Michael, my oldest, is an enigma wrapped up in a mystery with a solid headache center. From infancy on, he’s been a trial to figure out and a chore to keep up with. Don’t get me wrong—I absolutely adore this kid. He’s a delight and keeping up with the inner machinations of his psyche has certainly kept me on my toes. But he’s a bit of a hard case at times, and one of his obsessions is… well, obsessions.
It started when he was just a wee toddler, barely out of his first year. He became obsessed with drum corps. I place the blame for that one solidly on his father. I can’t stand the stuff. But Daddy marched in the Crossmen in college and started taking Michael to drum corps shows as soon as he was able to be away from me for a few hours. Imagine my chagrin when my firstborn son, who depended upon me for everything, was turning away from me– the keeper of routines, the reader of stories, the singer of songs, the giver of milk—for a glorified marching band.
It was enough to make an attached mama cry.
It wasn’t just that they went to drum corps shows. Michael began to eat, sleep, breath, and live drum corps. He wanted to watch the videos. He wanted to listen to the CDs. The playsilks I lovingly dyed became flags, and the only rhythm instrument he would touch was the drum. He learned to salute and march pretty much the same time he learned to walk, and when other kids were rattling off Barney songs, he was humming snippets of drum corps arrangements and shouting out the names of the various corps.
Pages from Michael’s baby scrapbook.
Drum corps offended my Waldorf sensibilities as well. It was loud, obnoxious, loud, gaudy, loud, and loud. The only thing it had in common with my Waldorf ideals was the silks. Still, there’s something magical about seeing a daddy with his little guy on his shoulders, both smiling with shared joy, so I let ideologies be damned and just enjoyed watching them enjoy something I would never understand.
Besides, I knew someday my time would come.
When Michael was 18-months-old, we moved a half-hour from Hershey, PA, the chocolate capital of the world. Around this time, my mother gifted the three of us with a vacation to Disney World. Somehow, I came up with the brilliant (if I do say so myself) idea of “Disney World Boot Camp,” which consisted of driving to Hershey Chocolate World and riding the free animated “Story of Chocolate” tour several times a week. My toddler guy and I practiced waiting in line, getting on and off rides, and sitting with our hands and feet inside the cart at all times. The free candy samples they gave out at the end had nothing to do with, I swear.
And thus his obsession with the chocolate-making process was born. At last, an obsession I could get behind!
Pretending to make chocolate in the sandbox
Through his third birthday, Michael was preoccupied with all things chocolate. At surface, this might not seem like a bad thing, but let me tell you, when you have to hear about cocoa fruit for the five-billionth time or your kid is shouting out unintelligible things about chocolate liquor in the middle of church, you might change your tune. There were highpoints in this stage—tasting chocolate from around the world so we could find the best kind was good for our taste buds as well as for bonding, if not for my waistline—but all in all, I was happy when he traded in an obsession with chocolate with an obsession with space.
I must say that when we moved into space, I mostly felt thankful that we were in pretty “normal” kid obsession territory. Memorizing the planets, learning the constellations, reciting Kennedy’s “”We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” – OK, the last bit maybe wasn’t so typical, but the kid did a mean JKF impression— I could handle this. When Neil Armstrong spoke at a local college, my husband took Michael, and he was transfixed. We visited planetariums, bought a telescope, and remembered all the things we had forgotten in science classes gone by.
A handmade spacesuit and a homemade space pod to sleep in
Sadly, this was one of the shorter phases, cut short all too soon by an obsession with Broadway musicals. The blame for this one sits squarely on my shoulders.
I’ve always been a theater geek, and my music of choice is original cast recordings. So it came as no great surprise to me when Michael became obsessed with Broadway musicals. And not just any Broadway musical either—Julie Taymor’s adaptation of Disney’s The Lion King.
He stole my CD and listened to it over and over and over again. Grandma and Grandpa gave him his own copy for Christmas, and the kid practically went into raptures. He staged elaborate renditions of the show, first with playsilks and wooden animals, and later with his brother and sister and Webkinz playing the minor roles. He drew pictures, and as he learned to write, he wrote out stories. Throughout all this, he never saw the Disney version of the story. I’m actually not sure if he’s seen it to this day.
The Lion King Period was interrupted with brief forays into other musical obsessions—The Music Man, You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, and a very brief flirtation with Rent which we quickly nipped in the bud when he sang out “They used to tie you up…” in the middle of the church vestibule—but he always came back to The Lion King. When we were able to take him to see a touring theater production of the show for his birthday, he practically went into ecstasies. I was so proud.
The Lion King, with a teddy bear playing Simba
Several other obsessions came and went—Harry Potter, Percy Jackson and Greek mythology, orchestra instruments, and football. Now he’s eleven, and his obsessions seem to be neatly divided between Star Wars and Calvin and Hobbes/comic strip drawing. As he’s grown, he’s mellowed a bit. He’s more content to hold his knowledge in his own mind and heart and seems to have developed a filter so that everything in his brain doesn’t immediately leak out of his mouth. He does have an annoying habit of randomly blurting out the dialogue of Calvin and Hobbes comics with the air of one gracing an audience with a Shakespeare monologue, but I know from experience that this, too, will pass.
And while I roll my eyes and laugh and patiently (or not so patiently) endure the obsession, I will admit that there’s a part of me that’s sad when they pass. Still, like so many things in life, they haven’t truly left him. He carries the knowledge around inside him, like a treasure. He still enjoys going to drum corps with his daddy or a show with me, he still can recite speeches from the race to space, he still knows exactly how to make chocolate. And when these things bubble up to the surface, I smile, remembering the maddening, fascinating, joy-filled moments he had when he first journeyed into these new worlds. They’re all a part of who he is, and I know they’ll shape the man he’ll become.
I can’t wait to see what comes next.