Obsessions: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I loved tigers when I was a child. I collected tiger stickers and books about tigers; I lived for Wild Kingdom episodes about tigers. In fact, I still love tigers. In adulthood I’ve acquired two four-foot-long stuffed tigers, various tiger photographs and wall art, and even a tiger tattoo. It’s really the only obsession that’s stayed with me into adulthood. During childhood, I went through various flash-in-the-pan obsessions. I had my rainbow phase, my unicorn phase, my I-must-be-adopted-and-I’m-really-a-long-lost-princess phase. When I was interested in those things, I lived, ate, slept, and breathed them until they ran their course.  

Because of this, I completely understand my son’s Obsessions of the Week. Unlike his lifelong Lego obsession, the Obsessions of the Week don’t last too long and then fade into the background. They are often revived, and never completely abandoned, but they also never exist with the same intensity as their initial flare. Some are all-but abandoned, meaning that even though Nigel is no longer obsessed with them, he refuses to part with their physical manifestations. Take, for example, his popsicle stick obsession. I always thought that he was keeping them for one of his projects, and when he never made anything, I asked him if we could get rid of them. Noooo! He was saving them because he likes the riddles printed on them. Then there was his acorn obsession. Living in a suburban area and taking many camping and hiking trips on top of that, he accumulated an entire dresser drawer full of acorns over the course of about a year, thanks to a love of Scrat from Ice Age.

His other old Obsessions of the Week fall into various categories. He became obsessed with making things that (fortunately in most cases) never materialized: his own Rube Goldberg maze, his own Jurassic Park, a homemade spacecraft, a bomb shelter, and a covered wagon. Many of his obsessions are movie-related: The Goonies, The Terminator, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Dare Devil, Spiderman and Superman, King Kong, Back to the Future. And many others are history-related: World War I and II, the Civil and Revolutionary Wars, the Cold War, Vietnam, Titanic, the Oregon Trail, Clovis people, Ancient Greece, and various natural disasters, especially involving tornados and volcanoes.

But, like me with the tigers, Nigel also has obsessions – besides Lego – that have stayed with him a remarkably long time. He is a rock collector. We have baskets of rocks of diverse sizes and types all over the house. And sticks. Nigel has a fascination for sticks that I’ve never understood. That and the trash hoarding. He has drawer-fulls of trash in his room. Food wrappers, papers, pieces of plastic, bottles, lids, cans, packaging – the list goes on. I’m not sure how to deal with this situation. I think that it’s part of his OCD symptoms, but I’ll need to look into it further and discuss it with his doctor. In any case it falls outside of the cute and manageable Obsession of the Week criteria. He also exhibits other compulsions and rituals, like having to do some things in a certain order and needing to somersault down the hallways of the house to get from room to room. Those things don’t concern me too much, but the trash does.

And so I love the easy Obsessions of the Week. Aside from having to put up with a few one-sided, rapid-fire monologues and talk down some unrealistic notions, they are cute and manageable. This week’s obsession can easily be identified by walking through the house and noting things that Nigel has left out in various rooms – pincushion, scissors, thread. He has been sewing again. He had some leftover pelts from his Chimera project and turned one of them into a furry wallet. He also made a hat for Mrs. Brisby. I always thought she looked cold in that movie. Maybe Nigel thought that too, animal lover that he is. I just thank my lucky stars he’s not one of those kids that brings home all the strays!

7 thoughts on “Obsessions: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

  1. Tera

    Kaeden’s lifelong obsession is money. Coins, which he can rub together, listen to them clinking as they fall, discuss the shiny properties of them, and the different faces that are on each. But he also has a rock collection (but so do i!), and drawers full of candy papers, business cards, stickers, flyers. These are not things we can toss out without a problem. Sometimes when I help him really clean his room, I make him aware that they aren’t necessary and he’s have more space if we could just clear out the junk. His fave place for these ‘treasures’ is under his pillow. It is not something I can grasp. But, I also don’t see it as harmful. Until they live on their own, anyway, and don’t have someone there to help them recognize the junk from the good stuff, and it overtakes their home. I just keep reminding him that a candy wrapper is good for nothing once the candy is gone, that maybe one business card would be okay to save, but does he really need 40 from the same place?, and if he really wants to keep that flyer from the zoo we went to, maybe he should create a little book for his memories (he hasn’t done this yet, but maybe it will happen one day.). The obsessions are something that keeps him centered, and though I don’t get it, I just let it go.

  2. M

    for me, these things take a toll on sleep. i’ll get a topic in my head…and my thoughts grind and grind, focusing on it intesely…and during the more heavy phases of it, I’ll have a very hard time getting the thoughts turned off. insomnia and the periodic obsessions are very much connected for me. not sure if nigel is sleep issues, but i hear about them a lot in relation to the spectrum…i wonder how often this is the case. anyway. a topic to obsess over.

    long live ambien.

  3. Fearless Females

    I think obsessions are sometimes good too. Kids/adults learn so much about a certain, obsessed topic and then become little experts… Nigel is just demonstrating that he will be an expert in so many different things… and creative too. I wish Nick had a few more interests (ok, even obsessions) than just superheroes…

  4. Jess

    Sigh…my mom and I call them my “flavors of the month.” And it’s true! All the physical manifestations remain long after I have, alas, moved on…

  5. Tanya Savko Post author

    Tera – Coins are an interesting obsession. And I like your tip about the room cleaning, telling Kaeden that he’ll have more room if he clears out the junk. I’ll have to try that with Nigel, because he’s always telling me that his room is too small.

    M – Yes, Nigel’s obsessions do indeed keep him up at night. A year or so ago he was obsessed with planning an Oregon Trail trip that he wanted to take with his friends, and he had to plot out every last detail. His mind was just racing. I’ve tried to teach him to clear his mind, but it’s impossible for him. If he takes the new meds a little before bedtime, it seems to help.

    Mama Mara – I liked the furry wallet too! I thought it was great. I’m waiting to see how long his sewing kick lasts. Whenever I suggest an entrepreneur/career idea to him, he always shoots back, “But Mom, I’m going to be an inventor when I grow up, remember?” Perhaps his sewing creations might fall into the “invention” category.

    Fearless – It does amaze me how many things Nigel is interested in. I’m sure Nick will start to branch out soon enough too!

    Jess – Thanks for stopping by!

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