An Owencentric Universe

Duncan remarked the other day that right now, Owen views the entire universe as revolving around himself. His is the geocentric as opposed to the heliocentric universe.

The Ptolemaic System
Owen and some "Planetary" Spheres

This is probably a toddler phenomenon, but it actually affects how Owen communicates. Right now, one of Owen’s most predictable comments is whether someone has gone away or has come back. Usually, this dynamic is straightforward. Duncan goes to work: “Daddy a-wayyy”; Duncan comes home from work: “Daddy back!” But the same happens when Duncan drives Owen to daycare. “Mama a-wayyy!” (no, mummy is at home – Owen went away). Or the other day, when Duncan brought Owen back downstairs after changing his diaper: “Mama back!” (note: I had not left the kitchen).

Owen has also started to insist that we participate in certain activities with him. This morning, he was up at 5:00 and, while I was willing to get up with him, I was unwilling to actually wake up for real – so I got him some milk and put on YouTube videos and lay down on the couch. After about 15 seconds, Owen realized that I was not “participating” in the video session. “No Mama dodo! No Mama dodo!” (dodo=sleep). I lied through my teeth: “Mama’s not sleeping. I’m watching. See, the mummy is chasing the baby with clothes and the baby is turning into a bird” (it helps that I’ve seen the video hundreds of times). My ruse satisfied him for a while, but he kept checking to see if my eyes were open, so I had to be careful to keep the blanket over them to obscure his view. I really think he suspected me, but didn’t quite want to accuse me of lying. That will come, I’m sure.

The benefit to the Owencentric universe is that Owen genuinely believes that everyone is delighted to see him, all the time. We walked on the boardwalk last night and he was friendlier than usual. Every group or individual we passed got a wave, a grin, and a “Hiii!” – and those who responded were graced with a “Bye!” – then Duncan and I heard Owen comment “People a-wayyy. Bye bye people.” He has a knack, this child, for bringing smiles to strangers’ faces, and it’s such a delight to watch him work the boardwalk. As much as I know he will (and must) learn that the world doesn’t revolve around him, I hope he can keep a healthy dose of this confidence and assurance that he is loved and adored, so he can reflect that love back out to the universe.

Baby Book Club: Little Blue Truck

Owen pretty much has his basic colours down now. When we walk down to the waterfront, as we do most nights, he looks for the yellow cars (rare), orange cars (rarer), and blue cars (plentiful!). Our walks have taken a new dimension, in a way, because colour is now incorporated.

Alice Schertle’s colourful book Little Blue Truck (illustrated by Jill McElmurry) was recommended recently by the saleswoman at Babar Books in Pointe Claire. I liked it immediately. It’s perfect for Owen’s age (almost 2) because the rhymes are simple and catchy, and the book is full of creatures my little boy loves (namely, farm animals and trucks): “Horn went ‘Beep!’ / Engine purred. / Friendliest sounds / you ever heard. / Little Blue Truck / Came down the road. / ‘Beep!” said Blue / To a big green toad.” The rhymes actually work without any of them having to be forced (unlike a certain Baby Einstein book which shall remain nameless, or some of the peekaboo, fuzzy, lift the flap books. What passes as children’s poetry astounds me sometimes).

The book is about a friendly truck who is kind to all the local animals. One day, a big, rude, dump truck arrives in the neighbourhood. It hasn’t “got time / To spend the day / With every duck / Along the way.” The dump truck gets stuck in the mud, though, and needs the help of all the animals he’s been shunning.

Little Blue Truck has a moral, and that’s OK, but I wish Schertle had resisted the urge to spell it out for us (and the toddlers, who I’m sure could have figured out on their own that: “Now I guess / A lot depends / From a helping hand / From a few good friends.”) The other thing that I feel weird about is that I am pretty sure an old truck like Blue would be a gas guzzler, so he’d be poisoning the air of all his little farm buddies.

In any case, the book is charming, the illustrations lovely, and the truck’s carbon footprint is surely not the point.

Suddenly Thirsty

“Like children who listen in vain to the sea in plastic seashells they sat bewildered. Like children at the end of a long bedtime story they were suddenly thirsty.”

I’ll confess, I am not going to attempt to properly analyze the above passage from Leonard Cohen’s Beautiful Losers. For one, I’ve not yet finished the book, but even in the context of the passage I’m a little confused (and intrigued). These sentences come at the end of a paragraph in which a French-Canadian missionary attempts to convert a group of Mohawks to Christianity. Unwilling to be swayed, the Mohawks place their fingers in their ears, which Cohen suggests is a means of hearing internal sounds that also connect them to the earth – raspberries growing, trout swimming: life and death and nature. When the missionary presents them with his painting of a vision of them in Hell, however, they are frightened. By removing their fingers from their ears, they lose the connection to the earth and everything they have known and they sit, “bewildered,” no longer understanding or having access to the spiritual knowledge they seek. The plastic seashell suggests that the knowledge the priest will present to them is inherently false or manufactured, but what of the thirst?

I noticed this passage in part because the last sentence is so true of Owen lately. At the end of a series of bedtime stories, he has started to try and delay going to sleep. “Mo’ books? Mo’ books?” he asks, or “Nik [milk]?” Rather than agreeing to go to sleep, he seeks comfort, becomes extra alert, hungry (thirsty) for something he does not need.

I’m a mean mother, because while I might relent and read another story, I’ll almost always deny him the milk, assuming that it’s a ploy to get out of his bedroom and back into the world. Is it barbaric to deny my child a drink at night? I don’t really think so. After he’s brushed his teeth and is minutes away from sleep, Owen’s request is strategy more than thirst. So what we usually do is to sing a song. Owen has two favourites for bedtime. One is the classic, Wynken and Blynken and Nod. I know all the words to that song, more or less, and when I get to the last verse, Owen moves his hands in the dark to point out that:

Wynken and Blynken are two little eyes [points to each eye]
And Nod is a little head [points to his head]
And the wooden shoe that sails through the skies
Is Owen’s little bed [points to himself and to his bed]

His other favourite is probably inappropriate, but it has a lovely tune. I started singing it before Owen really grasped any language, and had no idea it would rise to the top of our repertoire. I learned it in Dublin at the Irish Theatre Summer School of the Gaiety School of Acting. I think we were taught the song because it requires us to use almost the entire range of our voices (at least, it challenges mine. I croak out one or two of the words). Here it is:

A boat, a boat
Come to the ferry
And we shall row
And be quite merry
And quaff some wine
And good brown sherry.

I know, I know. Soon he’ll be asking for wine before bed.

It sounds beautiful in a round, but Owen’s not up to that yet. He does a slightly mangled version that sounds something like this: “A boat, a boat, Caooodaddy, Aeeee wow, a baddy, A wine, A shawwy.” Because of this song, all boats are “a boat, a boat.”

I heard somewhere recently that no matter how badly we think we sing, we should all sing to our children, that something about the warmth of the body and the vibrations caused by the voice are just good for us (of course I forget the details as to why). I was so cautious about singing to Owen when he was small. My voice felt too big and his body too small (to contain the vibrations?) Anyway, the songs were all wrong. I felt like a plastic seashell, false, tacky. But of course at some point Owen became person enough to sing to. His body grew big enough to absorb some of the sound (if you know what I mean) and he decided which songs he liked: “mo a boat a boat” or “no no no stop stop.” So instead of catering to his manufactured thirst, I guess I’m trying to satisfy something deeper.

And he doesn’t even seem to mind that I can’t hit all the notes.