If you ever doubt that humans have an inborn sense of compassion, watch a toddler with an animal. Little kids are inherently curious about animals and I argue that any fear of critters comes from adults and those around them. Let’s start small. For my part, I’ve tried to show Toddler Harbat that insects of all kinds aren’t yucky or scary, though she regularly comes home from school and says, “Eeew! A fly!” This is why it’s so valuable to get into the garden to find bugs. Her grandma gave her a little insect kit that includes a mesh bug house, magnifying glasses, and tweezers (which are mostly for play value, since picking up a racing spider with tweezers requires ninja skills). Sometimes we get potato (tuh-pay-toe) bugs, spiders, or ladybugs to put in the bug house, where they are forgotten until days later when I find the door open with the insects gone. That’s usually when I notice the microscopic writing on the bathroom mirror: “I poop in your mouth while you’re sleeping, human!”
Small animals are even more exciting to (attempt to) pick up and carry around in the manner of stuffed animals. Our two pet rabbits don’t much care for tight hugs or backwards fur-rubbing, but their millennia of genetics as prey animals make them pretty good at darting away and hiding under the table when Toddler Harbat comes crashing into the room. Bigger animals? Dogs are fun but slightly scary. Sheep and llamas are pet- and hug-worthy, but begin to seem like furniture because their heads are so far away. Which leaves ponies. PONIES!
It was inevitable that this day would come: Toddler Harbat saw the pony ride at a festival and demanded to ride a pony with a pink saddle. Well, it was partly my fault. Because we had to stand in the hair-igniting hot sun for twenty minutes, I kept her at Excitement Level RED by pointing out that the ponies had colored saddle blankets and GLITTER STREAMERS IN THEIR MANES OHMYGODOHMYGOD!
I’m not sure if she was playing it cool or was slightly nervous, but the actual pony ride wasn’t quite the pinnacle of happiness I expected. Maybe it was too hot, or maybe it was because the boy next to her got the pony with the purple saddle blanket and hers was boring blue. I guess I know what I’m getting her for Christmas. PONYPONYPONYPONY!