Part I: It all started with a mouse named Coopie…
Sometime over this past winter, Zeke started pretending to be a baby mouse. Coopie, as Zeke called him, loved to snuggle, making little nests of the blankets in our bed and burrowing squeakily down into them. He spoke in a little squeaking voice and spoke frequently of his desire to be “warm and cozy”. He was small and frightened and always wanted his mama mouse (me) to hold him and keep him “safe”.
When Ming-Kang first appeared on the scene, Zeke would spend days at a time inhabiting his cat self. If I called him “Zeke”, he would rub his face against my leg, and meow quietly to remind me who he was. Lately, when Ming-Kang has to pee, he asks me in his kit-squeak voice to accompany him to the litter-box.
One day, he and a friend returned to our apartment after a trip to the park with his babysitter. I knew that Zeke was being a cat because I heard the meowing from the elevator shaft. When the doors opened, both boys were crawling and mewing, but it quickly became clear that Zeke was much more serious about being a cat than his buddy.
I made macaroni and cheese for lunch that day, which Ming-Kang only agreed to eat when I told him that is was “mouse macaroni and cheese”. This announcement gave Zeke’s friend pause.
“It’s not really mice is it?” he asked me, looking concerned, and totally dropping character.
“No,” I said. “We’re just pretending that it is.”
“Why?” he asked, clearly a little confused.
“Because you’re pretending to be cats and cats eat mice.”
“WHY?” he asked, more emphatically this time.
I have no idea why my son wants to spend much of his life as a cat.
Living life as Ming-Kang has made Zeke have to think a lot about the differences in values that make us different people. One day, Jack was wearing dinosaur pajamas and Ming-Kang pointed quite deliberately at the smiling T-Rex on Jack’s chest.
”What’s that?” he asked.
“I don’t like that,” he said in his Ming-Kang voice. “I only like gentle things.”
This is, needless to say, not the opinion of my 3-year-old human son, who sometimes comes to stay with us.
Conflicts between your identities are complicated, and can be distressing for anyone, let alone a three-year-old. Once, while I read stories to him in preparation for bed, Zeke turned to me seriously and asked, “Mommy, is Ming-Kang going to eat Coopie?” He had this uneasy, mournful look on his face. He loves both characters so much, I think the realization that they might not co-exist peacefully was genuinely distressing for him.
“No,” I said in my most comforting voice.