The world is full of obsessions: Pokémon, buying shoes, Game of Thrones.
My 2-year-old son is obsessed with the alphabet.
He used to be obsessed with cars — or as he would say, “cars, trucks, minivans, and jeeps!” He wouldn’t go anywhere, including to bed, without one or two vehicles clutched lovingly in his hands. Then suddenly, and to our car-weary relief, that fixation was replaced with an equally fervent fixation on animals. He set up little dioramas around the house — charming jungle/farm/ocean hybrids — and he intently paged through any animal book he could get his hands on.
While Greyson’s love of all God’s creatures has lingered (and hopefully will never be supplanted), in the last month the preeminent object of his affection has become the 26 letters of the English alphabet. He spends several hours every day interacting with these letters — his small plastic letters, his large foam letters, his animal train puzzle letters, his electronic alphabet caterpillar that plays a different song for each letter.
Sometimes it’s just a matter of putting all the letters in order, with his brightly colored alphabet stretching across our hardwood floor (or the carpet in his room), and then happily singing the ABC song to commemorate the occasion. Other times, he identifies an animal to correspond with each letter. This skill is greatly enhanced by the fact that for months we’ve been helping him alliteratively name animals — Ricky the raccoon, Wally the walrus, Maximus the Moose, Naomi the narwhal. We use the same kind of alliteration to reinforce behavior we want him to model. For instance, “Should you be a fussy fox or a patient penguin?” As a result, Greyson seems to have built a large, cross-referenced database of letters, words, and animals in his thriving brain.
Several times recently we’ve found him in his room reciting (from memory!) the words of a book called K Is For Kitten in a sing-song voice while picking up each respective letter. The book has a full stanza for each letter, so it amazes us that he can somehow remember, and rhythmically recite, these rhyming refrains. He is a word sponge, and he thankfully has inherited his mama’s steel trap of a memory.
I love the way Greyson savors each and every letter. It struck me a while back that the ABC song gives short shrift to “L-M-N-O-P,” rushing through that section of the alphabet like a realtor hurrying you past that weird room with the dingy orange ‘70s shag carpet. As a result, I always made sure to carefully emphasize each of those 5 letters when singing the song. And it paid off! Greyson doesn’t blur them into “elemenuhpee” like most of us did growing up. He slows down a little and honors every letter distinctly, wrapping his cutely lisping tongue around each one.
In the last week, Greyson has also evinced an eager curiosity about how words are spelled. We’ve helped him phonetically sound out the names of many animals, which he carefully spells on the floor with his foam letters. He will then often say “Great job!” because he’s so used to hearing our positive reinforcement (and he instinctively mimics everything we say).
Danielle even found the word “horse” spelled out on the kitchen floor the other day, which neither of us had helped him to spell. Needless to say, she sent a picture to me at work and we basked, from a distance, in a moment of parental pride.
I’m deeply grateful that Greyson has developed such a sweet, simple, and intellectually rewarding hobby. Heck, I wish I had any hobby that I embraced with the natural discipline and pure vigor that Greyson has for the alphabet. And I know it sounds backward since he’s 2 and I’m 39, but I also admire (and envy) his attention span. In this digital age where we adults stare distractedly at our phone screens and our TV screens when we’re not staring at our work computer screens, how often do I ever focus on one non-screen-related task for a full hour at a time anymore? But my toddler son does that almost every day. I could learn a lot from him.
I have always relished words and wordplay. And it is with giddy pride that I observe Greyson heading in that same direction. As he grows up, I can imagine him taking after his blog-writing papa, his book-reading mama, his pun-creating uncles, and his book-and-poem-crafting grandma. A wee Wingert wordsmith in the works! Only time will tell. But what I know for now is this.
If letters are the building blocks of language, then Greyson is a budding architect.
And it brings me so much joy to watch him build.
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