Saturday, August 08, 2009

"Lead the way, Catwoman!"

This summer, I've been babysitting three days a week for someone almost three. Being a babysitter for someone this young is a different kind of relationship.

It's oddly intimate -- I don't think I've spent this much concentrated time with anyone in years (maybe ever? Eight hours a day, intensely engaged in conversation and play? When with him, I'm not doing anything else -- not trying to do errands, or write, or anything: my whole attention is on him). What makes it odder is that Jake is so young and so articulate -- and thinks so differently. I don't really know how he thinks, actually: what he understands and what he doesn't is surprising and mysterious, as is what catches his interest. I do know that I can't talk to someone this young as I do to someone my own age or even eight: there are whole huge concepts that don't exist; time, for example. "The weekend" and "tomorrow" are just words he uses without really getting.

When we read picture books, odd details capture his attention and I am quite sure that (intelligent as he is) he doesn't really connect the events in the story -- they're all isolated incidents or images, and he delights in (and repeats, verbatim) some phrases. He LOVES A Chair for My Mother. And what was the first thing he commented on, the first time we read it? The fire trucks. Does he know that a fire burned down their house? I don't think so -- but he loves the story. And every time we read it, he points out the firetrucks.

Objects, especially how things work, connect (a favorite word of his), fit together all fascinate him. So do:

*his toys and pretend play of all kinds ("Who will YOU be?" is a favorite phrase)
* food
*his own body
*rules ("Is THIS the way we do it?" or "Some rude, naughty person threw that trash on the street!" -- this condemnation is repeated whenever we see any)
* words (is this unusual, or not?).

He loves words: their sounds, the ring of a dramatic or emotionally charged phrase, bringing phrases or concepts from books we've read into his play ("Just like Humpty Dumpty!" he said excitedly when something fell). He's also a great mimic, and I can tell who he's been with on the days I haven't been there by the phrases that crop up in his play.

One day, bending over and cupping his hands, he offered me a pie (a pretend pie):
"I made it myself," he said proudly -- JUST like the kind of grandmother who bakes: gestures, intonation, proud expression, all perfect.

Other times, I'm a bit taken aback to hear my own voice. Yesterday we were in the library and as we were leaving,
he said, quite loudly:
"Lead the way, Catwoman!"
(We often play Batman and Catwoman, though in his world, the two are friends. I have used that phrase, though with Batman at the end, often.)

One effect of all this is that I'm writing picture books. I appreciate them in a way I never have before -- or maybe, in a way I don't remember. When I write for eight and nine year-olds, I just plug into myself at that age; this is harder, in a way. But being around Jake has shown me the appeal of an orderly world, with a logic and structure that's quite different from a story for someone older.....though since they will have to read it over and over, I think it's fine to put in some things that will appeal to parents, too. Now that I have read many books until *I* know them by heart, I get that one, too.

(Though thank you, Alyssa, for reminding me of the point when we talked about my ms.!)

In case anyone is interested, these are the books he asks for over and over:
MY FIRST MOTHER GOOSE, Iona Opie and Rosemary Wells.
A Chair for My Mother
Chikka Chikka Boom Boom!
and, more recently, not sure if this will last, one of those books about Charlie and Lola: I am Too Absolutely Small to Go to School (we read the one about not eating things in the library and he chose the school one to take home)


Susan T. said...

I love this post. Three year olds are such fun. "Lead the way, Catwoman!" reminded me of my son, when he was around five, demanding, "HURRY UP, Gretel!" as I followed him into "the woods" (really, the back yard).

Libby Koponen said...

That's hilarious!

How much fun they are has come as a big surprise to me -- I always thought I liked older children.

Thanks for telling about your son, GRETEL. ANd for commenting.

Susan T. said...

Libby, I'm hoping for a freelance (volunteer) gig babysitting this fall. I love the stories. Your post has made me smile all day.