Three- and four- and five-year-olds, when they start firing up the imaginative play, can come up with some pretty nifty fun. They’re suddenly all about dressing up, and pretending to be animals and superheroes and princesses, and acting out little mini-dramas with their Little People. And their world begins to be peopled with new friends. Imaginary friends.
I never did have an imaginary friend. I was an odd kid, though. I remember my niece having an imaginary anti-hero. His name was Victor Knee. He was always getting into trouble. You could hear her, in the other room playing school or whatever, and Victor Knee was ALWAYS catching shit for something. “You sit on your mat, Victor Knee!” she’d say contemptuously. I found it pretty hilarious.
My daughter has always been very social. Like, from a tiny infant, she was described as “social”. So, in keeping with this, we’ve learned that she doesn’t have an imaginary friend — she has imaginary FRIENDS. Plural. Apparently, she travels in a gang.
She also has about eleventeen billion stuffed animals and dolls, so I guess I should not be surprised by the sheer number of her imaginary friends. She’s not terribly creative in how she names her dollies and such, though. A couple of them have actual names, like Dorothy the Draguana, and Lula the dog, and a duck named Henry Holden Duck, Esq. (Actually, he used to be my duck. Ahem.) But by and large, her naming convention is pretty straightforward — what you see is what you get. Her monkey is “Monkey”. Her baby dolls are all “Baby”. Her Raggedy Ann doll is “Raggedy Ann”. Oh, wait. That one doesn’t really work.
So when we learned that she had some imaginary friends, we were not surprised to learn their names were “Girls” for the pack of girls, and “Boy” for the boy. Apparently, there’s only one boy. I don’t know why, and she is not telling.
At first, I was feeling pretty badly about the fact that my kid had a crew of imaginary homegirls (and boy) hanging out with her. I felt maybe that she was lonely, and I was pretty sucktastic at entertaining her and playing with her, and so she felt the need to make up imaginary friends to keep from shrivelling up from boredom in her time home with Mom.
And then I remembered Victor Knee and OH YEAH MOM, IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU. So now I’m just rolling with it.
It’s fun to watch her interact with her friends. She sits down to lunch and then tells them where to sit, and dishes up sandwiches and milk to each friend. She chats with them in the car on the way to different places. She just generally bosses them around, politely and firmly. And she lays out some rules, which, of course, hold up a mirror to our parenting and what she hears every day.
“Be careful girls and boy, so you don’t spill your milk.”
“Now girls, don’t be silly at the table, or there will be a timeout.” (Why the boy is not admonished about being silly, I shall never know. He’s no Victor Knee, apparently.)
“Now, girls and boy, you wait in the car and have a nap while I am at soccer practice.” (This is the same rule laid out for any stuffed friend or dolly that travels with us, to avoid them getting lost. We don’t actually leave our daughter in the car while we go in to soccer practice. I DON’T EVEN PLAY SOCCER AWRIGHT?)
It has really been quite entertaining to listen to. Unfortunately, we can’t pay TOO much attention or ask too many questions because it apparently kills the mood. She gets embarrassed or something, and clams up. But it always seems to be very pleasant — she doesn’t go to them when she is upset or anything, as some kids do — and she seems to enjoy being the Bigger Girl Who Is In Charge.
Also, it does tend to get a little surreal when there’s just me and her and a gang of imaginary children in the house. There have been times when I have had to discipline the whole lot of them about being silly, and banish Girls and Boy to go in the other room because Stinkerbelle is not eating her lunch or paying attention when I am talking to her. And it’s those times when I hope to dog there’s no hidden cameras on me to witness my disciplining of kids who aren’t actually there. Proof that I am spending too long without adult conversation.
I don’t know how long this phase lasts, but it really is quite sweet. I do really love the innocence and imagination of it. I wish they all had names, like Victor Knee, that I could write down and tell her about in years to come. But I am sure that even just knowing they are Girls and Boy might bring back some happy memories for her.
I am not sure what the next phase will be, but I kind of hope that she gets counting down quickly, so I can ask her to tell me how many imaginary friends there are in Girls and Boy before they go wherever it is imaginary friends go when their time in a child’s imagination is done.