The Duck Pond could be anyone’s Happy Place: Its banks are lush, the waves ripple prettily, the fish bite.
But if you’re a toddler who happens to like ducks, well, there’s really no better place on Earth.
The Duck Pond has a menagerie that would make most zookeepers envious. There are gaggles of mismatched mallards, half a dozen exotics with Dalmatian-colored feathers, mysterious turkey-like swans, fifteen or so grackles that think they’re ducks and two actual giant white ducks that were perhaps released from Easter baskets.
The ducks seem to frequent this pond for one reason: the toddlers.
The symbiotic relationship between the diapered and the feathered has likely been going on for generations: The babies bring bread, the ducks become junkies.
They all waddle about chasing one another with squawks of joy.
Occasionally, one of the aforementioned falls into the pond.
On our last visit to the Duck Pond, however, Charlotte was uncharacteristically disinterested in the fauna.
Instead, she wanted their bread.
“Ooh, food!” she yammered, bending down on stubby legs to finger a piece buried in the grass.
“Ducky bread,” I suggested, making my ickiest face.
“Dirrrrrty,” Charlotte breathed in her best Christina Aguilara voice.
Then, she popped the bread into her mouth.
As a recovering germaphobe, I choked back words.
“She is immunizing herself,” I thought.
I pointed out the goslings to Charlotte in hopes of distracting her.
Charlotte responded by digging through the grass to find another chunk of bread.
Victorious, she pulled forth an usually large mound and jammed it between her cheeks chipmunk-style.
“Blah! Blah!” I said, sticking my tongue out.
I mentally began cataloging the germs that ducks might contain.
“Is Duck Itch food borne?,” I thought. “What about Duck Death? How do you get that?”
Charlotte smiled like an angel sent down from Heaven.
Then, she turned on her heel and sprinted towards a pile of rocks. She plunged her chubby fist into a crack, pulled up moldy crust and rammed it into her mouth.
“Mmmmmm!” she said, chewing.
Then suddenly, I was noticing the duck poop.
It was everywhere–the grass, the mulch and probably the bread my child just consumed. Slimy white-green goo coated huge swaths of the grassy landing like icing atop a birthday cake.
Anxiety’s heavy hand was pushing down on me.
“How about your crackers,” I pleaded. “You have nice, clean fishy crackers in the backpack. Let’s go get them.”
Charlotte blinked and pulled herself up tall.
“No,” she stamped. “Bwead.”
“How about the bread we have at home?” I suggested. “I can make you a yummy peanut butter and jelly.”
After raising three children, I knew that reasoning with a 20-month-old baby was no smarter than reasoning with, well, a duck.
I changed tactics.
I would offer limited choices that would not include toxic duck bread.
“Do you want cheese or oranges?” I asked.
Charlotte trotted off.
“Bwead, bwead, bwead,” she sang.
In the great tradition of the Duck Pond, I waddled after her.
I was still squawking.