Cow, horse, dog, cat, chicken, sheep, bear, bird, rabbit. Children learn those early on. Goat, duck, tiger, lion, giraffe, zebra, frog, deer, mouse, owl, fish: even those are popular choices. Donkey, bat, ostrich, and alpaca are more back of the pack-a. And mole? Moles hardly jockey for position with the more popular animals. Their size, coupled with living underground, just doesn’t give them the same visibility as other animals. When does “mole” get added to the average child’s lexicon?
I can’t speak for the average child; I can only speak for my own, and she’s known the word “mole” for a long, long time now.
For her first Christmas, her aunties got her The Musical Life of Gustav Mole, illustrated by Kathryn Meyrick. Accompanying it were a CD, a game, and a puppet of Gustav, the violin-playing mole. The book was a little advanced for an eight-month-old, but now that she’s eighteen months, she enjoys it. She certainly enjoys the puppet.
She rediscovered it weeks ago, and it caught her fancy. He’s grey and adult-hand-sized – nothing like her wildly pink giant stuffed rabbit or her crazy striped monster Berger. Why this toy, then?
Her father had something – OK, everything – to do with it. He put the puppet on and talked for him, and he even had him play his stuffed violin! That’s all it took. Gustav became an object of fascination. He is easy to carry, and my daughter fell in love with him. She fell so in love, in fact, that she sucked, gnawed, and chewed the fur off of his nose. Poor Gustav!
He now has his own song, and she likes it best if we sing it over and over. “Tie!” she’ll say, as it comes to an end, holding up her index finger. And so, we begin again.
Oh, my name is Gustav Mole.
I like to dig a hole.
I burrow my nose into the ground,
and scratch my paws all around.
Dig, dig, diiiiig! Dig, dig, diiiig!
This, of course, is accompanied by nose burrowing and digging. Now, she delights in putting his nose to the ground and shouting “Dig!” herself.
But it’s not enough to know this one mole. Oh, no. She now recognizes – and points out with great delight – moles that show up in other books. Glory be to the mole!
I have to confess that she loved moles long before Gustav, although I don’t think that should take away anything from her love for him. Her first mole love was her mama.
Some babies love pacifiers, sucking on them to comfort themselves to sleep. Some babies suck their thumbs, finding comfort in connecting with themselves. At times, but not for long, my daughter has done both of these. She’s also pulled her ears. The thing she finds most comforting when she’s tired, however, nursing aside, is my mole. And in this case, no, I do not mean a pet mole or a stuffed mole; I mean the mole below my lip. When she’s tired or nearly asleep, her hand rises, like a helium balloon attached to her wrist and beyond her control. Like a heat-seeking missile, her aim is often good, finding her target directly. Mole! Other times, her hand pats around, sweeping my face and its familiar landmarks: Nose? No. Mouth? No. Teeth? Interesting, but not now. Cheek? Worth patting other times, but not now. Mole? Ahhhhh. I can feel her body sag with the relief of it. In the middle of the night, when she wakes up crying or talking in her sleep, wringing her hands with her sign for “book” and saying, “Tie! Tie!” (even in her sleep, she wants to be read to!), I work myself near her hand, and she gropes, not unlike a mole, in the dark for my mole, and, rubbing it like a sleep-inducing talisman (if only it were like the many talismans in Howard Pyle’s Twilight Land [our current read], bringing genies and wishes!), calms herself and often falls back asleep.
Thus, “mole” was an early word for her. “Mama,” she’d say, as she’d pat my cheek. “Mole,” she’d add, as she prodded and probed my protrusion. I have no doubt that, given ten or twenty or one hundred mamas, all lined up, my daughter could choose me, her one and only mama, out of a crowd. It might not be a glamorous reason – OK, so it’s not glamorous at all – but my daughter knows me.
Gustav’s reintroduction has had moles more firmly planted in her mind than ever. “Mole,” she’ll say as she touches my mole. “Mole,” she’ll say endearingly, as she touches the same mole-free place on my husband’s face. “Mole,” she’ll say as she looks in the mirror and touches the same mole-free place on her own face. Her reflection does not deter her. If Mama’s mole is there, just below her lip on the left side, well, then, so is hers.
Maybe her embracing of Gustav isn’t such a surprise, then. I’d already laid the groundwork for her love of moles, and he is awfully cute. With a little luck, maybe she’ll find comfort in him the way she finds comfort in me.