Songs of Childhood
Linus explores a new world
by Mary O’Brien
Linus O’Brien, my grandson, is 3 tomorrow. Like all little ones, he is busy reflecting back, through his own unique being, the worlds in which he’s been immersed. Two of his worlds are books and songs, to which he pays extraordinary and repeated attention. The words then come out in situations that seem to him analogous. A few examples:
It is December of last year, and Linus is 2. He is visiting in Utah, and one terrible night his intestinal machinery is giving him fits. In the midst of sitting up in bed crying and flailing around with a plastic bottle, he mistakenly hits the edge of an alcove wall with the bottle. He hears a crack, and with it the moment in Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hatches an Egg when the egg Horton the Elephant has been sitting on for a year hatches out. Amid stomach pain tears, Linus blurts out with impressive memory, “‘It’s mine!’ cried the bird when she heard the egg crack. (He had done all the work, now she wanted it back!)’”
Linus and I are walking through the snow, following the tracks of a fox that has moved through the yard the night before. Linus is having a great time tracking the fox’s movements until he remembers what the fox was after in the song, “The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night.” Linus suddenly stops. “Oh no!” he quietly laments. “Duck and goose.” (As in, “He grabbed a grey goose by her neck and swung a duck across his back, and didn’t mind the quack, quack, quack, or the legs all dangling down-o, down-o, down-o; Didn’t mind the quack, quack, quack, or the legs all dangling down-o”).
Linus, 2 and a half, is confused about how to move forward rather than backward on a tricycle in a Sacramento bicycle shop. He somehow tries both at once and comes to an awkward stop. Unembarrassed, he looks up at the watching store owner, and happily pronounces from The Little Engine That Could: “I came to a stop with a jerk. I simply could not go another inch.”
Linus, 2 and three quarters, has walked to a neighbor’s yard to see their goats. But the neighbors also have June, a large, friendly bear of a dog, who takes an immediate interest in Linus. Linus’ fear is rising as he tries to get away from June by running around and around the legs of five adults. Regardless, June’s nose is faithfully glued to Linus’ back. Suddenly, at the height of his terror, Linus rings out across species barriers, “All around the cobbler’s bench, the monkey chased the weasel.”
Linus loves the planets and has heard about them many times in books. Ask him the planets’ names, and he begins to reel them off: “Earth, Venus, Pluto, Mars, Myranus …” Myranus? Well, Linus has heard “Your-Ranus” so he reasonably feels it is his Ranus.
And then there’s the cultural worlds he hasn’t yet encountered. Linus, his dad, Josh, and mom, Laura, are jumping on the bed. “I’m a bird!” Linus calls out.
“I’m a plane,” Laura announces.
“I’m Superman!” Josh shouts.
“Oh!” Linus inquires, pausing his bounces, “What soup do you make? I like soup.”
And then there are the cultural worlds he has apparently entered of which Josh and Laura are unaware. After they ask 2-and-a-half-year-old Linus why he won’t let them know when he’s pooped in his diaper, Linus gives an answer that would make Cheney proud: “I do not have to speak the truth.”
“Where did he get that one?” Josh asks Laura.
In his car seat behind Josh and Laura, Linus hears them spelling out a word he can’t decipher: D-I-A-P-E-R. Not to be bested, Linus wants to let them know he’s on to their game. “L-I-N-U-S. Linus,” he calls out, adding, for good measure, “Linus Compendia.”
Linus has gotten a stethoscope for his birthday. He is reaching up under Josh’s shirt to listen to his heart. “I should let you know,” Linus gravely notes, “this is going to be a little bit cold.”
I should let you know, Linus, that you and your age-mates (in reasonable numbers, of course) are more than a little bit wonderful.
Mary O’Brien of Eugene has worked as a public interest scientist since 1981. She can be reached