At first, it was no big deal. He would look at the pictures on the wall of the kids' room and name the six grandkids in turn. I would respond appropriately by singing a verse of "Happy Birthday" with each child's name inserted in its proper spot in the third line.
Then, he would ask me to sing a verse for Mommy, Daddy, Googie, Pa-pa, and his dog Bernice. Still no big deal--and actually kind of fun. After all, I had been waiting a long time for this kid to start talking, and there is no phase of a child's learning I would rather observe and be a part of than this one.
A few days after that, as I was tucking Beenie into the toddler bed for his nap, he swept his sleepy little eyes around the room to land on a series of random objects. Many of those he has just begun to refer to by name in the stage of rapid language acquisition that typically follows on the heels of the second birthday.
So on that day, I sang "Happy Birthday" to, among other things, the light, the ceiling fan, the cordless phone, a book lying on the floor, the window, and the wall. Still no problem. Still pretty cute, really.
You may sense the subtle movement of things to a head here, but apparently I was oblivious. There is no other explanation for why, when Beenie was with me two days ago, I dug into the playroom closet to retrieve "The Car Tote."
The Car Tote is a plastic storage box containing all manner of little vehicles. Matchbox, Hot Wheels, Fisher-Price, Transformer, fast food meal toy--you name it, and, if it has wheels, I guarantee you it is in there.
Significantly, The Car Tote houses a collection begun more than a quarter of a century ago when Beenie's daddy was himself a toddler. By some miracle, said vehicles have managed to survive periodic house purgings, relocations, giveaways, and garage sales. With surprisingly few loose wheels, missing doors, and bent axles, they have assumed an immortality that enables them to thrill, entertain, and nurture the playtime imaginations of yet another generation of little boys.
By now, you may have guessed where this is going, and you would be right. It seems that, two days ago, every one of these little cars had a birthday that needed to be celebrated in song: "Happy Birthday, dear race car," I sang.
"Happy Birthday, dear garbage truck." "Happy Birthday, dear moving van." You, too, long oil tanker, and green choo-choo, and black convertible. Same for the yellow pickup; the recycling truck with separate compartments for paper, plastic, and glass; and the bright red fire truck [insert siren sound effects, performed by Beenie, here].
What a fun way to pass the better part of an hour with my favorite two-year-old. We didn't make it all the way through The Car Tote, but Googie sang until her voice was ready to give out. Beenie, on the other hand, never tired of picking out the next little vehicle to be appropriately serenaded.
I love a world that still offers the simple joys of song and celebration--even if it means I have to sing to over a hundred little cars. As long as the song is "Happy," it's all good.