This post is a part of my “Board Book Beauty – Savoring the small as I read to my toddler” series. To see all of the posts in the series, go here.
On a hot day in early fall, I strap Katie into the stroller and Abby into the Ergo and we head out and about for a bit of fresh air. We take a route I found nearly two and a half years ago, when Katie was content to snuggle against me for long, long walks and I was a new mom, desperate for a bit of sunshine, a bit of time out of the house. Those walks were for quiet contemplation; today’s is peppered with the high-pitched questions of a toddler, anxious to learn about her world.
We pause at the house with the pigs, and Katie chatters to me, telling me the things I told her the last time we were here: that the pigs like to sleep in the mud, that they flick their ears like that to swat away flies. She protests when I say it’s time to move on. I promise we’ll see them again on our way home and tell her she can get out of the stroller to collect acorns once we reach the path at the top of the hill. Anticipating these things buys her cooperation.
As we turn onto the residential road that will take us to the quiet wooded trail far from the noise of the highway, the retired gentleman who lives on the corner waves me down.
“Keep your eyes open,” he tells me. “Be aware of your surroundings. There’s been a bear hanging around here the past few days. Just be careful.”
I nod, thanking him for the warning, and continue on my way. For a moment, I consider turning back toward home, but I’ve promised Katie the opportunity to walk on her own, and I hate to disappoint her. She loves to wander along the path, tossing sticks and rocks into the irrigation ditch, stooping to run her fingers through the dirt. I’ll be careful. It’s the middle of the day, we won’t venture very far from the road, and I’ll keep her close. We’ll be safe.
But there’s a pile of not-too-old bear scat in the middle of the trail a mere hundred yards from where we left the road, and suddenly I’m aware of how very small and quick my toddler is, aware of the weight of the baby against my chest, and my concern for their safety outweighs the promise of a morning walk along the ditch. I tell Katie it’s time to head home and she looks up at me, confused. We’ve just arrived. We usually walk to the end of the trail – 3/4 of a mile – before turning around.
I point out the scat to her, tell her how there’s a bear that lives in the forest nearby.
“It’s good to give bears lots of space, sweetheart. Sometimes, when they see people, they get scared, and then they can be mean. They have claws and teeth, and they can hurt us if we aren’t careful.”
“I want see that,” she says, undaunted.
I smile, and explain again that seeing bears in the woods is not really a desirable outcome. She’s unconvinced, but climbs into the stroller without protest when I tell her we can read her bear book once we’re home. We haven’t pulled that one out in quite some time – numerous friends and family members gifted us with books to celebrate Abby’s arrival, and so we’ve had a plethora of new stories to choose from – but the allure of a book, any book, is usually good motivation for my little reader.
As we walk, the conversation centers around bears. She’s delighted to learn that they love blackberries, just like she does. I sing Slugs and Bugs’ “Bears” to her and, despite its warning of “sharp teeth and claws and furry paws to catch you and eat you up,” she continues to insist that she wants to see one.
Once we’re home and she’s free of the stroller, the first order of business is to find and read the bear book (We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, by Michael Rosen, delightfully illustrated by Helen Oxenbury). She giggles in anticipation as I near the climax: “One shiny wet nose! Two big furry ears! Two big goggly eyes!” She chimes in, bouncing next to me: “It’s a BEAR!!!” We race to the end together. I read as fast as I can. She laughs, then immediately asks me to start again at the beginning.
I do, of course. And as we traipse through the grass and the mud, as we wade through the river and stumble through the forest and brave the snowstorm and sneak through the cave, I send up a silent prayer of gratitude that her wonder and imagination are sparked by this small book, that she and I can explore the world together, even daring to go on a bear hunt, from the safety of our couch.
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