Beth Vrabel lives in West Manchester Township with her daughter, Emma, 6, and son, Benny, 3.

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The Mystery of a Child’s Mind

By BETH VRABEL, Smart Mama

“Bus stop,” Benny, age 3, murmured during a recent nap.

Earlier in the day, he fervently whispered “Kermit the Frog” from the backseat while we were running errands.

“What about Kermit?” I had asked him.

“Nothing,” he said. “Secret.”

Though Benny has a great vocabulary and has no difficulty expressing his needs and wants, I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever fully understand what he’s thinking.

Take, for example, the recent birthday party we attended at a local restaurant. The 10 or so children, each 4 or younger, sat at a long table munching on cupcakes and chicken nuggets. The kids were pretty calm, probably because they had spent the half-hour before running like feral cats around the indoor playground.

All that changed when the restaurant’s mascot — a cow — joined the party. Half the kids rushed the costumed waiter, giving him high-fives and clapping with joy.

The other half shrieked in terror.

Benny was among the latter.

“I don’t like that cow,” he told me. But he did like his cupcake and refused to abandon it as he fled to my arms, even though that meant squishing it against his chest.

“But look at your friends,“ I told him. “Your friends love the cow. The cow’s dancing!”

Benny shuddered. Beside him, a little girl glared at the bovine. “Cows don’t have fur like that,” she declared. “That’s not a real cow. That’s a costume.”

The news spread faster than flu germs among the preschoolers.

Benny scrutinized the cow. I wondered if he had remembered visiting a dairy farm last summer. Back then, he had ventured close to the animals, his eyes wide as he looked over the hundred or so cows. “Wow,” his big sister Emma, age 6, had said.

“Yeah,” Benny had answered. “Look at all those penises!”

“Those are udders,” I corrected, which, thanks to Emma’s ceaseless curiosity, had led to a whole line of questioning about how mothers, including cows and people, make milk to feed their babies. That tangent ended with Emma saying, “I feel sort of gross now” and me wishing fervently that the children would remember seeing the chickens and not so much the cows.

I took back that wish now as I held Benny in front of this party cow that stood on two feet and posed for pictures. “I think he’s a real cow,” Benny whispered to me.

“Nope, just a costume,” I whispered back.

What exactly was scary about this goofy mascot?

I don’t know, but he certainly wasn’t alone in his fear. After a few minutes, the waitress standing next to the cow started to lead it toward the kids sitting on their mothers’ laps. “No!“ the mothers called out. “Stay over there.”

I couldn’t help but think about Emma, who was in school. When she was 3, she chased poor Big Bird at Sesame Place theme park, only stopping when Bird’s bodyguards intervened. “Big Bird’s happy to see you,” the guard had told Emma. “But he has a show to do now.”

Emma bristled with disappointment and then reverted to stalking Elmo. Zero fear. She totally would’ve been shaking her booty with the cow.

After we got home from the party, Benny settled down for a nap. His new balloon was tied to the headboard and he watched it bobbing as he fell asleep.

“I liked that party,” he said softly. “I liked that cow.”

Beth Vrabel lives in West Manchester Township with her daughter, Emma, 6, and son, Benny, 3. You can read more Smart Mama columns here.

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