Tag Archives: rituals

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!

Breaking Traditions

We don’t use the word ‘pajamas’ in our house. When I was growing up, clothes that we slept in were called ‘nighties’ instead of ‘pajamas,’ and I didn’t like them much anyway. I would have rather worn a t-shirt and sweatpants to bed, which I started doing in college. I had my kids do the same; it just seemed more comfortable.

When Aidan could talk (which was delayed, possibly because of having an older autistic sibling), he asked, “Why are the pants called ‘sweatpants?'”

Me: Because some people wear them when they’re exercising and they sweat.

Aidan: But we don’t.

Hence, the phrase sleeping pants was conceived. And in the summer, they wear sleeping shorts. Everything has to be labeled very literally around here.

Bedtime is always a mad dash for the boys to get everything done that they wanted to do for the day, all of their little Lego projects, stuff they wanted to look up online, as well as the requisite teeth-brushing, homework-checking, and lunch-making for the next day. As a result, they are rarely in bed at the stated time, which is as late as I can stand it because they have never, even as babies, needed much sleep for some unlucky reason.

So it’s 10:30 PM and I’m really wanting to close up shop for the night and maybe read in bed for half an hour before going to sleep myself. Aidan’s already down (required since he’s younger), but Nigel is still in mad-dash mode. He’s running out to the game room to find one last Lego piece (a Ghengis Khan-style helmet), he’s printing out a chart of the International Date Line from Wikipedia, and he’s saying good night to the cat. I order him to brush his teeth and get in bed because I want to go to bed.

I shut off the lights, check the doors, turn down the heater, and go back to Nigel’s room to say good night to him, hoping he’s ready.

Nigel: I have to put on my sleeping pants.

Me: Let me say good night to you and then put on your sleeping pants.

Nigel: I have to put my sleeping pants on before you say good night to me. It breaks my traditions.

And in the second before I respond, I think, Wow, what a beautiful sentence. Two! He can now express his needs with words instead of screaming, as he would have just a few short years ago. And I say, “Okay,” and close the door until he says, “I’m finished.”

Yes, he has his rituals. Things often need to be done in a certain order (unfortunately cleaning his room does not fall into that category). But there are many things that Nigel’s flexible about, and I can give him a minute to finish up with the rituals that he feels a need to perpetuate. The traditions. They bring some semblance of order to his often harried brain. And who am I to break traditions? Except maybe pajamas.