playing favorites

Brooke as Boots, March 2008

It started with pink.

Although it may seem innocent enough, when Brooke came home from camp one day a couple of weeks ago and declared that her favorite color was now pink, we were nothing less than stunned.

You see, ever since this child had the ability to make the declaration, her favorite color has been red.

Red.

Period.

Get it?

Red.

END.

OF.

STORY.

On April 7, 2008, I wrote the following in a post by way of explaining a few of Brooke’s favorite things:

Now here’s the thing. Brooke has some very consistent favorites, and, as is typical of a child with autism, she can be pretty particular* about them. (* ed note, I meant ‘rigid’, but wouldn’t have said it.)

Color = Red, Shape = Star, Number = Two, Letter = Y, Animal = Monkey.

For years, that list remained unperturbed. There would never have been a question about a single one of Brooke’s choices under any circumstances. (No matter how much we may have tried to cajole her out of them expand her repertoire.)

Until the day a couple of weeks ago that she came home and decided that her favorite color was pink.

Since then, a whole slew of changes have emerged. Her favorite shapes are now stars AND hearts. Her favorite numbers are five and thirteen. Her favorite animals are monkeys AND mice.

And during the same time period, a curious thing has been happening. Boots the Monkey has been fading from view. He’s even – gasp – been taken out of the bedtime rotation. Rather than ruling the elite class of untouchables on her bed as he always had, he’s been quietly relegated to the bins with the masses. After all of these years of Boots, I never would have believed this possible.

For as long as I can remember, Brooke has been enamored with – one might even say fixated on – Boots the Monkey from Dora the Explorer. Her love affair with Boots has been well documented throughout the life of the blog. From Halloween costumes (above) to Bat Mitzvah speeches; from birthday gifts to the incident in which that indecisive little monkey that damn near killed me, Boots was always around. He’s been on every vacation we’ve ever taken as a family.

And well, if you’re really up on your Dora trivia, (or, let’s say you’ve seen every show, read every book and trolled the Nick Jr site with your kid oh, say 4,682 times) you might have noticed some not-so-subtle similarities between Boots and Brooke.

The very boots from which he derives his name are red. It is therefore, he loves to tell us, his very favorite color in all the world. His favorite shape is the star – just like his buddy Little Star from the show. You catching on? His favorite number was the one on his soccer jersey when he played for the Golden Explorers. Uh huh – Two. And well, he IS a monkey.

My girl took on Boots’s favorites. They were the easy answers to the questions that grown-ups tended to ask. They were the script that she knew.

So as she has started to express all of these new opinions, I’ve begun to wonder if they’re really new at all.

I wonder if the things that we knew and accepted as her favorites were ever really the things that SHE loved? That SHE wanted? That SHE would have chosen unbidden? Or whether they were simply pulled from the limited list to which she had (verbal) access.

Katie came to talk with me last week. She was decidedly out of sorts. It was bugging her, she said, that Brooke had all these new favorites. She was afraid that she was just bowing to peer pressure. That she only liked pink now because ‘the little girls at camp probably all say they like pink, Mama, so maybe she thinks that she should too.’ She felt like Brooke was selling out to the crowd and losing her individuality.

I had to laugh at the irony of Katie’s concerns. Firstly because quite frankly the idea of Brooke being aware of and bowing to ‘the crowd’ is well .. yeah. But mostly because while she’s worried about her sister losing herself, I am pretty convinced that we are at the very beginning of  finding out just who she really is.

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15 thoughts on “playing favorites

  1. Growth! Let’s call it what it sure seems to be. Whatever her preferences were, are and will be, Brooke will always be wonderful, fantastic (and funny as can be)Brooke. I hope Katie will stop worrying about this (but that, too, is too precious for words).

    Love you guys,
    Mom

  2. I’m thrilled to read that Brooke is beginning to forge a “new” identity, but this is what struck me from this post. I’m not really an “everything happens for a reason” kind of girl, but Katie’s empathy, her ability to see the “big picture” in this situaion, is truly remarkable (I taught hundreds of kids, this compliment actually means something). She is undeniably special. That was an amazing conversation!

    • Thanks, lady. She really is a pretty incredible human being. I spend an awful lot of time scratching my head and wondering just how we got quite so blessed.

  3. What an insightful thought. What if what we think we know about our kids preferences are just the answers they have verbal access to? This actually could explain some meltdowns. When they say they want one thing but really it’s something else, and they just can’t bring the words out, or modify them to fit the situation? You always make me think on another level and I thank you for it.

    • You know, I think about this concept a lot. When Brooke was little, her speech was almost entirely echolalic. Of course back then we didn’t know the word or have the slightest grasp on what was going on.

      Since she wouldn’t typically ask us for anything, we’d give her choices to try and discern what she wanted.

      We’d ask, “Brooke, would you like juice or milk?”

      She’d answer “or milk.”

      We’d give her milk and be completely baffled if she responded by crying or pushing it back to us.

      It was Katie (of course) who noticed that no matter what we offered her, she ‘asked for’ whichever choice was presented last.

      In effect, she wasn’t making a choice at all, but simply repeating the last thing she heard, which was all she was then capable of doing.

      It’s heartbreaking to think about how hard it must be for our kids to have those kinds of limits when trying to communicate.

  4. For years, it was Po the Teletubby. Not LaLa, not Tinky WInky, not Dipsy — John took her everywhere. We were baffled when he broke up with her. I think you’re right and you’re just beginning to find out a lot of new things.

  5. My son who is 5 is going through that as well where only green is his favorite color, 4 is his favorite number and he is so into his #4. Has to be 4 of EVERYTHING, including registers at the grocery store or he tends to have what I call a “meltdown” which we have been working with ideas with our therapist to help this and has been working somewhat but not always. Highway turning lane arrows his favorite and likes to use my coffee table to draw them out no matter what we put down for him to us, posterboard or paper or dry erase he always goes to back to my table to draw the turning lane triangular arrows. Very fixated on these particular things.

    I enjoyed reading your post because that gives me hope as well that one day my son maybe will come home and change some of the things he says are his favorites like green, triangles(turning lane arrows), and the #4. I’m thinking maybe as they grow a lil older they start changing the things they fixated so much on, lose interest, and start venturing out to like other things or is it they see it in school what the other children do, but either way I think it’s great!

  6. Omg- I just read this. Wow. My girl’s favorite color was red…and everything had to be red. We even had a RED birthday party- everything was red (ocd, much?). She slept with red markers for a year. A single, red marker. Red toys, shoes, clothes, etc. Now.. 18 months later- it changes. Mostly, it’s pink, but sometimes it is teal or purple. I love it!!!

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