Monday, October 20, 2014

When We Were Hamsters

Early childhood development is a fascinating thing. Right now my four-year-old is obsessed with inhabiting any character he comes in contact with. He's been Minnie Mouse, our dog Bennett, our Roomba, our hamster, and at least a dozen more cartoon characters. When he's in character you cannot refer to him by his born name, he will remind you every time. "Has Nolan eaten lunch?" I'll ask my wife. He will interject "you mean Bennett," a bit pedantically; willing to work with me, but showing that his patience with my inattention to his transitory identity will soon run out. Then he will remember George, his hamster, and will interrupt our conversation to let us know that he is now George, then will drop to the floor and do his best imitation of a hamster.

I vaguely remember hearing about this stage of development somewhere in the whirlwind of my college education. I could look it up, refresh myself, and read about the "why" of why my son is doing this. I'm sure it would be fascinating, but maybe there is something altogether un-fun about the scientific description of my son's current preoccupation. Something in me doesn't want to take the magic away. Yes, this is a stage of development, every child goes through it. But I'm not watching a "stage," I'm not watching "a child," I'm watching my own son, a flesh and blood person.

I like to wonder what is going through his mind. What is he getting out of becoming everyone else? It is interesting that he becomes everything else—except for what he is. He never inhabits one of the numerous little boys that he sees on the screen. It's like he's already got that one down. Right now is for devoting his attention to what he is not, perhaps to find out how those people (and animals, and robots) tick. What does it mean to be someone else? Who are these people?

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