As a child, I collected seahorses.
By the time their real-estate in my room was replaced with posters of Leo and Justin I counted 46 of them. For a while, I bid each of them a goodnight by name. Goodnight Elton. Goodnight Sparkles. Sleep well, Annabel. Yeah, you read that right, despite living in New Zealand, I counted seahorses instead of sheep.
It started when my mum found a real one tangled in some seaweed on the beach. She took an old cassette case, filled it with cotton wool, delicately laid the dried beauty on top, and presented it to me as a birthday present.
I was fascinated. I’d never seen one alive, let alone sitting in the palm of my hand in a portable disco coffin. We didn’t have a computer so I listened as my family educated me about my new friend. I’m now certain this is where my inane appetite to trust what people say comes from — as the sea horse is so unique that if it were discovered today it would be difficult to accept.
Like chameleons, they can change colour. Like Mad-eye Moody their eyes swivel in different directions. And like my Dad they don’t have a stomach, meaning they must eat and drink beer non-stop to stay alive… OK, this one I was skeptical about. But most mind-blowing to me was that the males are the ones that get pregnant and give birth.
And so it began. I decided the seahorse was my spirit animal. I was unique. I was delicately beautiful. My husband would be the one to grow and pop out babies. I tested and trained my single-finger-strength to grasp things like a shopping trolley at the supermarket or my knife and fork at dinner time. I was a miracle. I. Was. Amazing.
And then, sadly, I stopped loving seahorses. I began to dread unwrapping birthday and Christmas presents, knowing they would all be slightly different versions of my original — an oil painting, a ceramic, a plush toy, a key ring. I got distracted by being a seahorse collector and not an admirer. I lost sight of what I found fascinating and I believed my friends when they said seahorses were stupid.
I should have educated them about the fact they are the best and most majestical animal in the world, but instead, I boxed them up and hid them in the cupboard.
Now, I’m not saying that Leo hasn’t changed this world, and I’m sure he has influenced me in some way. But looking back now, I don’t think I could have ever had a better role model than my seahorse. It taught me to believe in the inconceivable (literally males conceiving) but most importantly it taught me that being unique is the most magical thing you can be.
I want all children and adults alike to know that what they find interesting makes them unique and they should never be ashamed of it like I was. It’s a wonderful thing that our interests help separate us from the herd and while officially, a group of seahorses is actually called a herd, for me, they were an inspiration and the most perfectly timed gift I could have asked for.