The other night my toddler plunged head-first and fully-clothed into the bath during a desperate bid to retrieve the little red aeroplane bobbing just beyond his reach. I was in the process of filling up the bath at the time, and thankfully right there to witness his spectacular dive (points deducted for too much splash on entry), and to fish him drenched and wailing from the tub. Seems his admiration for things with wheels is starting to veer into the risk-taking behaviour of an unhealthy obsession.
It wasn’t always this extreme. Over the past couple of months, we have seen Elijah’s fondness for cars, trucks, trains and planes blossom into true, deep devotion. He “bwmm bwmms” his cars around the house. He squeals and points when a bus passes us on the street. He gasps with astonished joy when a caravan appears on Playschool. And sometimes he just must hold his little Percy train, or there’s no telling what might happen.
Like every true passion, my 18-month-old sees his dearly beloved everywhere he looks. Through his eyes, a vaguely hill-shaped object will somehow morph into the glorious form of a car. “Bwmm Bwmm!” he’ll exclaim pointing to an image of crumpled trousers in a picture book or a pig-shaped puzzle piece. During a recent visit to an electrical store, he became transfixed with the toasters, pointing and making excited engine noises. As far as he was concerned, Elijah was looking at a whole row of gleaming cars.
Then there was my mistake of reading a car-themed library book called Around Town as a bedtime story. It was an innocuous-looking little eight-page board book: brightly coloured, lift-the-flaps (two out of four missing), no story but pithy descriptions of various vehicles with a few chugs, zooms and woo woos thrown in. To be honest, it didn’t particularly move me; but for Elijah it was a revelation. We read it and then we read it again. And again. Every time I started on Hello Baby or Spot’s First Colours, the book was slammed shut and Around Town thrust on top in no uncertain terms.
After the eighth reading, I tried to put him to bed. However, the idea of being separated from that busy train and steady truck was too much. He stood at the bars of his cot, alternatively howling with grief and forlornly whimpering, “bwmm, bwmm?” while pointing to the door and the promised land of cars beyond. At the peak of his sorrow, he was hysterical to the point of dry retching, and no amount of patting, singing or shushing could soothe him.
Utterly wrung-out by his emotions, Elijah eventually lay down and allowed me to stroke his back. His sobbing ceased, his breathing became regular. But every time he started to drift off, he would suddenly spring to his feet amid a fresh avalanche of tears and “bwmm bwmms”. In desperation, I even tried putting Around Town into bed with him. But this was not an adequate solution. My little boy desired to commune with me, marvel together at this rich portrait of noisy, hard-working vehicles.
It was almost an hour and a half before sleep finally won out and – utterly shattered – I tiptoed from the room. Within an hour I had collapsed into bed myself, holding my breath in the silence. Sure enough, I was soon dragged from the lovely cusp of sleep by a pitiful little “bwmm bwmm!” With sinking heart, groggy head and gritted teeth, I heaved myself out of bed and prepared for another wearisome battle.
Silence. I waited, but there was no sound.
And I realised that my little boy must be seeing cars in his dreams.