My daughter keeps me on my toes all the time, but there was a time between the ages of three to five when I had to dodge the obstacle course of her imaginary friends. Dani wasn’t one of those kids that woke up early on weekend mornings needing to be entertained; instead, she’d rise in the wee hours of the morning and be completely content to absorb herself in the magical world she created in her own bedroom.
At the breakfast table on Saturday morning when she was three, I put her pancakes and fruit on the table in front of her.
“Mommy, can Tommy have a pancake, too?”
Having no idea what she was talking about, I asked, “Tommy?”
“Don’t you see him?” She asked with a puzzled look on her face.
“Maybe my eyes are a little foggy this morning. What does he look like? Where is he sitting?”
She looked at me like I’d lost my mind. “He’s right there, Mommy,” she said, pointing to the chair beside her. I played along and put a pancake in front of the empty chair.
“How did we get a little boy named Tommy?” I asked her
“He’s not a boy!” She looked over at Tommy and giggled hysterically. “He’s a dog, Mom. A pink dog with purple polka dots.”
Tommy evidently talked so only she could hear, and he decided he didn’t like pancakes. The little pink dog stayed with us for a couple years, although the need for setting a place for him at the table and kissing him goodnight slowly faded away.
There was an array of imaginary friends that showed up over the next couple of years, each having their own unique quality that she apparently needed at the time. I was surprised when Robin showed up–yes, Batman’s side kick. Batman would occasionally appear, but not often. One morning while trying to get out of the house for preschool and work, I put Dani in the back seat of the minivan and buckled her in. As I shut the door, a high-pitched keening cry came from my daughter, which made my heart drop to my feet. I opened the door with lightening speed and had her unbuckled and in my arms in less than five seconds.
“Dani, what is it?”
“You shut the door on Robin’s leg. He’s hurt really, really bad.”
I moved so Robin could sit beside her on the van seat and made a big deal about kissing the booboo on his leg, all the while apologizing for slamming the van door on him. Once Robin was consoled to her satisfaction, I also buckled him in and we were on our way.
While I didn’t escalate the play with her imaginary friends, I would play along when needed. I don’t feel it caused her too much damage, as she is a well-adjusted, independent, and imaginative adult today. I did, however, encourage her to dream big and imagine that she could be whatever she wanted to be–and she did it. As the saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” In Dani’s case, it took her parents, a village, and few imaginary friends.