Saturday, February 5, 2011

Schizophrenia is cute on babies.

It is a cold, rainy Saturday morning in February, so my boys and I are happily snuggled inside. (My son is wearing footie-pajamas, which are the most wonderful things, because they package him up into one little fuzzy cuddle-bundle.)

As he runs around the room and plays, he bounces from toy to toy, riffing a quick song on his guitar here, tooling around on his workbench there, climbing up on his spring horse for a quick ride before getting down to a song from his keyboard.

But, even as he jumps from one activity to the next, he does not lose his grip on Mao.

Mao (a black stuffed cat) is the imaginary friend du jour, and my son's constant companion. He sleeps with him (or chats with him when he's supposed to be sleeping), plays with him, even eats meals with him (my son will frequently duck Mao's head over a plate of his own food, and make little eating sounds).

I find it all very adorable, since I was (and really, still am) one of those kids who makes deep attachments to stuffed animals and fictional characters. Just like Daddy is the one my son goes to when he wants to cuddle and nap, Mommy is the one he comes to when he wants to play with his stuffed animals. (I've tried to teach Daddy how to make the animals move so they "come to life", but I fear that it's a Mommy-only skill.)

As I mentioned earlier, Mao has been the #1 friend lately, but he has had predecessors. Just before Mao, my son was inseperable from his two Zhu-zhu pets ("Flurry" the bunny and "Percival" the hamster). He spent a great deal of time sitting on the kitchen floor while they ran their little races around him, occassionally swooping one up for a hug and a kiss before it could rejoin its partner on the floor.

Before the Zhu-zhu pets, he spent a great deal of Christmas vacation enamored with a little hopping rabbit I'd given him. It was just one of those cheap toys that you feed batteries so it can hop along in a straight path (in fact, I'd won it with tickets at Dave & Buster's), but he loved it. He liked to pet it and give it kisses, and he would even play a chase game with it (somewhat complicated by the fact that, again, it only hopped in a straight line, and not necessarily towards him).

Other notables have included Sam the tiger, Bitterman the penguin, and Shane-Puppy. All three are oversized stuffed animals that initially belonged to Mommy and Daddy, until the little man claimed them as his own. Their largeness makes them perfect for both wrestling and cuddling. If at any point they let down their guard, my son is likely to ambush them from behind a laundry basket, wrestling them down to the ground before cuddling up to them for a quick snuggle and a nap. (Sam seems to get the worst of this treatment. His reclining position puts him at the perfect angle to be jumped and ridden like a pony.)

And, of course, we can't forget the legendary Seahorse. This is the end-all sleepy-bye companion, the thing for which we check the diaper bag first (before even baby wipes). He will simply not sleep without his seahorse, and has been of that persuasion since he was 3-months-old.

And the best news about all of these little personified companions? It's not only perfectly normal, it's even healthy. A recent study has shown that a lot of the old myths about kids and imaginary friends are bunk. It's actually the more extroverted and socially developed kids who are likely to have imaginary friends; they like being around others so much, that anytime they're not, they develop their own companionship. And they don't make imaginary friends because anything is missing in their lives. They do it because it's FUN! (Duh! Any mommy who writes fiction as a hobby could have told them that!)

So this mommy is more than happy to include Bitterman in dance parties, or make an extra spot for Sam on the bed, or a space in the car for Mao. It's not hurting my son, it's actually good for him, and most importantly, it makes him happy. What more could a mommy want?

(Besides, I can't wait until he's old enough for me to break out my old model horses. Then we can really play.)

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