How did it come to be that he has so many hats? Well, as a toddler, his eyes seemed extra sensitive to light, so I trained him to wear hats and sunglasses. He learned very quickly that the hats and glasses helped him enjoy being outside, so he would leave them on. It progressed from there.
I started him off with a nice wide rimmed hat, almost safari style. I don’t know if he loved it as much as I did, but I was very upset when his dad (the ex) lost it. How do you lose a kid’s hat? Argh! I couldn’t find the exact hat to replace it, so settled for a floppy, denim hat. Then I had to find one of those blue and white striped engineer hats to match the adorable bib overall’s. Revelation! I think I must have ignited his obsession!
When he started Early Intervention Pre-School at age three, I bought a baseball cap with the school logo. He still has this one and sometimes he does wear it. I’m not sure what came next, but family members started giving him hats. On a visit to Pennsylvania, a cousin gave him a Pittsburgh Pirates cap and a Sponge Bob cap. He still has the Pirates cap, but I’m not sure what might have happened to Sponge Bob (could it have disappeared because I don’t like Sponge Bob?).
My parents gave him two camo rain hats which at the time were too big. But he wore them anyway. He still has these and wears them when it rains, although I think one of them needs some repair. My dad had an extensive collection of ball caps, mostly Oakland Raiders, Navy related, or places he’d been that he thought were cool. I would buy him hats as gifts. Revelation! I think this hat obsession must be in the genes!
He was given his first cowboy hat as a package of goodies when he participated in the Li’l Pardners Rodeo for kids with special needs. It was a huge white hat, so his official cowboy partner, (provided by The Livermore Rodeo who sponsors the event) showed us how to tuck a rolled up napkin inside the band so he could wear it. After the rodeo, I put this hat away as it was a very nice cowboy hat, white, and too big. It fits now, and is worn frequently.
Moving to Pennsylvania in 2005 brought on a new slew of hat needs. The local school team cap, more Pittsburgh Pirates and Steelers caps. More gifts from family members. Oh, and after his first Halloween, when one of his classroom aides wore a Dale Earnhardt Jr. helmet, he asked for a helmet. I wasn’t spending the money for a Nascar helmet, but a shiny, black motorcycle helmet did the job.
Wendell started Miracle League Baseball which gave him 2 Oriole’s caps and 3 Dodger’s caps; each season the player’s get new uniforms and caps, even if they are on the same team.
In 2007, Wendell and I visited my parents in Elko, Nevada. We spent a scorching 100 degree afternoon strolling around the annual Elko Motorcycle Jamboree. You would expect to see helmets, but there were more cowboy clad heads, probably due to the burning heat. So naturally, he required a straw cowboy hat. It had a wire around the brim so it could be shaped. I say had because the wire was recently removed from six years of loving abuse. Due to the deterioration of the straw, replacements were sought out and purchased.
Also coming from the Jamboree was a little stuffed bear decked out in a leather jacket and pants, sporting a red, white and blue bandana…I’m sure you guessed, he had to have a bandana. Fortunately, the leather goods didn’t interest him.
He is lucky and wins hats too, whenever there is a door prize or drawing, he always wins one. They must be rigged. And he has a propensity for attempting trades with people, including strangers (no stranger danger here). When he can get away with it, he frequently absconds with DJ’s hats. Since most of DJ’s hats are now in Wendell’s possession, there aren’t any desirable prospects remaining.
After my dad passed from an unexpected illness in 2011, Wendell inherited most of my dad’s extensive ball cap collection. There were numerous unworn caps with tags still attached, several of which I had given as gifts. Mom and I weeded out the tattered and dirty ones, then selected the best and favorites of my dad. Quite a few also became favorites for Wendell.
Captain Jack Sparrow sparked his desire for a tricornered pirate hat. This doubles as a George Washington hat when he watches The Peanuts, This is America, which also fueled pleas for a “Squanto” hat, aka felt headband with felt feathers. For Christmas, I gave him a Pilgrim hat since The Peanuts also came across on the Mayflower, and DJ and I spent a weekend in Massachusetts and visited Plymouth. Spiderman doesn’t wear a hat, but he does wear a mask, also a Christmas gift.
Hats also have names; fishing hat, blue hat, ship hat, captain hat, beach hat, cowboy hat (with six from which to choose, it’s up to me to figure out which), pirate hat, Captain Jack Sparrow hat, Neal Caffrey hat (yes and he looks extremely handsome in it), Coke hat, football hat, shark hat, indian hat, straw hat, and DJ’s hat. So MANY hats, I had to count and take inventory…61 and counting!
This is where the perseverating starts. With so many hats, Wendell can’t always decide which one to wear or play with. Frequently, he can be seen with two or more hats precariously perched atop his head. He models them in front of the mirror, rotating front to back to front again. He tries to place them on others’ heads to see how they look. He carts them back and forth across the breezeway between our house and my mom’s apartment where he lines them up on the back of her couch to look at them.
He’s not permitted to wear hats to the dinner table, so they sit close by on a bench. Their safety is checked repeatedly during the meal, much to the distraction of everyone. The hats also make getting dressed for school a tedious, drawn out process. We have to look at and talk about this one and that one. Be reminded and discuss how hats are not allowed to go to school. If breakfast went particularly well, he may select ONE hat which must fit in his backpack for school. There, he can earn time to play with his hat as a reward for working hard. He rushes in from the school van to search out his favorite hats and make sure, “Nobody touch my hats!”.
Wendell loves to shop, thanks to his dad. Choosing a hat to wear shopping is another major production. Often, two hats will travel in the truck, but only one can be worn in the store. Why? Because you only have one head. I try to steer him to less conspicuous choices, but sometimes I have to suck it up and shop with a pirate, or a shark, or a jester. When people point and whisper, I just smile. He’s happy and that is all that matters in the end.
Just when I think there can’t be anymore styles to be added, Wendell comes up with “sombrero”. Guess what Grandma bought for his birthday next week? And I’m certain Pappy and Mom Mom will also come up with something new and unique.
As you can see, hats play an important role in the life of one boy with Autism. There are worse things he could have been drawn to instead. He gets so much pleasure and enjoyment from his hat collection; the last thing he says every night, “Good Night Hats!” So, we keep accumulating hats.
A complete list (to the best of my knowledge) follows…
1 Donlon Cubs; 3 Oakland Raiders caps; 6 Cowboy (2 black, 1 white, 1 red, 2 straw); 3 Indiana Jones style; 1 Neal Caffrey style; 3 Coca-Cola caps; 2 Pittsburgh Steelers caps; 4 Williamsburg caps; 1 Life Flight cap; 2 USS Paricutin caps; 1 blue bomber; 1 Jester; 1 Orange Hunting cap; 3 Dodgers caps; 2 Orioles caps; 2 National Guard Booney hats; 1 rainbow wig; 1 Route 66 cap; 1 Pittsburgh Pirates cap; 1 Tasmanian Devil bomber hat; 1 Coonskin hat; 1 Pilgrim hat; 2 Tricornered Pirate hats; 1 Fireman helmet; 1 Construction helmet; 1 Motorcycle helmet; 2 Camo rain hats; 1 Turtle visor; 1 Shark visor; 1 Spiderman Talking Mask; 1 Humahumanukunukuapua’a cap; 1 Felt Indian Headband; 6 Bandanas; 1 Chaffhaye cap; 1 Disney cap; 1 Straw Beach hat; and pending, 1 Sombrero!