With one son already stepping over the threshold into tweendom, and seeing the conflicts that this has created with him – wanting desperately to be seen as older and mature, while not wanting to give up the safety of being a child – it’s no wonder that our youngest son has created an alter ego as he sees the threshold of tweendom approaching for him.
Our youngest – eight years-old – is wrestling with something in his little world that I still haven’t figured out. Almost two years ago he went home from Build-a-Bear Workshop with an adorable green frog stuffed animal. He named the frog Froggy. No great level of imagination came with the naming, but has accompanied everything that followed.
Froggy is a member of the family: the little brother that our youngest boy never had. Froggy had needs, including clothing. Our youngest looked out for Froggy, and brought Froggy everywhere, except out with loose acquaintances. Gaining an introduction to Froggy was an honor; it never came without trust, and more importantly trust that the person to whom Froggy was introduced would not make fun of our son for having Froggy.
Having Froggy, however, was not enough. One day, as we were back in Build-a-Bear looking for a birthday present for someone, our youngest saw another little frog. He was smitten. He said that Froggy needed a little brother.
At first I said “No. It’s neither your birthday nor christmas. There’s no reason to get you that frog.”
He understood my logic but as we continued through the store looking for the right birthday present I could see his preoccupation. As we stood in line to pay for the birthday present, I looked at him and said, “Go ahead, go get that frog.”
He was delighted, and little did I know what had just happened. Another member of the family had just arrived.
Very soon after this new little frog’s arrival – his name was FJ for Froggy Jr – a voice came out of my son’s mouth that I had not heard before. It was impish, sassy, and vulnerable all at the same time. It was not just the voice of FJ, but the alter ego of our son.
From that day forward – going on six months now – FJ has voiced all of the things that our youngest has always wanted to say, but was either been afraid or not confident enough to say, even in front of his family. Excitement. Sadness. Anxiety. Fear. Love.
This little frog has been endearing, and fascinating. He just had his first Christmas and we all referred to it that way: FJ’s first Christmas. And FJ had a hard time going to sleep the night before because he was so excited. Yes, this is what “FJ” was saying. And when we were driving to my in-law’s house to visit after Christmas, and big brother accidentally hurt little brother’s arm when they were horsing around in the back-seat, whose voice did we hear expressing sadness and disappoint that his big brother hurt him? FJ’s. The punch did not hurt our youngest physically as much as it did his feelings: hence the appearance of FJ’s voice. Conversely, when our oldest had a hairline fracture of his collar bone, FJ was the first person every morning, afternoon and night to make sure that his big, big brother was comfortable and feeling OK.
FJ is absolutely the alter ego of our youngest, and I don’t know what we’d do without FJ in our house. Whenever FJ tells us that he’s scared, we take him seriously: FJ and our youngest. And when FJ says he’s excited about something: we take him (them) seriously too.
My wife and I know that FJ is just a temporary visitor to our house, and, honestly, I’m going to be very sad when FJ is no longer a regular and very vocal fixture. What is so wonderful about FJ, however, is the constant reminder that eight years-old is not grown up, that despite our youngest’s attempts at being more mature than his years he is just eight, and according to FJ sometimes would like to be much younger.