Over October break, I went back to my summer job. This statement is proof of how words can be misleading. What I really did was babysit again for the family that employs me during the summers. Getting back to it has made me realize that I will never have a job as good as babysitting. As a babysitter, I get paid tax-free to do the things I normally do, just with a small companion. If I could go on this family’s trampoline alone without it being weird, I probably would. If I had the money I would eat at our towns greasy pizza parlor and ride my bike to the playground after, I would do it every single day for the rest of my life. The point is, I don’t have to alter my own life to get paid, which is a miracle.
One thing that I wouldn’t do without a lofty hourly rate, however, is read the Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel. Since I spent roughly a quarter of my childhood demanding that my parents and strangers call me Toad, I’m a little burnt out. However, revisiting Frog and Toad over this break has made me think about how older people are foolish to overlook western literature’s most influential amphibians.
For those of you that haven’t read these children’s stories out loud recently, here is the basic gist of Frog and Toad’s relationship. Frog is older and more mature than Toad, but still puts up with all of Toad’s shit. In one of the stories, Toad goes to the store to buy himself and Frog some ice cream. For the moment, let’s just put aside questions you may be having about where Toads can buy chocolate ice cream, and just focus on the story. Anyways, Toad idiotically lets the ice-cream melt all over him, to the point where he resembles a giant brown creature with horns (the cones). Toad falls into the pond where Frog is waiting, and then he and Frog go and buy more ice cream, that’s it, end of story.
Apart from Toad’s Kafkaesque transformation, this story serves to explain the relationship frog and Toad have. Frog is as smooth and even tempered as his skin. Nothing exciting ever happens to him, he just sort of reacts to Toad’s qualms and blunders. He is sort of a strange combination of older brother and teacher for Toad, and his one good quality is his storytelling. He’s always fucking telling Toad a story. As for Toad, he is a misguided soul. This is evidenced by him reading stories to his seeds to make them sprout, assuming that his friend is dead when frog is late to a Christmas party, and obsessively waiting for the mail, when it is unclear whether small animals like him even have a postal service.
Since I revisited the Frog and Toad books, I have been struck by how bizarre the stories are, including their details, their endings and the difficult existential quandaries that definitely flew over my head when I read the books. For example in one story, Frog and Toad simultaneously sneak to the other’s respective yards to rake the other’s leaves. When they have finished the work and are heading back to their own houses, a gust of wind blows the piles of leaves they have made all over the yards. The story ends with both of them going to bed feeling happy, and preparing to start on their own leaves the next day.
Rereading this story was actually super upsetting. It seems to point out the futility of human labor, and that we are blissfully ignorant of our own global and cosmic insignificance. Lobel uses two lovable amphibians to make a deep point about how nobody can really change anything.
Now that I am looking back on something so instrumental to my childhood, I’m realizing there were so many hidden messages that come to me like my epiphany that the Bar/Bat Mitzvah cover song “Right Round” by Flo Rida was blatantly about oral sex, except this is a little more profound, and relevant to my own life.In the Frog and Toad story “The List” Toad loses a list of his activities and finds himself unable to function. This story sounds surprisingly familiar; when my phone was broken last year, I felt as stranded, and acted as ridiculous as Toad in this story. Luckily, for me and Toad, the only witnesses to our madness were Frog and T-Moblie employees, respectively
My foray into the adult side of Frog and Toad has made me feel simultaneously paranoid and excited about other surprises I might find in beloved childhood literature. Maybe next I’ll discover that Sam I am was a Marxist. I’m also curious about when the kids I babysit will find the heart-stopping existentialism lurking in a story with a title as innocuous as Frog and Toad.