Friday, January 23, 2015

Frozen Fever

Along with the terrible stomach virus that swept through our household this week, our family has been hit by a virulent strain of Frozen fever. Symptoms include staying up very, very late screaming and crying "I want to play Fro-zen!" over and over again.

Of course, it's not all bad. Not even close.  Really, overall, it's delightful.  But it is something different, a new level of intensity to Walter's make-believe.

As soon as Walter starting putting words together, he and I came up with this running gag: I'd ask him if he was something else, and he'd set me straight.  "Are you my snuggle bunny?" I'd ask.  "No," he'd say, seriously.  "I'm your Walter."

While playing train, I'd ask, "Are you the conductor?"
"No. I'm Walter."

"Mmmmm. This meal is delicious. Are you the chef?"
"Chef Walter, Mama.  I am Walter."

I loved this exchange, how reliable it was, how affirming of his essential Walter-ness. Now, though, it's different.

"Walter, dinner's ready!"
"I'm Elsa."

He's usually Elsa, although tonight he switched over to Anna for a short time, which was honestly quite a relief to me.  I've spent some time, you see, thinking about the tortured, desperate character of Elsa and worrying about her appeal to my young son.  Oldest child, you know.  Burdened by her well-meaning parents with unrealistic expectations for self control. (In defense of me and Sean, our efforts to teach Walter how to use "I" statements and calm himself with deep breaths is a long way from "conceal, don't feel" territory.)  Full of magic and power, but terrified that with that great power she will accidentally hurt her little sister. So much responsibility, so much angst. "Ohhhhhh, I'm such a fool, I can't be free!" she sings, and it makes your chest just ache for her. And for your oldest child, who knows there is no escape from the storm of powerful emotions brewing inside of him, just the temporary relief that comes from counting down from five to calm down.

Or perhaps Walter, like every other child his age,  likes Elsa's magic, and her beautiful dress, and that awesome song she gets to sing.

And so he sings, perfectly, word for word. "The snow glows white on the mountain tonight, not a footprint, to be seen ..." He makes his big blue eyes Disney-wide and practices saying, "Anna!" with different emotions, expressions, and tones of voice. He wears the cape/skirt I made him for his birthday tied up like a halter dress, and seems to have finally forgiven me for not making it pink or purple because, after all, Elsa's dress is blue. He plays Frozen at school, outside on the playground and inside in the dress-up area.  While many of his friends have more variety in their play, I get the sense that Walter can always find at least one friend to play Frozen with, and sometimes more.  I asked him once, "You always seem to play Elsa.  What if someone else wants to be Elsa?" "Then we have two Elsas," he explained.  "Jackson was Elsa with me today."

Not gonna lie, I was relieved to hear that Walter isn't the only boy in his class pretending to be the snow queen.  And then felt bad that I felt relieved.

Walter as Elsa/Daddy/Conductor 
Here's the thing: I have this deep hope that Walter will always be loved and accepted exactly as he is.  And I have this fear that, any minute now, this blissful window of love and acceptance will come crashing closed and crush his spirit.  This is a fear I endeavor mightily to control, because it could keep me from enjoying these amazing moments of play, these increasingly brilliant imaginative adventures.

Today, for example, Walter told us one of his teachers at school told him he couldn't play dress up.  I was alarmed.  His teachers have always encouraged Walter to be fully himself, dressing up however he wants, with no gender norming at all.  Was this the beginning of the end?

No. Walter gradually revealed that he'd "made bad choices" and used his current favorite attention-getting naughty word, "stupid."  The consequence was no dress up.  Such a relief.  Except for the part about him using the word "stupid" ... that's no good.

When we play Frozen at home, Walter never casts his little sister as Anna, though I think there are some striking similarities there.  Youngest child, you know.  Effortlessly charming, open and honest, flinging herself heedlessly through life like it's one giant "crazy trust exercise."  Slightly more pigment in her eyes and skin than her superblonde older sibling.  But even though she's really the hero of the film, no one seems to want to be Anna. Sally, like most of her peers, prefers Elsa. "Elsa," she says. And then sings, pitch-perfect: "Go!" Tonight, when Walter took it off for a moment, she pounced on his blue skirt, twirled it around herself, sang "Go!" and tried to abscond with it.  She tripped on it, of course, and when I went to help her up and get it away from her she resolutely would. not. let. it. go.

This struck me as very Anna-like.

I am usually Anna, except when Walter wants to be Anna, and then I'm Elsa.  We decided earlier this week that Hank and Sally could not be cast as Prince Hans, because neither of them would understand that we were just pretending they were the villain, and it would be confusing and unfair to yell at them for their villainy.  So, Hank was (aptly) cast today as the reindeer, Sven.  Sally, we decided, could be that adorable little baby troll who sings about tinkle. That leaves Sean as Prince Hans, which is OK, because no one could ever mistake him for an actual bad guy ... clearly this is pure pretend.  We don't have a Kristoff, because I think Walter forgets that character exists. Walter (Elsa) makes Olaf, and sometimes makes him visible by pretending his stuffed dinosaur is the lovable snowman.

You can see why he's excited and reluctant to go to bed.  We've had some success telling him that he needs to recharge his powers at night, which is why I think he switched to being Anna right before bed tonight. "I'm Anna," he argued proudly. "I have no powers."

I argued right back, and told him he had plenty of powers. "You are full of true love," I said. "You are brave and kind.  And you need to recharge all of those powers tonight. Go to sleep!"

He didn't buy it (but he is finally sleeping.)

This morning, both kids woke up ridiculously early and ended up in bed with me and Sean. While Sally slept, Walter gently took her hand. "You are Anna," he told me over Sally's fuzzy head.  "I am Elsa." "Who is Sally?" I asked. He looked down at her fondly, and smiled. "Our baby!" he said. She woke up, stretched, smiled and cuddled up to Walter. "Waltee!" she said. "Waltu!"  Walter looked proud, "Yay!" he said. "She's saying my name!"

And I soaked up that essence of Walter and Sally, which, by any other names, would still be as sweet.

And then they started to pinch and annoy each other, which is, after all, also essential.

No comments: