A numbers game

Leta’s favorite bedtime books are not the ones that tell stories, but rather ones that allow her to show off her amazing sense of recall. She loves alphabet books where she has to identify every object on the page — there’s the apple and the airplane and the avocado, except she says the apple, the hairplane, and the cahnnocado. She enjoys pointing to all the animals on their respective pages, tiger on the T page, lion on the L page, mangaroo on page K. Our neighbor was clearing out her children’s toys a few weeks ago and gave Leta a small, plastic Noah’s Ark with a slew of animals. Leta went through and named off every animal, and when she got to the miniature Noah she stopped short and looked at me to give her a clue. Before I could explain who he was she held him up and said, “Monkey!” Ah-Ha! A toy based on the Bible is teaching my daughter about evolution. That, Alanis Morissette, is sweet, sweet irony.

She’s also a huge fan of number books, particularly ones that ask, “How many [object X] do you see?” Last night we were reading one of these books, and she pointed out that there was one bunny, two ducks, and three bears. I told her those were not bears, they were mice made to look much larger than they are in reality. She said blankly, “Bears.” I corrected her again and told her no, those were definitely mice, although I could see how she could think otherwise. She said, “Okay. Bears and mice.” Thank you, international diplomat.

Numbers are now her passion, and she spends most of her day counting everything — the number of shoes in the room, the toes on her feet, the steps leading up to the house. During mealtime she will count the number of items on her plate — four pieces of chicken that she won’t eat, five peanut butter crackers that she will not touch. On the rare occasion that she does complete a meal, we will sprinkle a few M&M’s on her tray, usually four, and ask her to count them. Last night she pointed to each one and counted slowly, “One! … Two! … Three! … Four!” And then she moved her finger back to the first one, closed her eyes and kept going, “Five! … Six! … Seven! … Eight!” She was willing them with the power of her brain to multiply.

One of her favorite games to play now involves counting, and out of nowhere she’ll yell out a number and wait for one of us to yell out the next number in sequence. She would continue doing this for eternity if she could count that high, and also if she didn’t take the numbers so personally. Numbers 1 through 10 are all her own, her good friends, solid numbers she can trust. 11 through 20 make her absolutely giddy and breathless as if they are sharing their Twizzlers with her. But something happened between her and the numbers 21 through 30, something devastating and unforgivable, she doesn’t like to talk about it. 30 through 40 are dead to her, don’t even bring those up. And 40 through 50 are in grave danger, and it is her duty to warn them. The kid won’t ever make it to 100 because the emotional exhaustion will kill her first.

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