the ballad of wern and trainy

It all started with a worm.

My parents had just come for a visit and during one sunny afternoon in the front yard, my mom and Chicken dug up an earthworm.

Chicken. Flipped. Out. He squealed with glee, stomped his feet a la Flashdance, flapped his arms, said "oooh! oooh-hoo-hoo-hoo!" in a high little voice and clapped in the way a person (like me) might when a slab of candlelit chocolate cheesecake appears on the table at the Olive Garden on her birthday.

I mean, I get it.

An earthworm is weird. It's squirmy and foreign. Chicken's at the age where he identifies creatures by their parts: camels, cats, bats, pigs, and dinosaurs all have eyes, nose, teeth, elbows. He particularly likes elbows. An earthworm has none of those things. It's just a long, moist, pinky-brown thing. It squirms and wiggles. And it fits in the palm of his hand, though he didn't care for that. He squatted over it as it curled and uncurled among the crumbles of damp black earth, and occasionally whispered "ooooh wooooow."

I get why Wern is awesome (he calls him Wern which I think shows how close he and Wern are.)

I get why, whenever we leave the house and pass the spot in the front yard where Wern "lives," we have to swing by and see if he's home.  We're just being neighborly. If be neighborly we mean being giants stopping by unannounced several times a day to claw up Wern's house and scream "WEEEERRRRRN!" Streetcar-style. If Wern didn't have a drinking problem before he probably does now. Chicken places his hands backside-out next to his mouth, as if he's about to pantomime having gills, and yells "Wern," in his very screamiest voice. A shriek, really.

Oh, no, he's fine. He's looking for Wern. I mean, a worm. Thanks for stopping though, officer. 

He's just trying to re-create a rich sensory memory - the damp, cool earth under his fingernails, Wern's banded pink skin banded around a twig, the play of shadows on the ground, the sound of the wind through leaves and the birds in the trees and the occasional shush of a passing car (we live in a school zone so all the cars are like super shushy, unlike my child.) As annoying as it is to stop and scream WERN WERN WERN WERN WERN for five minutes every time we leave the house, I'm kind of a hippie parent and I generally think any experience that exposes my kid to nature and multiple sensory stimuli without the aid of batteries or electricity is wholesome and enriching.

So, OK, Wern is a part of our daily routine now.

Then Chicken got sick. He came down with a mild case of Hand, Foot, Mouth Disease (you know it's a good one when it ends in "Mouth Disease.") We had to keep Chicken inside until the contagious period passed, which meant Wern had a couple days to restock the bar in his burrow. And, yes, I'm not gonna lie here, I was kind of hoping that he might just forget about Wern if we kept him out of sight for a few days.

But then on Friday afternoon, 30 hours into our containment of HFM, Chicken climbed into my lap as I sat at the computer, pointed at the monitor, and said, "Wern?"

Okay, I thought, sure.

I googled earthworm. Clicked "images." Taught Chicken how to hit the arrow button to scroll through. Patted myself on the back for finding another outlet for his obsession and teaching him how to entertain himself. Half an hour later, he was oohing and aahing at all the different earthworm images.

FYI, he likes photographs, not cartoons of worms. He likes the pictures of single worms lying in loose dirt better than the ones of millions of worms close-up like a bowl of Fear Factor spaghetti. He does NOT care for earthworm mating photos, of which there are a surprising number. I mean, this is the internet people. Who logs onto the internet to see pictures of gooey mating hermaphrodites? Honestly. (I really secretly hope you're reading this blog because you searched for "gooey mating hermaphrodites.")

So I was all, "mom win! Awesome! Baby looking at pictures of worms instead of making us late for everything by forcing a detour to Wern's house! Woo hoo!"


I'm sorry, didn't we just finish weaning him off of asking to be on the computer all the time? Didn't we just teach him that the computer chair is mommy's chair, and that his chair is the one at the table next to the books and puzzles and play-doh and non-electronic enriching shit?


But it was too late. Chicken was hooked on the Google machine.

A few days later we stumbled across a worm picture in the bowels of the internet that showed a worm lying on rocks. "Rock!" he said, pointing at the screen.

"Rock," I replied, dead in my soul from scrolling through 12 pages of earthworm image results.

"Rock!" he repeated, signing please. I perked up.

"You want to look at pictures of rocks?"


So for the next two weeks we looked at pictures of rocks.

Chicken prefers rugged, asymmetrical, fist-sized stones that look like they've just tumbled off the Rockies with the help of a prospector's pick-axe. He doesn't care for smooth, rounded river stones very much, and absolutely detests anything shaped, manipulated, or set by man. A flagstone pathway IS NOT A ROCK, MOM.

"Do you like this rock"
"No. More."

"How about this one?"
"No. More."

"How about this rock?"
"OOOOH! ROCK!" (laughs maniacally, throwing his head back and clapping his hands.)
"Oh, good! That's a good one! Cool rock, huh? You like this rock!"
"No. More."

"Ooookaaaay..." (sound of ice clinking in a glass) "More rocks. How about these?"
"No. Wern? Wern peese?"
So we moved back to earthworms. And then back to rocks. And then a week later we added turtles and puppies to the rotation. We went to the library to get rock, worm, puppy, and turtle books, which he used to boost himself up in the computer chair. We went to a nearby beach park that boasts millions of rocks planted in the sand, pebbles to boulders, real rocks that are damp and cold and gritty with sand. Rocks begging to be hefted, petted, tasted, thrown from a toddler fist into the ocean to make a terrific splash as the birds caw overhead and the salty, kelpy air stings the nostrils. SENSES. HA.

He's tasted the sweet elixir of 2 dimensional internet images. And now? Today? What am I steering him away from every waking minute of his life this week?

"Do you like this train?"



"What noise does a train make?"
He calls them all Trainy, which I think shows how close he is to all trains. Yesterday we went to a park with an entrance that runs along some abandoned train tracks and we never made it into the park. "TRAINY! TRAINY! TRAINY!" he screamed, his gill-hands up by his cheeks.

I made him a giant train out of construction paper and invited him to color on it, add stickers, glue, feathers, cotton balls, scraps of fabric, paint, chalk, popsicle sticks. We have train library books, a Thomas the train that you can pull back and let roll across the floor. And he'll take a peek at those things. For about ten seconds. Then he just circles back to the computer, rubs his chest in the sign for "please," and says "Trainy?"


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