His New Friend

A new kid has arrived in the neighborhood. He shows up to play at the oddest times or at our dinner table. He even stopped by when we went to the beach. He likes snacks. His birthday is coming up. My four year old whispers to me when he is here, “Mom, you know that friend I told you about…”

I have not met his mother. I cannot ask her to call before she sends him to our house. And I can’t let my son go to their house.

Because this is our family’s first imaginary friend. And only our four year old can see him.

I thought imaginary friends were for younger toddlers, not toddlers on the verge of boyhood. I thought imaginary friends were for kids who had no one to play with, but he is my most social child, constantly playing with two brothers, his cousin, and numerous friends. I thought they were for kids who felt lonely. He rarely has a moment to himself.

I had three imaginary friends — King, Queen and Rooster — when I was two. My then-pregnant mother had to leave room on the floor so my three oddly named friends could join us in our daily exercises. I am guessing, though I do not remember my friends, that I was worried about what my coming sister meant for me. Seems reasonable to invent a slew of friends who will be there for you when a new sibling steals the attention of your parents, right?

I cannot think of anything so monumental for my son to be worrying about.

He named his new friend after himself, so now there are two. A team. A force to reckon with.

He seems to know that he shouldn’t talk about his imaginary friend when his brothers are around. He knows that the eight year old will set him straight, and he seems to purposefully avoid visits when his brothers are in the room. Or he whispers again, “Mom, you know that friend I told you about…” and refuses to speak if his brothers ask what he said.

So I did what any normal mom does these days upon facing a new challenge with kids. I looked it up on the Internet. Apparently, most kids between three and five invent an imaginary friend at some point. Often the new friend arrives at their doorstep for the first time right before school starts. Kids with imaginary friends tend to be creative, social, empathetic and have a strong vocabulary. Imaginary friends tend to stay for a few months and then slowly disappear when whatever transition the child is working through is complete.

Phew! He’s not crazy. His friend seems like a good friend who lets my son pick the game, doesn’t boss him around, follows my son’s made-up rules, and only sometimes wins the game.

And school starts today.

All will be okay for my little guy and his imaginary friend, who shares his name.

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