Thursday, February 09, 2006

Meet Rufus...

This is Rufus, the naked mole rat. He used to be pink, but is now greyer than I am :) By Velveteen Rabbit standards, he is Real... and it shows. I never, ever imagined that my life would be enriched by a naked mole rat, nor that I would count one (even a stuffed one) as a member of my family, but that is what has happened...

Rufus' story begins with Lilo & Stitch, the Disney movie. Grammie gave the dvd to B & we ended up liking it a great deal. We have not had the best of luck with Disney films in our house- The Jungle Book scared the daylights out of B (well, Kaa the snake did) & even at the age of 5, B "got" the fact that Simba was being made to feel responsible for his father's death in The Lion King & it upset him very much. Until Lilo came along, the only Disney movie that we unreservedly endorsed was Mulan, which C & I rented to preview when B was 3 1/2. The night we watched it I laughed so hard at Mushu's antics I was afraid I would wake B up (the tv room is right next to his). It was a great treat to discover Lilo & Stitch. B was around 7 & getting into outer-space & aliens, so he loved the "experiments". We all really enjoyed the messages about universal/non-traditional family values, with the added bonus of a transgendered supporting character- not something you see every day! (how Pleakley has flown below the radar for so long is beyond me... :) Since we don't get cable tv, & therefore Disney Channel shows, Grammie started taping Lilo for us. Of course, sometimes Grammie goofed the times rt Disney goofed the schedule & we got other shows on the tapes besides. We generally sped past them, but one day we were lazy & watched the Kim Possible episode Grammie had accidentally taped... & were hooked. I loved the girl-power message, B loved Ron & Rufus & 10-year-old genius Wade. So we requested that Grammie tape KP as well. We found the website & online games & one day I saw a Rufus stuffie at the Disney store & decided that Santa should bring it for Christmas. B found him peeking out of his stocking Christmas 2004 & whooped with joy. Rufus began talking immediately (in the voice from the show, which B mimicked perfectly) & had comments about everything. He & B became inseparable during holiday break. B had developed strong attachments to a couple of his bionicles after he developed OCD, but Rufus superceded them all- & he was easier to sleep with :) He also was a wonderful distraction when the OCD anxiety would overwhelm B. We found that we could tickle Rufus & B would laugh for him, or we could put Rufe up B's shirt & he'd giggle, & begin to relax, & soon the anxiety was forgotten in the fun. Rufus became an important anchor for B & a lot of fun for all of us.

The week back to school after the February break that year was a tough one for B, & his teacher requested that he bring Rufus in to school with him, to see if it would help him cope better with schoolday transitions. We were fine with it (since B took Rufus everywhere else with him) but I was concerned that either B would put Rufus down somewhere & lose him, or he'd avoid doing some things because he didn't want to put Rufus down, so we found an old belt pack of mine & gave it to B to use as a Rufus-carrier. Rufe was an instant success at school. Kids whom B had barely spoken to that year (this was March!) were asking him about Rufus or having conversations with Rufus & it appeared that B was using him to initiate social contact with classmates. I knew that Rufus was truly a person in his own right when B's teacher informed me that Rufus had a role in the class play & could I make him a chicken suit.......! (I wrapped him in a feather boa with just his cute little face sticking out) B did his first research poster that year on naked mole rats & actually found a live web cam at the national zoo that showed their naked mole rat colony (the real ones are not nearly as cute as Rufe, I'm afraid). At B's school concert at the end of the year, when all of the classes perform what they've learned in music class that year, we had another surprise. B hadn't told us about it ahead of time... but in the middle of his classes' presentation, his music teacher introduced a guest soloist- a naked mole rat. B got a huge grin on his face as he & Rufus came down from the risers to the microphone. He sang, in Rufus' funny voice, the first verse of "Gary Indiana" from The Music Man, then backed-up his class on the rest of the verses with perfectly timed "yeah!"'s. People were rolling in the aisles & gave them a standing ovation. C & I were blown away. When you have a kid who requires quite a lot of explaining to others... well, it was inexpressably precious to see him shine like that. All thanks to a naked mole rat...

B & Rufus are still tight, although Rufus is not the novelty this year at school that he was last. I hear that he's singing the descant to Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy" for this year's music night, though, so B's music teacher seems to know how to keep a good thing going. As B's anxiety ebbs & flows I sometimes have to remind Rufus to be more proactive in helping B out, though he's always ready to do so when reminded (or woken up- Rufe sleeps a lot in the belt pack these days). He played Watson to B's Sherlock Holmes for Halloween last October (I knitted him a little vest to match B's costume) & had his own stocking this Christmas for which B provided the goodies :) Whoever would have imagined the previous Christmas that B was to receive a transitional object that would make such a huge difference in so many facets of his life? Rufus has transcended toy-ness for all who "know" him, thanks to B's imagination & need. In the immortal words of Stan Lee... 'nuff said!


At 12:38 AM, Blogger FinnyB said...

I have--and have had for the past 26 years, ever since I was born--a transitional object much like Rufus. Mine is Flickablankie, a unicorn who looks her age and older by now. The fuzz has worn off her hooves, her fur is grey and matted, her eyes were eaten by my parents' dogs long ago (fortunately Flickablankie does not need eyes to see; unicorns are magical, after all), and her horn was untwisted into a carrying handle so long ago that I no longer remember her when it was a "proper" horn.

She does for me much as you describe Rufus having done for B; I carry her with me pretty much everywhere (yes, even though I'm 26 and married as of February 24th) in a M*A*S*H shoulder bag, as she helps keep me calm, distracts me from distractions (if that makes sense), and just generally makes it easier for me to interact with the rest of the world.

I am always interested to hear others' stories of their "transitional objects" (I consider Flickablankie--named after the filly in My Friend Flicka [the book] and the baby blankie she had tied around her neck until I wore it to bits by rubbing it so much in university--to be my best friend) or the "transitional objects" of their children, particularly when said "others" or "others' children" are autistic or Aspies or otherwise not exactly NT. Such things are fascinating not only from a sociological perspective (stemming from my interest in the Holocaust and the emphasis my Holocaust Literature teacher placed on transitional objects for some reason or other) but from the perspective of one who still has such a friend after 26 years and has no plans to ever give her up.

Anyway, I'm working my way through your blog from the beginning (I just recently--within the past year--started connecting the dots and have self-diagnosed as an Aspie, as I have no insurance in Canada at the moment [working on the permanent residency process] and thus cannot afford to try and get an official diagnosis), and finding it all very interesting and useful. I hope you keep writing, and that you and C keep working with B in ways that seem to be working so well. (Or something like that...I'm not exactly sure how to say what I mean. Sorry about that!)


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