If you make a child’s non-animal food look like an animal, it turns out they will be more excited to eat it.
Animals, when adapted for a child’s eyes, are unfreakingbelievably adorable. So adorable, I would be lying if I said I have never cried in the past 15 months for the deep, unpolluted, hopeful part of my soul that these brightly-reimagined animals touch.
It starts slowly. You’re pregnant and someone gives you a pre-baby baby gift, maybe at a shower, and the gift might be say, little duck booties or a book about a pig with a squashy nose or pajamas with turtles.
Then the deluge happens. Baby comes home and every day there is more. A plush towel that turns your wee one into a dolphin. A bookshelf filled with books about dogs who make cookies and sing, chameleons who pair up, fireflies whose tails light up when they’re happy and inchworms beyond wise. The clothes come tumbling out of the dryer- smelling of everything perfect in the world and displaying monkeys holding bananas, bears giving hugs, sweet turtles, soft bunnies, rainbow-colored dinosaurs, smiling lions, cuddly elephants and ducks so bright yellow with webbed feet so bright orange you will believe that world peace is just around the corner. You bond over whisper-soft songs sung in the twilight hours: the farmer in the dell and the ants go marching and five little monkeys jumping on the bed and old macdonald plus you-know-who and alice the camel and the itsy bitsy spider and a dog, bingo was his name-o.
And toys. At first just a caterpillar rattle here and a giraffe teether there. Then baby gets a little older and now there are plastic school buses with an entire zoo in the window emitting moos and quacks and baaas and woofs. Noah’s Ark stuffed animals, books that teach counting with owls and hedgehogs. Building blocks that form an alligator. A new mobile in primary-colored elephants. Frogs who squirt water during bathtime. A nightlight where stars shine bright from turtle’s shell. Books upon books upon books upon books with happy, hoppy, hope-y animals. Cartoons to live by and adore. And of course, the clothes. Always the clothes. Like let’s say, you have a son named Jonah, and he wears something covered with whales. And the enormity of it all hits you.
We teach our children that animals are the most loyal, sweet, exciting, hilarious, fun, educational, friendly, true, useful, loving, nurturing, snuggly things in existence. We depend on animals to teach colors, counting, letters, words and good behavior. We soothe tears and resistance to sleep with the softest bunnies and monkeys and doggies and bears we can find. We, if we are totally honest with ourselves, love our babies even more when swathed in ducks. We love our toddlers more in frogs. We can barely stand it, we love it so much.
Many of us do all this, feel all this, live all this- while making food for our young ones from animals. Iron is essential for a growing brain after all. We give soothing hugs while wearing our favorite leather boots. Read books at bedtime while giving a sippy cup of cow’s milk. Teach eating dexterity with chicken nuggets. We seek out entertainment in the world involving animals behind bars, animals behind glass, elephants that learn to stand on a ball. I wonder how the elephants learned to do that. And for dessert: brownies. It’s the egg yolks that make them so good.
It is a hypocracy that almost every one of us, conscious or not, has to internalize, consider and determine where the peace lies.
Every day, like most parents, I try to lead my son by example. I try to make sure that my words and my lessons have integrity and purpose. The total and utter devotion I have to all these living, breathing animals and all the fantasy animals in all their glorious primary colors and cartoon black borders and sometimes one-dimensional gentleness and soft, fuzzy, furry, silken fabrics and bright-hued plastic round beautiful trusting eyes is real. They have already taught my son so much and given him so much unconditional love. How do I explain then the rest of it? What leads to the steaks, the belts, the cheese sauce and the fish sticks?
Tonight at sunset begins the holiest day of the year for Jews. Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement and marks the end of the High Holy Days, ten days that begin with the Jewish New Year. It is, at the very least, an opportunity for reflection on treating our friends better.
(Thanks, Yo Gabba Gabba!)