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Whoops I Ate a Pony

October 14th, 2010  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized

my-little-pony-meat-18480-1275512376-4Only at the end of last night’s dinner of oxtail stew did we finally understand what Nico, our two-year-old, had been happily prattling on about: he thought he had been eating a pony.

“It’s not  a pony?” he asked. He finished the sentence with the same exaggerated uptilt he puts on the end of all questions, a verbal tick that makes us want to flash-freeze him at this moment of seemingly insuperable cuteness. “Not a horsie?”

I’ve had my own well-chronicled adventures with meat, and even with horsemeat–a Pferdewurst with mustard was a favored hangover cure when I was in high school in Germany, and I know the horse-platter at Chaikhona in Moscow to be pretty fantastic.

But in this case I was slightly disturbed by my son. Horses are by far Nico’s favorite animal. He sleeps with a stuffed horse, which still has the tiny hospital bracelet the nurse put on it when Nico went for surgery last month. He has been known to wake up from this sleep whining, mama, can I ride a pony? He claps and hoots and shouts each time we pass a horse carriage in Central Park, and I never thought it was because he was hungry. And yet, he was completely insouciant during dinner last night, popping big fatty bites of what he thought was horsemeat in his mouth, then laughing, then eating more.

My second thought was a little more confusing. How much of life was like this for him? How little did he actually understand what was happening to him in a given moment? Maybe he was more in the dark more often than we thought, not understanding what we’re saying about why we’re leaving or where we’re going or what we’re eating.

Because babies can understand much earlier than they can speak, and because they are born with such wide, wise eyes, I tend to think that they understand just about everything. This illusion is only heightened by Nico’s habit of answering yes to just about any question, the way I do in a country where I don’t speak the language.

But if that’s the case–if he’s often eating beef and thinking it’s horse–it’s also remarkable how calm he is about it. It’s no secret that two-year-olds get wired and frustrated when they can’t express themselves. But when they can’t or don’t understand something, it seems that they are more than happy to let their imagination fill in the blanks. There’s no pressing, no exasperation. Just happy fictions and half-truths humming along in their minds, as they laugh and preen and eat another bite of delicious pony.

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