My 5-year-old has an imaginary friend. Her name is Salice—you know, like Alice with an S. I’m not sure where he came up with that one; to the best of my knowledge, there’s no Salice on any Disney Junior or PBS Kids shows.
After careful cross-examination, I’ve learned that Salice is older than my son but not “old enough to drive a car.” She has purple hair that she wears in a “braid like Elsa” and she really, really likes soup. I guess I should give my kid props for creativity and imagination, but I have several good reasons for thinking my kid’s imaginary friend is a real-life pain in my ass.
1. Its Just Effing Annoying
While I try to extend appropriate hospitality to my kids’ friends, this kid won’t ever leave my house. What am I supposed to do? Call her imaginary mom and say, “Bitch, get in your imaginary minivan and come pick up your kid?”
At first I thought it was amusing, so I played along. Big mistake. Huge. I’m often asked to set an extra place at the dinner table and to help little she-who-must-not-be-seen buckle her seatbelt in our minivan. By the way, I dish up imaginary food on an imaginary plate. I don’t let things go too far.
By opening the door to this make-believe playmate, I’ve sanctioned her now almost constant presence in our house. I have to watch where I walk and sit, because naturally, this invisible kid is partial to the corner of the couch that clearly bears the imprint of my buttocks. My kid’s latest move is relaying Salice’s comments on my house rules: basic stuff like “clean your room” and “we don’t stand on bookshelves.” Apparently, she thinks I need to loosen up a bit. Whatever, brat.
2. It’s Creepy
Our house is relatively new and I don’t believe in ghosts, but there’s some element of The Sixth Sense to all of this. I’m secretly afraid I’m one step away from my kid whispering, “I see dead people.” If that happens, I’ll probably have heart failure.
While I tell myself that my son’s imaginary friendship is harmless and normal, there’s a small part of me that gets the heebie-jeebies when my kid is talking to someone who’s not really there. Or is she? Not gonna lie—it makes the hairs on my neck stand up. And also, I lie awake at night hoping our subdivision wasn’t built on an ancient burial ground.
3. He Doesn’t Accept Responsibility
My son’s imaginary friend gets blamed for illegally swiped pre-dinner cookies, for anything that breaks or spills, for random trash that doesn’t quite make it into the bin, and once, for an entire roll of toilet paper being wasted in an attempt to fashion a superhero cape (by the way, don’t try to make a superhero cape out of TP—just don’t).
I know kids this age are testing their boundaries and that my son is trying to learn where the line is drawn. I get that. Maybe I’d blame my grown-up oopsies on a make-believe person if I thought that I could get away with it, but I don’t want to give my child any sort of security that “my friend did it” is a get-out-of-jail-free card. I haven’t given him any leeway on this yet, but he keeps trying, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t concern me.
4. I’m Afraid People Will Poke Fun or Misunderstand
So far, my son has good social skills and seems to be on track with age-appropriate interactions with his real-life peers. I’ve never told him his purple-haired friend isn’t real, and I’ve never chastised him or spoken negatively about the fact that she exists for him, even when she parks her imaginary little rear end on my special seat on the couch or gets in our minivan uninvited when I’m in a hurry. I know having an imaginary playmate is just a thing for some kids.
I wonder if he thinks there’s something missing on some level. Would he invent a person if there weren’t some sort of void in his life? Will his teacher treat him like “that kid” or send him to the school psychologist if he gets caught passing imaginary notes during class? I might be overreacting, but I worry that the other kids are going to think he’s weird and not want to play with him because he’s the kid who talks to the air.
Parenting a child who chooses to stand out instead of fitting in is a bittersweet challenge, and really, I don’t know if my son will be that kind of kid. He is still figuring out who he wants to be and how to leave his mark on the world. Right now, he’s doing that with an imaginary, purple-haired sidekick who seems to give him nothing but happiness. And while I’m still faintly uneasy about the whole thing, I remind myself that his real-life friends get on my nerves too. At least this kid is a whole lot quieter.
I guess for now, his imaginary friend is here to stay. Maybe one day she won’t be. I’m pretty sure Salice won’t still be hanging around when he goes off to college, and if she is, I’ll just have to find a way to deal with it. After all, she’s his friend, not mine.
Now, if I could only find a way to keep those visions of the spooky twins from The Shining standing in front of the elevator and chanting “come play with us, Danny, forever, and ever, and ever” from creeping into my thoughts.