Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Literary Baby Food
Grayson has a baby book that he got from his Grammy and Papa for Easter. It's a Golden Book about barnyard animals which was copyrighted in 1953 and has all sorts of deep comments like, "Baby Cow is called a calf. She says, 'Mooooo! It is time for lunch.'"
I love this book for several reasons, the first of which is it's 1950s optimism. On the farm all the animals are smiling. They are almost giddy with delight as they all sit in one happy meadow with big, sappy donkey and billy goat and guinea pig smiles on their happy animal faces. But, more importantly, I remember this as a Golden Book from my childhood, and simplistic as it is, I love that Grayson is learning the sweetness of the animals, the different things animals do (i.e. "Baby cats are called kittens...at night the farmer gives them cow's milk, and they curl up together in the big red barn..." or "Baby chickens are called chicks. They cannot swim. Mother says we must look for worms and stay out of the water,' they reply."). How much sweeter can life get? It's like one big animal commune (without the illicit drugs and sex).
There is no talk of what will ultimately happen to some of the aforementioned farm animals. There is no worry about hormone levels in meat, or mad cow disease. Instead, goats frolic and puppies chew harmless old generic shoes and no one ever says "Bad Dog!" It was a kinder, simpler time. 1953. Our boys were home from war. Our Rosie the Riveters had made their way back into their kitchens. Dick and Jane were happily playing on their bikes while Sally pedaled her tricycle. Safety and security were paramount in the nation's mind.
Of course we know differently now. The world still had it's anguish. All across the country there was rampant homophobia, sexism, racism. The myth of the 1950s works for those who had an upper-middle-class white background and that myth of the 1950s can in some ways still haunt us today as we realize all that was glossed over to paint a perfect picture of a decade.
But, I still confess to loving the illustrations by Garth Williams in Golden Books. There's something simple and comforting to me about this Golden Book mentality for a baby. It's like spoon-feeding them rice cereal. All is mild. All is mellow. All is simple. All is one-grained. All promises the familiar. It is as if we say to our infants, "This is all the pap you can take for now, and for now, it's all I want you to have."
The day will come soon enough when we talk with our boy about war and death and loss and evil. The day will come when we talk about the responsiblities Grayson has for changing the world and making it a more open and tolerant place for the next generation. The day will come when the mantle falls upon his shoulders. I know this. And I will preach this. And I will commit myself to being a parent who instills in her son the importance of public service and of being a disciple of the one who taught us radical love.
But for today, just for today, the main concern in his world is that the baby guinea pigs who live in the hutch have suspicions that the white rabbit has been up to mischief. And the only mischief that Grayson knows is that the white rabbit stole some carrots from the farmer's garden.
"And this is enough evil for today," I say, as I spoon another serving of Gerber's rice cereal into his baby-bird-like open mouth.
And he smiles fearlessly, trusting that I will give him only what he is ready to taste.