Imaginary Friends and Other Surreal Parenting Experiences

Imaginary friends. A lot of kids have them. Of my 10 children, I’ve only had 4 or 5 mention their imaginary friend. The others might have had one but just never bothered to tell me. Right now my 5 and 3 year old are very “in tune” with their imaginary friends. They like to talk about their imaginary friends. Their imaginary friends are present often. Phoebe, 5 yrs old, has an imaginary friend named Sparkles. It fits. Phoebe has a sparkly personality and she loves sparkles. Sparkles lives in Imaginary Land, a place where you can eat as much ice cream as you want and there is no bedtime. Pretty standard. Routine. Little girl living out her little fantasy. Cute.

Then we have David (3 yrs old). David is special. I mean that in the most interesting sense of the word. Nothing is normal with David. David also has an imaginary friend. The imaginary friend’s name is David. Yes, same name. David, of the imaginary world, is the Real David’s brother, so I’ve been told. Brother David sits in the same car seat as the Real David. And Brother David is invisible.

We were sitting in the car line at the elementary school, waiting to pick up the school kids, when David first introduced me to Invisible Brother David. Parenting is a surreal experience. I know this because I smiled, and said, Ok. Nice to meet you Invisible Brother David. (It has been my observation that there are 2 types of parents. The parents who insist on keeping their kids in the Real World, and the parents who just play along. I am obviously one who plays along and even helps the kid embellish their story. It just fits with my sense of humor.) As I spent some time getting to know this Invisible Brother David it did occur to me that if I was having this conversation with another adult, I would be backing away as carefully as I could and trying to flee this dangerously disturbed individual.. But when the person is 3 years old, you just smile and say hi to Invisible Brother David. I even gave Invisible Brother David a box of raisins to eat for his snack. Fortunately, since he was sitting in the same car seat as the Real David, it wasn’t too awkward. The Real David went ahead and ate the raisins because, somehow, that made sense to him.

David, being David, decided to take this imaginary world to a new level today. We were going to the lake and he was running around in his swimming trunks, but he hadn’t put on a shirt yet. I told him to go upstairs to his room and get his swimming shirt out of his chest of drawers. He looked at me in that calculating way that he has and said, I don’t want to go upstairs. I said, Too bad. Go upstairs and get your shirt. And I gave him the evil eye. He looked at me and guessed, correctly, that refusing wasn’t going to work. So, he came at the problem from a different angle. He raised his wooden sword that he happened to be holding and said, This is my magic wand. I’m going to wave my magic wand and my swim shirt will appear!

This was a new tactic I hadn’t seen before. I did not have a ready answer to that one. He looked at me steadily, waved his sword around, made some “swishing” sounds and then looked at me proudly. See! Here’s my swim shirt! And he pointed at his naked chest…Ummmm.  I kind of felt like I had entered the “Emperor’s New Clothes” story. David, I hate to tell you this, but you are not wearing a swim shirt. In fact, your swim shirt is still upstairs in your room, and you still have to go upstairs and get it. We then engaged in a several minutes long conversation where he tried to persuade me that his magic wand worked and he was wearing a swim shirt. Surreal. Well, at least he didn’t send Invisible Brother David to fetch the shirt.  

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