Nobody expects the toddler inquisition.
In these loosey-goosey days, who among us expects a devotion to cannon, an eye for orthodoxy, a taste for doctrine?
And who, even among the most paranoid of us, expects any of those things from a two-foot-high indifferently toilet-trained individual with a Thomas the Tank Engine fetish and an increasingly alarming catsup addiction?
My son is become mini-Torquemada, the dinky scourge of heresy, the footy-pajamaed-enemy of heterodoxy.
Religion is not his obsession. No, not for him the debates over transubstantiation or clerical powers.
Rather, Evan stands firm in defense of our beloved shapes against the alphabet apostasy.
My wife purchased a magnetized alphabet toy that attaches to the refrigerator. The toy is like a small screen with a speaker; it comes with little blocks in the shape of all the letters in the alphabet. When you put a block onto the screen and press it, the thing sings to you about the letter and the sounds it makes. The singer has the saccharrine voice of an unnaturally cheerful child, the sort of voice that can inspire a kernel of doubt regarding the wisdom of child-labor laws and make one think wistfully of the days of young scamps toiling in the coal mines.
Put the “A” on the screen, for example, and the scamp chirps “A says ‘Ah,’ A says ‘Ay,’ every letter makes a sound, A says ‘Ah!’”
(Rumor has it that an Ayn Rand version of the toy that sings “A is A” will be available in time for the holidays. Perceive its reality at a store near you! But I digress.)
Initially, Evan loved this toy. He delighted to D, jammed to J, hooted to H.
Then he learned to his horror that this alphabet meme threatened his most closely cherished beliefs.
He encountered O.
Evan plucked the “O” block from the fridge with his chubby little hands, placed it on the screen, and pressed it, fully expecting the ear-bleedingly chipper lad to extol the virtues of circles.
Evan loves shapes and circles, you see. He could identify circles and ovals before he could reliably identify me (variations: “Daddy”
“Dadwa” “Dodi” “Doggy” “Doobie”) or any letters or numbers. He loved to command us to draw a circle or oval for him. He loved to point them out wherever he might find them in nature: on TV, Dad’s belly (which is more of a rhombus, actually, but that’s a different heresy), in his pasta, amongst the groceries, etc. Evan takes great pride in his steely command of all things geometrical.
Yet this foul apostate of the refrigerator, this gnostic of the General Electric, did not correctly identify O as a circle. It called it O, and informed Evan that O says “Oh” and “Aw.”
Evan was infuriated. “NO! IS CIRCLE! NO O! CIRCLE!” he screamed. He pressed the thing again and again in vain hopes that his gentle corrections would have steered the cherished toy back on the true path, but the voice mocked him, refusing to acknowledge O’s circular qualities. Eventually we had to pry him away as he pounded the fridge door with his little fists in a blind rage.
Now, like an inquisitor visiting a prisoner in the Cardinal’s dungeon, he returns to the refrigerator once a day to call upon the toy to recant. We’ve tried hiding the O, but it just makes him madder. He’ll yell at the fridge about circles for a good half-hour, if you let him, emerging sweaty, drained, and tearful, like a preacher after a barnstormer of a sermon.
Many families learn to live with the zeal of the convert, and continue to cherish children who have fallen among the vocally devout. I, too, have learned to accept my son’s rigid dogmatism about circles. I’ve even used the fridge as a babysitter a few times when I wanted to watch TV and he wanted to watch a Thomas video; I settled the issue by plopping him down on the linoleum at the foot of the fridge, pressing the O, and goading him, “Hey Evan, that boy says that is an O, not a circle!” You learn to tune out the screams.
Acceptance comes slower to others. Phone calls have become somewhat awkward.
“What’s that noise?” the caller will ask in a worried tone.
“Oh,” I say, “that’s just my son, yelling at the refrigerator.”
“Ah. Okay,” they’ll say, but I know they don’t mean it.
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