Sunday, July 24, 2011

Hero Worship

One of the delightful things about childhood is hero worship. It starts with toddlers and goes all the way through the teen years. For teens and tweens, it’s likely to be a star athlete, or a famous movie actor, or a popular musician. The hero worship takes the form of posters on the bedroom wall, collecting stats or albums or DVDs, and reading articles online and in teen fanzines. It might even include imitating the hero’s haircut or style of dress. The kid would love to grow up to be as famous, rich, and talented as his or her hero, but they know that’s not likely.

Younger kids, ages 5 to 10 or so, are more likely to pick a hero they actually know. At this age, the hero worship is in the form of a crush, and can be on someone either the same gender as or a different gender from the child. My teenage niece, Kayla, works at a sports camp for kids, and has become the focus of hero worship of a 7-year-old boy in her class. He chooses which game to play each day based on which group she’s leading, and generally idolizes her. When I was in high school, I was a library page, and the 5-year-old daughter of one of the librarians chose me as her hero. She followed me around, trying to do what I did, flip her hair like I did, walk like I did. She told her mother how byooooo-tiful I looked every day, with my pretty hair, and my pretty clothes. In both cases, the kids mooned over us heroes, and wanted to be with us and be like us. They yearned to grow up just like us and to have all the wonderful confidence and independence that we had (in their eyes, anyway).

But the most fun hero worship to watch is that of toddlers. Their hero worship tends to be centered on a family member, and my son Ryan is no exception. He has two big heroes: his Daddy, and his cousin Troy. His hero worship is mainly manifested in unrestrained glee any time he’s with either of them. His face lights up like a Christmas tree when Daddy gets him out of bed in the morning, or when he hears Daddy coming down the stairs after work, or when Daddy comes out of the study after having been home but frustratingly unavailable for a few hours. Ryan gets so excited that he can’t even run to give Daddy a hug – he simply squeals and throws himself on the floor, then peeks up at Daddy and squeals some more. Eventually he manages to hurl himself at Daddy’s legs and cling on like a little octopus. When Daddy leaves for work, he often stands at the foot of the stairs with a quivering lip, pointing at Daddy’s retreating figure and pathetically calling, “Dada? Dada?”

And he behaves similarly with cousin Troy. When Ryan was born, Troy was ecstatic to finally have a fellow boy cousin amid the sea of girls in the family. The two of them bonded from day 1. In fact, as soon as Ryan started to learn proper names, he gave Troy a secret name which seems to have meaning only to him: Mun. No-one is quite sure where it came from, but Ryan is quite adamant that Troy’s name is Mun. When we practice saying everyone’s name in the family, the exchange usually goes something like this:
“Ryan, say ‘Bammy’.” “Bammeee.”

“Say ‘Pappy’.” “Pa-pa-pappy.”

“Say ‘Rosemary’.” “May-may.”

“Say ‘Holly’,” “Haw-lalala.”

“Say ‘Jim’.” “Jeeeem.”

“Say ‘Kayla’.” “Tayla.”

“Say ‘Troy’.” “MUN!!!” (Said with a big grin.)

When we pull up to their house and we ask who we’re visiting, does he say “Jeeem” or “Haw-lalala” or “Tayla”? Nope. We’re visiting Mun. Anyone else who happens to live there is just a little extra bonus. Mun is the point. Mun is the one Ryan runs to hug first, and the one he wants to play with. He loves everyone in the family, but Mun is special. Mun is his hero.

This weekend Troy has been staying overnight with us while he’s rehearsing for a show near our house. Ryan is thrilled by this development, and has taken advantage of the chance to pounce on him first thing in the morning, swim with him in the evening, and play with him every chance he gets. His favorite game is the Mun train: He runs up behind him, wraps his arms around Troy’s legs, pushes him to march, and goes “Woo woo!!!” like a train whistle, with Troy as the engine and Ryan as the caboose.

It’s hard to say who gets the biggest kick out of that game, Ryan, Mun, or Mum and Dad. There are definitely big grins all around.

I’m sure that someday Ryan’s hero worship will move on to a different figure, and that will be a very sad day for Mun. But I suspect it will be an even sadder day for Mum.

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