Exploring Imagination With Costumes
I have a toddler son and he loves superheroes, villains, pirates, trains, cooking, fairy tales and pretty much everything in between. What this means for me is a great way to express my creative side by encouraging his. As I’ve written before, my son watches a lot of Marvel movies and animated Marvel TV shows. He has a few of his own comic books, of which he picked out during Free Comic Book Day. Two years ago, a friend of ours bought him a book with over 20 Marvel Super Hero Origin Stories, which he loves dearly. With that in mind, when he asks me if he can be Wolverine, I jump on the idea.
Last week, he was having a bit of trouble letting me leave him at preschool one morning. This isn’t new and I often find myself looking for ways to make him more comfortable with my leaving him there. It’s not that he dislikes his classroom, teacher or classmates. He enjoys them very much and has a great deal of fun, once he lets go of my leg. For some reason, last week I asked him how Logan (Wolverine) would handle his mom leaving for a few hours. Immediately, my son pretends to pull on a pair of pants, a shirt, straps boots on his feet and slides gloves on his hands. Just before he looks up at me to answer, he pretends to pull a mask over his face. “I am Wolverine, and I am brave and strong! Can I show my teacher I’m Wolverine?” he said to me. I told him he absolutely could show his teacher he was Wolverine. He bounded into the classroom, snarled and stated, “I am Wolverine!” His teacher didn’t miss a beat. “Well, Wolverine, can you help me set the table for breakfast.” And suddenly she had an entire classroom full of superheroes helping get the room ready for breakfast. I found out when I picked him up, he and the other kids kept up their pretending well past lunch, and since they were pretending to be heroes, they were very cooperative and helpful.
Later that week, my son was still very much pretending to be Wolverine. He pretends to be other heroes as well- Thor, Captain America, Batman, Spiderman and Superman are the leading contenders. He has a Captain America shield he got two birthdays ago. Thor’s hammer he got after last Halloween while it was on sale for a dollar. But Wolverine is currently his favorite. So I told him we could make him a Wolverine costume. The sheer joy that covered his face upon hearing me say this was beautiful. Of course, then I had to figure out how to make a Wolverine costume that could be worn by a very active toddler who is not careful at all. The mask was easy. I already made him a couple of general-purpose masks out of 2mm white foam sheets not too long ago, and had plenty left. I had him bring me his origin stories book and we studied Wolverine’s mask. I drew it out, asked him how he liked it and cut it out. I had him stand for me while I measured the eye holes and the string to secure it on his face. When I was done, I gave him some crayons, the book and the mask and told him to color it like the one in the book. He declined, saying if he colored it, it would only be a Wolverine mask. If it’s just plain white, he can pretend it’s also a Batman mask. I couldn’t argue with that logic.
Then he asked for claws. This piece was more difficult. I’ve seen others make their own claws. I’ve seen people use cardboard. Other’s have used plastic. I knew a man who actually welded himself metal claws. But I know my son. Even with cardboard, he’d hurt himself or someone else. So I looked around my house. And after almost an hour of thinking it over I realized the perfect solution. 2mm white foam sheets. Flexible, but sturdy enough to retain their shape. Soft, so he can’t get hurt or hurt someone or something else. And lightweight. So I drew out six claws, in the basic knife shape of Wolverine’s claws, but I made them substantially smaller. Only about 4 inches. When my son asked why they were so short, I told him they’d grow as he grew. I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works in the comics, but he doesn’t know that yet. Now that I had the claws, I needed to find a way for him to wear them. I measured his hand, along the first set of knuckles above the palm and cut two small strips of the foam sheet. Cutting a small slit at the bottom of the claws, I threaded one strip through three claws. I had him hold out his hand with fingers splayed and slipped the claws between his fingers. then curl his hands around the strips at the bottom of the claws. He was Wolverine! And he was so excited he just had to show anyone who was around, for the rest of the week.
As it stands, we made: a Batman cape, a Superman cape, two all-purpose masks, one Wolverine mask and one set of Wolverine claws. He has a Captain America shield, Thor’s hammer, an astronaut costume (suit, helmet and gloves) and a Pirate costume (shirt, pants, belts, boot coverings and hat). He finds a way to play with each costume and accessory as often as he can. He loves it. Sometimes I get to be Black Widow, or Iron Man. Sometimes I’m the villain. Most of the time I’m the vehicle or the citizen in need of rescuing. He wanted to wear one of the costumes to the grocery store. I figured why not. It doesn’t hurt anyone. It’s not an inappropriate costume, he’s still wearing clothes. But I was astounded at how many looks of condemnation and repulse we received from some of the adults in the store. I even had two people make very rude comments about my son wearing a Batman cape (a piece of black fabric and some ribbon tied loosely around his throat) and a white foam mask. It wasn’t like he was running around, grabbing things off the shelves and causing problems. He was sitting in the cart, telling me stories and helping me decide what to eat for dinner. The cashier at the check out, however, fell in love with the Batman in my cart. He gave my son a fist bump, never referred to him as anything buy Batman and thanked him for keeping the store safe. My son was bouncing with pride. And so was I.
It’s the little things that can make a day go from Okay to Great. Or from Okay to Terrible. Parenting is all about picking the battles and finding the right ways to teach our children. Imagination, creativity and learning ones identity are things that can not be out right taught. They are found through exploration. Things to be cherished and nurtured. And if that means my son goes around calling himself Wolverine for a day or two, wearing a simple mask and foam claws, I will gladly make him another set when this set becomes, inevitably, dirty and worn out.