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January 15, 2009

Man of Four Voices

There are four characters in Adelaide's life that I portray: Robideaux the frog, Bird, Humpty Dumpty, and Santa Claus. Lately, when she's talking to me, about half the time she's actually talking to one of these characters.

It started maybe a year ago with Robideaux, a fuzzy hand puppet that Adelaide received from our friends Nate and Erika when she was newly born. Aimee actually originated Robideaux's voice, a New Orleans drawl, and still does it better, but I do it way more often. (Aimee's also a better puppeteer, but, again, I'm all about quantity.) Robideaux occasionally acts in an amorous fashion toward some of Adelaide's other toys, and the new object of his affection is the Sleeping Beauty doll Adelaide received for Christmas.

Next came Bird. I made up Bird to keep Adelaide occupied during long car rides. Bird has a high-pitched voice and, while generally pleasant, will occasionally peck my face, especially if I haven't shaved in a while. Bird has a special place in my heart because when I was a little bigger than Adelaide my older siblings used to make their hands into talking birds to entertain me.

Adelaide started talking to Humpty-Dumpty and Santa Claus on her own. Humpty-Dumpty (who is never referred to merely as "Humpty") is a puzzle that Adelaide received from Marmee, which she assembles several times a day. He's actually a very satisfying puzzle because of the thematic strength of putting together a picture of someone who is most famous for falling apart. That just doesn't work as well for a picture of a dinosaur or a depiction of the tortoise defeating the hare. I portray Humpty-Dumpty as irritable, nervous, and excessively vain. I try to sound as much as possible like Jonathan Winters' version of Humpty-Dumpty in the 1985 version of Alice in Wonderland.

Finally, Adelaide began talking directly to Santa Claus after we put a Santa Claus-styled tree topper atop this year's Christmas tree. When I portray him, Santa always tries to work in cornball sayings like "Always keep Christmas alive in your heart," or "There's silver in every snowbank." He also occasionally complains about not being able to see anything over his beard.

These characters are sort of quasi-real for Adelaide. She doesn't treat them strictly like corporeal entities- she only asks to talk to them when I'm around, and she'll talk to Humpty-Dumpty and Santa Claus (but not Robideaux) without the puzzle and tree topper being physically present (Humpty-Dumpty is sometimes hidden in someone's pocket when she talks to him, but Santa seems to exist invisibly everywhere, which is fitting.), much in the way imaginary friends. But she'll also sometimes treat them like real sentient beings, asking them to help her with problems, intercede on her behalf with her parents, or for information I can't provide. Two nights ago, just before going to bed, Adelaide hugged Bird to her bosom and whispered to my hand, "You're my very best friend."

Yesterday Aimee rang my cell phone during a meeting at work. There was a break in the action, so I took the call. After a brief chat with Aimee, Adelaide got on the line, and demanded to talk to Bird. So, there I was, in front of my attending, my Fellow, and a medical student I was supposed to be training, doing Bird's squeaky voice, my hand twitching uncontrollably into a beaky shape. She then asked Humpty-Dumpty what he thought of Bird and also when her Papa might be coming home. I replied in my gruff Humpty-Dumpty voice, "That bird is useless, and your Papa is too lazy to get his work done! When I was a little egg we scrambled ourselves eighteen hours a day without rest! My goodness, I'm beautiful!" When I finally got off the phone I shrugged to my quizzical co-workers and said, "She didn't want to talk to me."