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
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.