My son has a wonderful imagination. At least, I hope he does, because that’s less alarming than all the other possible reasons I keep overhearing his conversations with stuffed animals, a giant invisible squid, and someone named Booger (although that last one might have been an actual booger, now that I think about it.)
Caleb’s been doing the imaginary friend thing for a while now. I remember the first interloper well. His name was Totempole. We didn’t get along, Totempole and I. He made messes all over the apartment and said the most cheeky things under his breath whenever I was trying to impart a Valuable Lesson to my impressionable then-two-year-old. He dawdled, smacked his gum, told jokes when it was time to go to sleep, and basically challenged my authority at every turn. I also suspect he left the lid up on the toilet the night I accidentally fell in, but the evidence was inconclusive.
Fortunately, Totempole eventually moved on, presumably to wreak havoc on some other family, and a few weeks later, in the middle of dinner, Franken showed up to finish Caleb’s unwanted, half-eaten cheeseburger. He was quiet and respectful and rarely even spoke to me, unless it was to ask nicely for a piece of candy after I’d given Caleb one. Franken went on lots of trips with us, but I often didn’t even know he was in the car until Caleb asked me to help him with his seat belt.
We still see Franken occasionally, but Caleb has widened his circle of friends considerably in the past year. The aforementioned giant squid apparently possesses the knack of flying through the air. I heard Caleb chattering away to him last week as we walked through the mall. Just before we got to the car, Caleb said, “Where are you going? To the deep ocean? Okay, bye.” I hope he found his way all right; it’s a few hundred miles to the nearest beach. Then, yesterday, we were leaving for school when Caleb turned around and said, “Bye, kid.”
“What kid are you talking about?” I asked.
“The pumpkin head kid,” he told me, looking at me with great patience and pointing to our freshly carved jack-o-lantern.
They say that the appearance of imaginary playmates is a healthy developmental step, a little bit of magic performed by a mind that still hasn’t quite solidified the line between fantasy and reality. Totempole and the invisible squid live in a temporary twilight that only shines on childhood. And I suspect the day will come all too soon when we’ll see the back of Franken as he walks away for the last time.
In the meantime, though, at least my boy won’t be lonely. His friends are everywhere.