My three-year-old son has an imaginary friend. His name is Bob. There’s nothing unusual in this – we’ve researched it and apparently around a third of all children have an imaginary friend at some point. It’s a sign of their creativity obviously. I didn’t have an imaginary friend (none of them liked me) but my vision of one is someone or thing who might need a place setting for dinner or an extra pot of Play-doh provided or a pillow on the bedroom floor for a sleepover. Bob however is an imaginary friend in absentia. We’ve never been made aware of his presence in the house, he is always only mentioned in dispatches. We’ve invited him over several times but he always has tummy-ache.
Bob is also 23. He lets my son sit on his lap and they watch cartoons on his computer together.
Again I’ve looked on the internet and dreaming up a grown-up imaginary friend is entirely normal. However I felt the need to delve a little further into Bob, just in case he turned out to be real and a creepy caretaker at his nursery or something.
My son has described Bob as a work friend. Bob’s dad is also called Bob and his mum is called Sheila. He has a brother, Bob, and a sister, Bobbie. Bob is also married. His wife is called Sheila. He has twin babies, Gom and LaLa. Bob’s specialty in the kitchen is chicken dishes: strawberry chicken, blueberry chicken and most exotically pencil chicken. Bob also does a mean jelly stew. Bob looks like a brown dog and he feeds eggs to chickens. The more I learnt about Bob the less I liked him, I mean he feeds eggs to chickens. Although I am at least now satisfied he only resides in my son’s increasingly eccentric head.
Bob gets snuggles where I don’t. He seems to be a better version of me, more fun, more liberal, more snuggly. My son asked me if we could build a den in the back of our car. I told him that the car wasn’t big enough. My son said that Bob’s car is big enough. Now I just feel resentment towards Bob.
Last night wasn’t especially funny however. Just before bedtime my son announced that Bob was coming over for a party, in fact he was four minutes’ away in his car. The two of them were planning to go up to the spare room on the top floor of our house and play games, dance and eat steaks together. Understandably my son was reluctant to get into bed with such an exciting night of festivities in prospect. I’ve often found on occasions such as this that parental strategy is devised on that hoof and that tactics can change several times in the course of a few minutes.
Firstly I let him that know Bob unfortunately was unable to get a babysitter for Gom and LaLa (perhaps Sheila was at Zumba or something). This news was met with tears. Not over-tired tears, but big wet tears of genuine sadness. I then tried to explain gently that of course Bob wasn’t real, we made him up like we do with some of our stories. Sad, dramatic tears the size of orange pips rolled down his face.
Finally I suggested that perhaps he should have a power-nap (a snoozle-woozle in his terms) to prepare for the party and that his mother would come and wake him up when Bob arrived. This seemed to pacify him for a while but the continuing exhilaration at the thought of the impending Bob prevented him from settling down for another two hours.
Eventually his mum came up to found out what was happening, which allowed me to go and eat my tea (pencil chicken with HB sauce – hmm delish). As I walked downstairs, violent bawling ensued as the little boy evidently discovered that his mother hadn’t arrived to tell him Bob was here. Eventually fatigue gripped his little frame and he went to sleep.
Last night’s incident is archetypal of the bittersweet parental experience – that tears or laughter or both are never far away. As ever my wife and I are planning just to ignore the problem, to play along with Bob until he goes away. Or we get a restraining order.