Archives for posts with tag: toddler

“Nigh-night, Mama. Nigh-night, Dada. Nigh-night, Pup. Nigh-night, Boo-Boo.” She runs through her list, unprompted, night-nighting her loved ones in the house.

“Dit.” Yes, honey, Boo-Boo’s sick. “Boo-Boo. Tum-tum. Hurt.” She signs “hurt” with her index fingers, pointing them at each other like God passing the spark of life to Adam in the Sistine Chapel ceiling. That’s right, honey, Boo-Boo’s tum-tum hurt her. “Nigh-night, Boo-Boo.” That’s right, Boo-Boo went night-night. “Deep.” That’s right, Boo-Boo went to sleep.

And Boo-Boo’s been asleep for a week and a half.

She came to us, a lost cat with a jingle-jingle collar, when we lived in Texas. A Manx-Siamese cat, she never took much comfort in the usual kitty things: no snuggling or lap warming for her. She’d bite you. She maybe purred a half a dozen times. Maybe. All the same, she was a gift.

Our daughter certainly thought so. She’d go up to her, try to pet her, then quickly retract her hand, as if Boo-Boo were hot. Teeth are a good dissuader, but not good enough. She kept trying. She’d pick up the cat toy and wave it, trying to engage Boo-Boo, and sometimes it worked. When Boo-Boo came to the kitchen, hoping for some canned food and waiting patiently by the island, my daughter would say, “Eat!” and put her hand to her mouth to sign hungry so I’d know to feed Boo-Boo. In time, Boo-Boo would suffer enough to let my daughter pull her ears and lean against her like a pillow.

And she’d been part of the family for years, even appearing in a wedding photo with Sophie.

With the addition of our daughter, our family has grown, and it was going to grow more. “You’re going to have a brother or sister,” we told her. “Right now, the baby’s inside Mama’s belly.” Give Mama’s belly a kiss, we prompted her.

She did.

After the miscarriage, we didn’t tell her to do that anymore. About a week later, though, unprompted, she bent over while sitting in my lap and kissed my belly. She hasn’t done it unprompted before or since, and I wondered if she understood more than we thought she could.

She was with us at the doctor’s office when they couldn’t find a heartbeat for the baby, protective and crying when they wanded me for an ultrasound, and she was with me when Boo-Boo had to be put to sleep; kidney disease is a silent, sneaky thing, drawing in even the toughest of cats, the ones you think that would even be likely to outlive you, even if you lived another fifty years. We sat in the room with Boo-Boo before the vet came in, and my daughter petted her, pulling her ears as she often does. The vet came in, and, protective and crying, she shouted, “No-no!” when the vet tried to pet Boo-Boo. What business did this stranger have with her cat? Once my lovely stroked the cat again, a vet tech watched her while I cried and spent time with the cat. I didn’t want her in the room while they gave Boo-Boo the shots that would end it all.

Outside, I could hear her playing and talking to the parrot which lives in a cage in the corner.

I stroked the cat myself and spent the time I needed to with her, fingering her torn ear, petting the soft fur beneath the joints, saying my own good-bye. When I was ready, I went out and picked up my daughter and held her up to the window. Boo-Boo lay on the counter as if asleep. “Say bye-bye to Boo-Boo, honey.”

“Nigh-night,” she said with a little wave. “Deep,” she added. That’s right, honey, Boo-Boo went to sleep.

And still, she talks of Boo-Boo. It’s been eleven days. “Dit. Boo-Boo.” Then she’ll raise a finger and wag it, shouting, “NO! NO! NO!” Is it to the vet? To Pepper, our other cat, who would chase Boo-Boo and leap on her, like a pro wrestler jumping off the ropes? Is it something more, her way of warding off something I didn’t know she could understand? What can a little girl know of death?

“Boo-Boo. Tum-tum. Hurt.” No spark of life leaps to Boo-Boo, but in the sweet innocence of a small child’s memory, she lives on, for as many days, weeks, or months as a little girl’s mind can hold the thought of her cat. “Nigh-night.”

Night-night, Boo-Boo, and night-night, little one.

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.

Child's Play's Gustav Mole

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.

Mama's Mole