There was a time (exactly a week ago last year in fact) that Ittybit's love for barnyard animals was trapped inside the pages of her story books.
At an early age she could tell chicks from cygnets, and cygnets from ducklings. Her voice boomed bass (or as low as a toddler can sound) for the MOO a "daddy" bull says, while she screeched up high for the moo the "baby" makes.
Since we'd traipsed through the farmyard, page by page, for months, we naively thought she'd enjoy a trip to the fair to see the real things up close and in person.
But picture books, we learned, don't really prepare tots for the realities of livestock. Toulouse Geese don't make their truck-horn sounds apparent under the stylish bonnet of Mother Goose stories, and the size comparison isn't even close. I don’t even wish to recount the meeting of toddler and ewe.
The nearest I think a picture book can really come to life on the farm would be if publishers employed scratch and sniff technology, and let's face it, there are a few among us who'd pay money to give the smell silage and manure space on our bookshelves.
Understandably, as the year wore on following what turned out to be a traumatic experience -- screaming and crying from one barn to the next until we found ice cream -- her interest in the farm books waned.
So with a little apprehension, we headed off to this year's fair and aimed ourselves in the direction of the livestock exhibits first thing.
I figured we could get them out of the way quickly if she decided the animals were too scary, go right to the food and proceed eating our way through the attractions. (After all, who wants to eat fried dough at the goat barn? Not I.)
It was as if she'd remembered the torture of a year ago, and decided to settle an old score.
"Cows!" She instructed. "Cows, mama." And off we went, past turkeys, sheep, goats and pigs into the cattle barns. No sooner had we gotten there then she'd reached out her itty bitty hand to give Bessie's head a little pat. "Enough!"
"Chickens! Chickens, mama." So off we went to see fowl. "They're funny ... and loud," she laughs.
"Rabbits. Let's go see rabbits next," she instructs, pulling at my pant leg and grunting with exertion. "Ooooh, they're sooooo cute," she coos into the wire cages, wriggling her nose in imitation.
"What are we gonna see next? How about the chicks?" And off we go to find something that looks like a popcorn popper, containing twelve eggs. Many of the orbs are still intact, but others have large cracks and holes made in perfect circles by the tiny egg teeth on the tops of the chicks' beaks. Some of the babies, still covered in the gook of life, lay spent on the warm grate, resting from their hours-long struggle to get free.
"See that right there," points out a woman overseeing the exhibit. ... And I look into the incubator to see a foot protruding from an otherwise perfect shell. "I've never seen anything like that in my life. They never come out feet first."
Turns out, the eggs came from Cornell, where their genetic codes have been collected and studied. She tells me the University expects one of 12 to die. "That could be one that doesn't make it," she says sadly.
So we leave with a little bit more knowledge of the miracles and mysteries of life, but wondering if that little breech chick will survive the night. Ittybit wants to stay and make sure the chicks, which have made it into to the world unscathed and are running around their shaving-strewn pens, "go to sleep."
We coax her out of the building with the promise of a corn dog I'll have to "peel" and a ride in a tea cup I'll undoubtedly regret. And by the end of the evening we have an entirely new experience of the fair.
"It's fun here, mama. Let's go again."