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age of excitement

When does fascination turn to obsession? Is there such a thing as too much of a good thing? Well, it depends on whom you ask. Not quite two years of age, Munchkin has established definitively that his opinion on such weighty matters is likely to differ substantially from ours for the foreseeable future.


Animals were his first big love. He learned his animal sounds well before he had “mama” and “papa” down pat, and he would positively burst with excitement whenever he encountered a real-life horse or cow, which happened quite regularly in Moldova. And ever since he cottoned on to the fact that we had a pet — it took about five months for him to realize that Emmie existed — he has adored dogs.

He still loves animals; he has a menagerie of stuffed friends whom he hugs and pretends to feed, and whom he can now name, sort of. There’s Zay, an abbreviation of the Russian word for rabbit, and a lion, whose name gets a similar treatment. He sleeps with a small penguin, whom he inexplicably has taken to calling Camuey. A giraffe named Zeba rounds out the inner circle of his favorites. D’s mom mistakenly thought the toy was a zebra and spent an entire day calling it that before we caught her mistake. By then it was too late. No matter how often we now refer to it by its rightful name, Munchkin always retorts with, “Zeba!”


His current true passion, however, is cars, trucks, buses, and airplanes. In this sense, we hit the jackpot with our neighborhood park. For one, it’s close to DCA, and planes zoom by every couple of minutes. Whenever one flies overhead, Munchkin drops whatever he’s doing and scans the sky, pointing and exclaiming “Din’-Don!” Initially, this was his word for elephant, and while it seems to have retained its original meaning, it has acquired a secondary definition as well.

We’re at a loss to explain how airplanes and elephants have come to be subsumed under one general heading in his vocabulary. One hypothesis is that the words “airplane” and “elephant” may sound so long and similar to his ear that he couldn’t tell the difference when we pointed to the sky and said, “airplane!” In this case, one has to wonder whether he thinks there are herds of flying elephants rumbling across the cloudy pastures of the DC sky.


There is also a fire station adjacent to the park, and it is with regards to firetrucks that his fascination goes too far, in our opinion. The term he uses is “panya,” a corruption of the Russian word pozhar, which means “fire.” He demands to see “panya” as soon as we suggest going outside. Approaching the park, he starts repeating, “panya, panya” over and over again, the litany punctuated every once in a while by his imitation of a siren noise.

He used to love going down the slides on the playground or running around the open field with Emmie. Now, it’s a struggle to get him to even consider these activities. He just wants to visit the “panya,” so D typically drives the stroller to the farthest end of the park before letting him out, and then attempts to distract Munchkin with various activities to prolong the walk before giving in to his single-minded obsession. Once, we visited the interior of the station. One of the firemen gave Munchkin a plastic hat, turned on the truck’s flashing lights, and asked if he wanted to see the truck’s interior. Munchkin was too shy to go exploring, however. Whenever D attempted to put him down, he demanded to be picked up again before launching his “panya” chant again.

We haven’t been back inside, but D takes him to the fire station every afternoon, rain or shine, and Munchkin spends several minutes in D’s arms looking at the trucks inside and repeating, “panya” every few seconds. The scene always ends the same way, with Munchkin in tears as D attempts to lead him away. The only means D has found of ending the weeping is by promising to give Munchkin some watermelon, “arbooz” being far and away his favorite food.

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