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Toddlers have many uses, not the least important of these is that they can serve as personal pocket comedians.  In our dealings with adults, quirks of personality and strange obsessions are sufficient cause for keeping a safe distance.  And even the slightest of speech impediments is a torment to both the one afflicted by it and to his audience (though to different degrees, no doubt).  But with a toddler, the whole "what the hell is he up to now" thing is usually... acceptably hilarious.  It's OK, you can go ahead and laugh.

My 2 year-old is obsessed with owls and trains.  He calls them aoos and choos.  Or, come to think of it, he actually calls them aoo? and choo?  I guess his skills (cognitive? linguistic?) do not yet include the concept of plurality.  So he must deal with the excitement of his favorite subject one owl (or one train) at a time.  As for the question mark... who knows.  Maybe it is just his quaint way of saying... I expect you to attend to this matter, or else.

With 2-year-olds (or at least with the one living in my house) other aspects of life pale in the presence their favorite thing.  Or even the remote possibility (or suggestion) of the presence of their favorite thing.  And their reality sort of bends to accommodate their interests.  For instance, a repetitive pattern in some curtain can suddenly and without warning become... a railroad (right there, up the restaurant window).  This curious development naturally elicits enough choo?s, urgent sleeve-pullings, and - if necessary - plain old screams, to draw the attention of (and produce some manner of explanation from) even the most comatose and unresponsive of parents (me, mornings).

Or, take a simple tree.

Walking from our doorstep to the car he will be struck by the presence of a small tree (it has always been there, but who am I to point that out to a 2-year-old).  He turns to me, points to the tree and says aoo?  Here, you would think I have the option of saying "nope, that's a tree".  You would be mistaken.  He will not have it.  

I must explain to him that yes, owls do in fact live in that tree.  That there are actually six of them, the papa owl, the mama owl, three brothers and a little sister owl.  Naming the individual owls and listing their favorite pastimes is preferred but not strictly required (However, if I do name them, there will probably be a Francis there somewhere... a name popular with New England owls... maybe even a Francis Jr.).  I may be required also to describe the owl-house's architecture in some detail (the presence or absence of bathtubs being of particular interest).  But of course I do eventually have to move past that tree and get to the car (were wife patiently awaits, and wonders).  So I explain (with gentle urgency) that there is no chance of actually seeing the owls right now.  Because it is still light outside and as everyone knows, owls are all inside their home snoring the day away (no you can't hear them because their door is closed).  Once night arrives (as he himself is preparing for sleep - I remind him), a wedge of shadow coming through the owl-home's single window will stretch across the home until it reaches each member of the owl family, causing him (or her) to blink and wake up.  At this point they will climb out of their beds, brush their teeth (um... beak), put on their tennis shoes, and head out to the local dinner for coffee and mouse-McMuffins (because it is Sunday).

Such an explanation will give him food for thought for about two minutes, before he spots another tree... or remembers some important fact about a train that he saw 12 days ago.  So I have to hurry and get him in the car.



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