“As all the friends who’ve been real or true, wonder who you’re talkin’ to.” Ron Sexsmith
So our daughter has an imaginary friend.
This started last week. My wife was out with Audrey running some errands. They were walking down the sidewalk near some shops when all of a sudden Audrey said, “Mommy LOOK!” and gestured with her hand, like a pint-sized Vanna White.
“What? What do you see?” was my wife’s panicked response. I should say that my wife will often panic and see things that may or may not actually be about to happen. This happens mostly when we’re driving and she senses that a car, stopped sensibly at a stop sign on a side street, will all of a sudden dart out in front of us. She’ll gasp and brace for impact. The first few times she did this I would slam on the brakes and shout, “What? What’s happening? An accident?” or something. It took awhile for me to get used to the idea that my wife is quite mad, and that she’ll see potential problems where none exist. The car in question remains stopped at the stop sign, the car in the lane next to us does not cut us off, and that light that is about to turn red so we should slow actually stays defiantly green for the duration of our time in the intersection.
“Don’t look for trouble. Trouble will find you anyway. Don’t look for trouble,” was an adage espoused by one of my Geography professors, and it is one that I try to follow to this day. My wife never took Geography, obviously.
So back to last week: there was nothing on the sidewalk next to our daughter. Just snow.
“Don’t you see him? He’s cute.”
Through a little back and forth, my wife is able to ascertain that Audrey has a friend called Grumpy. He’s a Care Bear.
Jesus, I thought: Is that how far we’ve come that my kid’s imaginary friend has to have a brand name? Are Care Bears even a thing anymore? I remember my brother and I each had one growing up. I can’t remember which one my brother had. I had “Friend” Bear. Or maybe it was “Friendship” Bear? He had a couple of flowers on his chest, anyway. He was alright. Not one of my faves, but I still played with him, worked him into the routine, as it were.
I also thought: why does she have to choose “Grumpy”? I know mental illness runs like crazy in both sides of our family, so is “Grumpy” some kind of early manifestation of Depression and/or anxiety? Something akin to Churchill’s “black dogs” or Lincoln’s “melancholy”. She didn’t seem particularly grumpy or upset when “Grumpy” was around, so that’s a good sign. He walked with my daughter and wife for the length of a few shops when all of a sudden Audrey said:
“Mommy, LOOK at all of them!” and again with the Vanna sweep. Apparently now Grumpy was joined by “dozens” of tiny baby bears, all making their way down the sidewalk slightly behind Grumpy. It must have been a real magical moment, but my wife was totally freaked out by it.
Later on, I looked up “Imaginary Friends” to see what the child psychologists had to say. Not good news from Dr. Spock. He referred to it as a “problem” and that it was most common in only children because they don’t spend enough time around other kids. Thanks a lot, Spock. Yes, I know. My wife and I are both painfully aware that our daughter is an only child (not by choice) and that in addition to all the adoption issues we will probably have to deal with down the road, there is the stress of knowing our daughter won’t have a sibling with whom to grow up. And she might be bonkers.
But wait! More contemporary experts are more kind. They say it’s common for kids, regardless of whether they have siblings or not, to have imaginary friends, “even non human ones” from about age 3 to well into elementary school. So we may have Grumpy with us for a while. They also say it is a sign of creativity and intelligence. Well, we knew that about her already.
It turns out that Audrey comes by it honestly. Although my wife and I don’t remember having imaginary friends as kids, my Mom remembers that she had one when she was a little girl. She called her “Alice”. It really became a thing with her. People couldn’t sit on the bus next to her for fear of squishing her friend, there had to be an extra place sat at the table for supper, and extra books were checked out of the library for her.
My grandma got so worried, that she took my Mom to a child specialist. This was the 1940s, remember, and you didn’t go to the doctor unless you were deathly ill. These were the years before Tommy Douglas and universal health care. My grandparents didn’t have a lot of money, but this “imaginary friend” business really worried them and they paid for a special consult. To the doctor’s credit, he said all the things that modern clinicians are saying. He said that was a sign of creativity and intelligence, and not to worry about it. He said to take my Mom’s lead on it, and if she mentioned Alice, to go ahead and talk about it, but don’t bring it up unless it comes up. Sort of like my Mom’s next-door-neighbour’s gimpy arm.
So there it is. Since his first appearance, Grumpy appeared once in my presence. He’s putting appearances like Christ after the resurrection. It’s always unexpected. I stepped on him when I opened the fridge. I told Audrey that maybe if Grumpy was watching where he was going, I wouldn’t have stepped on him. Was that the wrong thing to say? Will Grumpy appear again? Stay tuned!