Jarvis Danger, Master Thespian

Jarvis has been performing since birth. When he was only a few days old his father and I nicknamed him "Baby Teradactyl" because he would lay in the co-sleeper moving back and forth and making strange, raspy noises that sounded positively prehistoric. At 8 months he started growling. These were not the sweet growls of a puppy but the deep, frightening guttural sounds of a demon or a singer in a hard core band. He also started trilling. I should have started him on the Rosetta Stone language program then because he was a natural for Spanish. He could trill longer and harder than any adult I had ever seen. I was impressed because my tongue just doesn't do that. Instead of vibrating it just sort of sputters like a flooded engine and dies.

We first noticed his skill for mimicracy during foot ball season right before his second birthday. He would take a soccer ball, crouch down for a few moments, run through the living room and then fall on the ground. We taught him to say "1-2-3 HIKE!"

His first character might have been Pluto. Jarvis would run through church barking and if anyone said "Hi, Jarvis" he'd immediately correct them. "I'm Pluto!" His aunt got him a dog collar and a stuffed bone for Christmas and he couldn't have been happier. He loved visiting the pet aisle and picking out the milk bones he was sure he'd get to eat some day.

Donald Duck might have been his most obnoxious character. Jarvis would greet people with a nasty quack and of course, correct them if they called him by his given name. "I'm Donald Duck wearing a red bow tie." he would tell explain. Ah, the red bow tie. Donald Duck was mostly manifested by rude, ducky laughter and a scowl. I don't miss him much, but I'm still sorry I never got Jarvis a red bow tie.

Then it was on to Buzz Lightyear. Jarvis would put one of my Rubbermaid canisters over his head and run through the house with me following a few clips behind to make sure he didn't smother. This was also the era of "psh" or "robot game." Jarvis took apart his red toy flute and used it as a laser gun. He'd run about, swinging his arm and "pshing" everything in site. He loved the part of Toy Story where Buzz tried to fly and instead fell down the stairs and lost an arm and would always ask us to sing the Randy Newman vocal while he reenacted it. I was grateful we didn't have actual stairs.

Since then, we have also lived with Gromit from Wallace and Gromit, Mickey Mouse, Spiderman, Bugs Bunny, Dexter from Dexter's Laboratory, Scooby Doo and Shaggy, his current obsession. In fact, everyone at his preschool calls him Shaggy. His friend Alex pretends to be his faithful dog Scooby Doo every day, except for the day that Jarvis decided to be Tom and made Alex be Jerry. Alex went along with that too, and didn't mind when Jarvis switched gears again and decided they should be Shaggy and Scooby after all.

Costuming has become extremely important to Jarvis. My friend Liz gave Jarvis her son's raggy old Spiderman costume and I don't think he took it off for 3 months. Every few days I would make him change the long underwear he wore underneath and maybe throw it in the washer but every other second of the day he wore it, even to bed. Eventually we got him a new one.

He is very specific about his costumes although sometimes his interpretations can be a little bit free-form. His original concept of a Shaggy outfit was a too-small green striped polo shirt and red sweatpants. To my chagrin, he wanted to be Shaggy for Halloween and I found it next to impossible to find a short-sleeved green t-shirt in October. I just knew he was going to end up in his polo and sweatpants and people would feel sorry for the kid whose mom wouldn't get him a real costume. This is especially frustrating because we have a beautiful, expensive Scooby Doo costume handed down from my friend Elizabeth, who has three boys. But he didn't want to wear it this year. "Next year I'll be Scooby Doo!" he insists (actually, he has the next several years planned out. Scooby Doo, then Spiderman, then a Vampire, then Santa Claus. Then a Spooky Car. Then a Horse)

At the last minute I found a tee on clearance at Wal-mart for $2 and I dug a respectable pair of brown corduroy out of the bottom drawer. It took some convincing to get him to wear the cords because he interpreted cartoon Shaggy's rust colored cartoon pants as red but I finally showed him a picture of Matthew Lillard- the live action Shaggy, wearing brown pants and he was satisfied. I drew a "yucky beard" on his chin with black eyeliner and mussed up his already shaggy hair, and the effect was actually pretty cute.

Now he doesn't want to take the green T-shirt and brown pants off (except when it's time to morph into another character), and he's added a new factor into the equation. Black Chuck Taylors. High Tops. Since Jarvis is four years old and can't tie his own shoes, and since he requires about 20 costume changes a day, guess who is the wardrobe mistress? I rue the day I ever introduced him to the classic punk footwear, and I wish he'd just be content with his light-up Spiderman shoes that have (Oh glory be!) VELCRO but Shaggy doesn't wear shoes like that.

The funny thing about Jarvis isn't just that he loves to play pretend. The weird thing is how good he is at it. He can do a spot on Scooby Doo or Shaggy voice. He can do a pretty good impression of a baby, complete with awkward arm movements, whines and coos. He used to imitate the two year old boy I babysat for so perfectly that if I wasn't looking I didn't know which one was calling out "Eeee Monkey!" and walking on his toes past me.

I've been trying to encourage him to become an actor. He's shown that he has talent, and he has a built-in stage name! I've taken him to a play, and explained to him that there are people who get to pretend to be other people, and it's their real job. Jarvis actually got to meet a real actor over Thanksgiving. Hugh's mother's cousin John is almost 7 feet tall. He has been in Rally's commercials, has played a hatchet murderer in a horror film, and is getting ready to make a movie with Viggo Mortenson and Sam Rockwell.

Upon meeting cousin John and his family Jarvis went full speed ahead. First, I had to put on his Chuck Taylors so he could be Shaggy. Then, off with the green shirt, brown pants and Chucks and onto his new black Spiderman costume. Then, off came the costume and on came the Scooby Doo pajamas. Then he grabbed a plastic carrot and became Bugs Bunny. This went on for two hours with me assisting the entire time. I am there to tie and untie shoes, to zip and unzip, to fasten the velcro that holds on Spiderman's hood. "Cousin John is an actor Jarvis. He gets to pretend to be other people. Maybe you could be an actor too!"

But he has informed us that he wants to be a pastor, because he wants to "pour water on people's heads." Not just any pastor. Our pastor. Actually, he now wants to be a "Pastor Astronaut." He wants to "go to church, then go into space and take care of the earth." But considering that our pastor can do a pretty mean impersonation of Bill and Ted, John Wayne and yes, even Scooby Doo, maybe being a pastor is the right vocation to showcase Jarvis's talents.

I just wonder if they have VBS in space, and if the aliens will know who Scooby Doo is.