Richard Scarry and the tiny world of toddlers
My “four-and-a-half boy” is bombastic. He’s larger than life. He takes up all the air in the room sometimes, with his charming, perplexing talk of Star Wars, and preschool politics, and numbers larger than “a trillion-ninety-nine.” C and his interests take up most of the word count in this blog too, so I thought I’d write a little post dedicated to the toddler, T, whom I still call the baby, at 22 months old. While C is often in the middle of the living room, kicking up a fuss, T is quietly in the corner, kicking a*s.
He’s happy zooming his dad’s seventies-era Matchbox cars around, pausing for a sip of milk (not chocolate), and an animal cracker. He likes to put the dirty laundry into the machine, and the clean, folded laundry back into his hamper. He likes to color, on paper and on walls. He can sing two songs: the theme to Spectacular Spider-Man – which is an amazing theme song by the way – and the Ladybug’s Picnic song from Sesame Street, which he learned in his music class. When C won’t leave the playground at school pick-up, T picks up his jacket and lunch box for him and gives him a little nudge toward the door. And when C builds enormous Star Wars-inspired spaceships out of Legos and wooden blocks, T is there to knock them back down to earth.
Right now, he really loves Richard Scarry books. The big, tabloid-sized hardcover ones. He carries them around the house, dropping them at (or on) my feet when he wants to read them. Which is most of the time. We have Cars and Trucks and Things That Go, Busy Busy Town, and Best First Book Ever! , to name just a few. We sit together and point out all the props of our busy days: breakfast things and household tools, clothes, toys, shops on Main Street, farm machines, the vrooming beasts of the highway, railway, and airport. And there all of the characters that you meet in Busytown: Lowly the worm, Huckle Cat, polite pigs and rude ones, the hapless Mr Frumble who can never catch his fedora, carpenters, police officers, teachers, big brothers. Mice in a little cheese car.
We even have a few Richard Scarry books in Italian – I’ve mentioned before how I am trying to keep the language in my kids’ ears, and here is one way I try to do it. A relative brought Scarry’s Primo Dizionario back from Rome for me, when I was little, and now we look at that, and Il Libro delle Parole, and remember all the words that that we used to know, long ago.
These kind of pages, like this one I’ve scanned in above from Il Libro delle Parole, are T’s favorite. They show all kinds of tiny things, things that we, as grown-ups, lay our eyes all the time, but never stop to notice. The yellow-orange of an egg yolk, a ripple on a slice of bacon, knives and forks we toss in a drawer. But T, with his brand-new eyes, notices them all the time. In his little world, everything is novel and fascinating. Scarry has done an incredible job of picking up on that, cataloguing a toddler’s unjaded world in miniature. C, at nearly five, has moved on from this a little bit, setting his sights now on bigger, more fantastic realms – the night sky, mythical beasts, Tatooine.
But T is still awed by what’s in front of him, and he notices things that neither C nor I do. Tiny bugs, little flowers growing between rocks in the driveway. Butterflies are always in his peripheral vision. He hears a distant airplane and can spot in in the clouds long before I can. Robins hopping along a park path are meant to be followed until they fly away, and he watches them till they are completely out of view. His eyes are like microscopes, trained on the tiniest details. He will often pick up a cookie crumb off the patterned living room rug, show it to me, then throw it in the kitchen trash. How does he even see it? Maybe he’s trying to tell me something about my housekeeping.
Right now, I’m happy to accept T’s little gifts of crumbs and leaves and polliwogs, and share in his thrill at the sight of a duck or a dump truck. And I look forward to turning more minutes into hours with T and Richard Scarry, reveling in the little things that in time we forget to see. Soon enough, he’ll move on to bigger things, I know. I’ve seen it happen all too quickly before.