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Monday, November 12, 2007

Alter Egos

When Tom was in kindergarten and first grade, his teacher used a "token economy" to encourage positive behavior. This is common in most elementary classes: you earn smilies, stones, stickers, check marks, and so forth to earn individual or group rewards. This particular teacher had a treasure chest of little toys and candies from which a child could choose at the end of a successful day or week. Tommy consistently chose little plastic skeletons, which he carried with him everywhere.

When he graduated first grade, the skeletons started disappearing (into the wash, down the tub drain, and so on). Worried, we scoured the web for replacements, and found them at Oriental Trading. They seemed a bit pricey (about $5) - but we needed them. I ordered four.

Little did I know the price was per gross.

For several years, we kept four gross of little skeletons hidden in the basement, handing out replacements and "cousins" from time to time. Tom named his skeleton pals; his best skeleton buddy became "Sid" (named for the sloth in the movie Ice Age).

Sid became Tom's alter ego. He had a separate voice and personality, and would often talk for Tom. If Tom wouldn't answer a question, you could ask Sid - and he often knew the answer. Over time, Sid became a force for justice, much like Superman. He could rally Darth Vader and his minions to become good guys in the cause of justice. He built himself a castle (Sara painted the picture) with hundreds of rooms and turrets. There, the skeleton armies munched on bones, watched TV, and prepared to do battle with evil.

Sid became fiercer and fiercer, finally becoming almost a good-guy thug who would be called to knock heads together. He was especially active in Tom's version of the story of James and the Giant Peach - in which James' two aunts (who are satisfyingly smooshed by the peach in the Roald Dahl version) are instead attached by skeleton armies!

In the past year or so, Sid's star has started to set in favor of a much gentler, more creative spirit - lizard. Lizard, like Sid, can talk for Tom - but is far more social, and seems much more ingenious about managing difficult situations. Rather than calling forth the forces of darkness, lizard is more inclined to use his special magic (which seems to be mostly focused on managing others' behaviors and moods) to make bad people good, angry people happy, and so forth.

What's especially wonderful about lizard is that he is ready, willing and able to create special places in his own world (apparently he has unlimited cash and resources!) where others can be comfortable and at home. He created a wet, sandy place where a mother sea turtle could lay her eggs safely (so long as she didn't make a mess) - and then treated her little ones to a restaurant meal of seaweed. He build a beautiful, glass, egg-shaped house with a stone porch and metal railings for a whole collection of big cats (lions, tigers and leopards).

I'm hopeful that we can find a way to help Tommy find himself in Lizard. Clearly, he KNOWS that it's possible to do for and think about others and their needs - and to come to the rescue for those in need. He understands the joy of sharing - but only through his imagination.

How to pull Tommy out of Lizard - that's the puzzle.

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