blog, my husband and son and I got together a few days later for breakfast and a hike with the family of a friend who was actually my high school sweetheart. As we all walked in the early afternoon sunshine, his kids excited to push Noah's stroller up the initial incline, my friend quoted the comic outloud to his son, who really appreciates a good joke. I couldn't believe it. I had introduced my friend to that comic all those years ago, and it had stuck with him as well. So for anyone who thinks that high school experiences don't count, or that good humor isn't really the stuff of life, or that the universe doesn't provide signals all the time to us if we just pay attention, chew on this! It makes for a wonderful meal.