Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Who are you today?

Leo is currently Doctor Who – about 90% of the time. He can cope with the occasional washing of his suit as long as he can wear something that looks like Captain Jack, or Horrid Henry if really necessary. Last night, Dani I were talking about this state of affairs and we realised that Leo has inhabited characters in this way since he was really tiny.

When Leo was about 18 months old he became obsessed with The Singing Kettle – a Scottish singing group. He would only answer to the name of Artie for a few months – and he insisted that I was Cilla. These were the names of the lead singers. Leo went everywhere with a small, yellow toy kettle. He had a cuddly kettle to sleep with. This led on to several particular passions – mostly related to the things that the Singing Kettle team pulled out of their kettles (don’t ask...) One of the most joyful of these passions was with frogs. When he was under two he set about locating all the pictures of frogs in every book we owned. He was given almost exclusively frog themed presents for his second birthday.

When Leo was two he was briefly Fiona from the Shrek movies. He didn’t know her name and declared himself “The Green Princess”. I think that one only lasted a few weeks but it really did cause a stir, calling my child in the park.
“Green Princess, it’s time to go now!”

We had to use his chosen identity or he would ignore us and, to be honest, he glowed when we called him by his chosen name.

When Leo was three he became Aidan Cook. Aidan Cook was the presenter of a Channel Four early literacy series called Rat-a-tat-tat. Leo wore a small rucksack on his back, in which he carried a book – like Aidan Cook. He watched the programmes on a loop and wore his rucksack every waking moment. When he was three and a half he was due to start at nursery school and he had a little booklet to fill in – all about himself. On the first page he drew a very impressive picture of a human figure – under the heading A Picture of Me. We congratulated him on this and he was very angry insisting that the figure was Aidan Cook and that we must write that there so no-one would make the same mistake. One of the things that I observed in my few days hanging around the nursery school was that Leo’s bag made some of the nursery workers very uncomfortable. On the last day that Leo went (he was only there a couple of weeks) I watched as one of the workers convinced him to take off his bag and put it on his peg. Within moments, when it sunk in what he had done, Leo was tearful and anxious. Being someone with such a powerful drive to imagine was clearly suspicious and odd in that conforming environment. I could think of no other reason for putting him in that uncomfortable position.

In contrast, the summer after Leo’s fourth birthday, he spent a couple of months being Count Olaf – the villain from the Lemony Snicket Unfortunate Events books. He would answer only to Olaf, or sometimes to one of the Olaf’s pseudonyms – Captain Sham or Coach Genghis. On the first day I took him to a home ed outdoor event he was determinedly Olaf. I was met by the lovely S, a mum of three and a very wise woman. She embraced his chosen name entirely and asked him all about the books. Next time we went along he took his books to show her.

There have been other characters over the years. Batman was tricky, as he had to wear his full costume, including mask, at all times. This used to make him incredibly hot and sweaty and invariably end in furious tears. But he was Batman so entirely that he insisted everyone sing the Batman theme at his birthday party instead of Happy Birthday.

For a while he was William Buckland – the nineteenth century palaeontologist. I think that was in the time leading up to his fifth birthday – and in the middle of his dinosaur passion. The rest of us were all assigned identities too – Mary Anning, Edward Drinker Cope, Othniel Marsh. He knew the names from the, very dense, books he was demanding we read to him. When he was William Buckland he would draw an image of the dinosaur jawbone that Buckland identified. On a trip to the Natural History Museum he stood grinning in front of a glass case with a picture of Buckland and the jawbone inside.

A clear by-product of Leo’s passions and his love of various characters, has been the role it has played in his reading and writing skills. Leo was inspired at four to sit and listen to pages and pages of heavy prose that told of the life of Mary Anning. This was a book for an adult readership and I can picture him still – sucking on a dummy and twiddling another in his fingers as he demanded “read more”.

These days he reads anything about Doctor Who – no matter if it is a newspaper article, comic, book or web site. He scans the credits too – telling us today that the actor who played the Pig Pilot in the Christopher Ecclestone series also played the Slitheen child in the latest Sarah Jane Adventure. When he writes it is like this:

“On a space ship some Sycorax were plotting their revenge. They were opening up the void.”

Doctor Who is a fairly common obsession among seven year olds – so it is nice that he has other people to share this love. But he still ‘out obsesses’ most kids I know. He sweeps around in his long coat and I catch him just standing, posing, being The Doctor.

What all the many characters have in common is that they meant something very important to Leo at the time. I wonder sometimes if his passion for costume and character will stay with him for life. I do hope that he is not pressurised out of it by the opinions of others. What it has taught me is that today is the day – the day to live your dreams. From that little toddler pulling “Froggies!” out of his toy kettle to the Time Lord of today Leo is 100% engaged with the world through his imagination. When he tosses his long coat over the end of his bed and wraps a bit of wire around an old pen Leo really is The Doctor in The Tardis – and he is truly happy.


Lisa G said...

LOL, Leo sounds wonderful, I have a 10 year old who might 'out obsess' him on Dr Who though! She's also forming quite an attachment to Horrid Henry as well, sounds like they'd get on like a house on fire!

Helen said...
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Gill said...

Wow, I'm so impressed with Leo and would have loved to have had my childhood fantasies so indulged by my parents. What a brilliant, nurturing thing to do for him.

Am still a bit like it now, actually, between you and me. And all your other blog readers ;-)

Dani said...

Ooh! Leo was Fred from Scooby Doo as well. Age around 5, we think.

Another point to add to my long list of reasons why school uniform is evil.

Lisa - yes it does! Are you enjoying the Sarah Jane Adventures?

Thanks, Gill!

Lisa G said...

Hi Helen (sorry Allie, hope you don't mind me commenting on a comment on your blog!) I found your comment really interesting, as the mother of a 10 yo girl with ASD, (mentioned above!) it's encouraging to hear you say that Allie's post has made you think again about your case. I really wish the teachers and other professionals who had contact with my daughter whilst she was in school had been as open minded as I believe that forcing her to try and supress this part of herself that imagines she is someone else led to even greater stress which precipitated her self harming. I think that finding a safe non judgmental environment where ASD kids can be themselves in this way is vital to their sense of well being and acts as much needed stress relief.

'EF' x said...

EEK!-Helen: are you sure it is okay to speak publicly of your 'case'?

I don't mean to be too frightful, but if that was my child on your 'caseload' 'being' Fred from Scooby Do or whatever, I don't know if I'd be that happy to learn that he was up for discussion in this way - on the web and in the way you phrase his ...erm...challenges.

I reckon the parents have a right to know that this is the way you figure out your 'cases'. Sorry if I ruffle feathers, but one reason why us 'clients' sorry, *cases*, pay for professionals is that we expect the price to cover discretion. And the price you would have to pay would be to act professionally! Ahem! (One more piece of proof that even the professionals ain't professional!)

Allie: do forgive above, I just couldn't let it lie.

Also: wow: I like the sound of Leo more and more and more. He comes across as a really decent specimen of humanity, he's all connected and true to himself...words don't really cover my gratitude that there are still folk like Leo (my kids are also unfettered by having to 'fit in') that walk this earth.

I've never had to worry about my kids needing to wear 'normal' clothes...because we are rather offended by what passes for normal anyway so have never stressed our kids with that. I am completely eccentric when it comes to clothes and often dress in charector too...even now I have adopted modest clothing, I am still very exploratory with clothing and colours and it's a wonderful way to express ourselves..an artform I reckons.

I love my kids sense of what to wear and when...and I love to hear that Leo is also okay in that respect too. It's worrying to witness the leagues of kids who all look identical and are afraid to 'stick out'. They just all look so depressed and hidden. That is the real evil....children afraid to be who they are for fear of being limited or destroyed.

Right. I'd better go now. I can feel the heat rising under my (high starched Victorian) collar. And I cannot clench my fists angrily in these (elbow length green satin evening) gloves.

Helen said...
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Allie said...

Ahem. Well, that sorted, I hope everyone still feels welcome to come and chat over here.

EF, I do take your point and Helen, I really am VERY glad if this post has been useful to you.

Personally, I don't really understand why, if we accept that to interfere with a child's private body parts is abusive (which, of course, it is) we still think it ok to disrupt something as personal as their imaginations.

Sharon said...

I'm very boring in my own dress, but the children still come up with wonderful creations. Oh how I wish we could have you all over to play with us. My children would adore P and L!
Letting them wear what they want by itself a good reason to avoid school. Night-dresses and top hats would not be acceptable attire for a 7yo boy at any school I know of!

And yes, we're enjoying Sarah Jane's adventures. The children have even started watching the old episodes on Stage 6, where Sarah Jane was the companion.

Helen said...

Its been really helpful Allie, both to me & to a family I know.

Lucy said...

My comment is totally irrelevant really but it reminded me of when dd went through a stage of wearing a bucket on her head. In fact, I've just blogged a green bucket picture, lol.

Minnie said...

My mate let her kids decorate the downstairs loo. They all have different interests. The door looks like the door to Doctor Who's tardis. Inside, the kids have each done some artistic stuff..it's a whole different world in there. It's SO mega cool!! Beats taking in a crossword!!:O))