Monday, October 5, 2009

We're gonna party like it's your birthday

Here's a little break I took recently. It's a cake for my younger son, Secundo, and it was nice to not have to worry even to my usual extent about nutrition. Just sugar and various binders and syrups stuck to butter, sugar, eggs and flour using butter, sugar and cream with a generous amount of artificial coloring and flavoring mixed in. The frosting was made from scratch, but that's it. Everything else was from boxes and bags. I didn't want anyone to regret cutting into the cake because it tasted bad.
In an age where Americans wonder why other people hate us, I truly hope the phrase "pudding in the mix" isn't among the reasons. It may be, but I hope it isn't.

Several months ago we were having a bit of a lay-in with the lads one Sunday morning when the doorbell rang.
Secundo's breath caught in his throat and his eyes widened with anticipation as he looked out the bedroom door. He pretends to be a puppy a lot, but this most doglike behavior was completely genuine.
"Who's at the door?" my wife asked.
His eyes shifted away for a moment as he accessed the part of the brain where toddlers keep the crazy. "Bunny rabbit," came the reply.
"A bunny rabbit is at the door?"
"What's he doing?"
"Has birthday cake!"

I'm not sure how the association started, but it stuck. It was deep enough that when I would ask him what sounds animals make, he would meow for kitty, woof for puppy and tell me that bunny said "birthday cake." He began singing "Happy Birthday" to himself in the car, inserting his own name. He pointed to cornbread muffins at dinner and asked for "birthday cake." He stacked a long, thin cylindrical block on top of alarger, squatter one a few nights ago and said "birthday cake."
So, eventually, months after he had already turned two, I got the hint and made him this bunny cake.

The bedroom where the birthday-cake-bearing bunny first spilled out of Secundo's head has a door that leads to the attic. A few years back, a starling made its way into said attic. It made its presence known late one night with the sort of indistinct scratching and shuffling sounds that can only be made by whatever you most hope is not searching out a way to get into the room you're in. Sewer rat, rabid raccoon, zombified squirrel, anything could have been making the noises that were so clearly descending the stairs and then obviously emanating from just behind the door. So, it was with a strange sense of relief that I got out of bed and turned on the light to see a yellow beak stabbing repeatedly under the door. Freaky as it could have been to other people, or in other circumstances, there and then I could deal with a bird. I still don't know how it got in, but it left wrapped in a blanket and, to the best of my knowledge, hasn't been back.
I didn't even realize Primo had been aware of the whole thing until one morning, months later, in the same bedroom when he asked, looking at the attic door, "Where is the mommy bird?"
"The bird that was upstairs?"
"I think she flew away, honey. Where do you think she is?"
"I think she's at work."
"Work, huh? Where does that mommy bird work?"
"With daddy."
"What does she do?"

Working-mother starlings and cake-toting rabbits. While I dearly love the moment when these things are said, the lasting entertainment comes from picturing the analysis going on in their tiny little minds. At a certain point, you're able to start "using your imagination," which is a freeing from the boundaries of possibility placed on us by experience. Until you've got the boundaries, though, you're just running every conceivable thing through this hopelessly underdeveloped and overwhelmed logic filter. And it's really the filter that really makes it, because you don't end up with completely random nonsense. They're eliminating possibilities by some incomprehensible heuristic. Their decision tree, our Plinko.
Who knows what questions each of those pegs represent, but somehow the little puck ends up landing between someone who has actually been to our door - grandma, for instance - and, oh, let's say an unescorted birthday cake, right on the "rabbit" space. Then we drop the "what's the rabbit doing" chip and ... plink, plink, plink ... it comes to rest between the mundane "here to play with me" and the unsettling but utterly plausible "here to get/eat me," on "has a birthday cake."

You know, kids really do say the darnedest things.

And it's all inadmissible until they turn seven.

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