Quincy, who has traditionally been the sweet, quiet and more reserved of our litter, has recently come out of her shell and started talking incessantly. She’s not talking about just your everyday run-of-the-mill stuff though, like what she did in pre-k that day, which of her sisters is irritating her, or what snack she would like in the afternoon. Frankly put, it’s crazy talk. For example, she’ll say to me, “My brother’s name is Jacob and he died.” When I remind her that unfortunately she doesn’t have a brother named Jacob so he couldn’t possibly have died I get, “(sigh) Mom, I’m talking about my other family!” as if I should know intuitively that when she says something that is a complete fabrication she has simply teleported herself to an alternate universe.
After a few weeks of this, I decided to play along with her. We now have complete conversations about her imaginary family, both of us talking and adding features to this family. Believe it or not this is the first of our four children to actually have not just an imaginary friend, but a whole imaginary family. The other kids have very active and vivid imaginations, too, which has always made watching their “pretend play” extremely entertaining. They will occasionally refer to a pretend pet, or sibling, or boyfriend even, but always in the context of the activity they are engaged in at the time. Quincy is the only one to actually carry this family with her wherever she goes.
I began to think that maybe this wasn’t necessarily all that healthy, though. And I have worried that my playing along and even encouraging her was even more unhealthy. So I did what I always do first, I googled it. The first article that came up was “Imaginary Friends and the Gifted Child”. “A-ha! She’s a GENIUS, I thought! Or at the least, some kind of savant. Well, not exactly. As I read past the title of the article, I discovered that it is only one of several characteristics of a gifted child. It is a normal part of every child’s development, and even encouraged unless it seems that they are retreating a little too far or having trouble distinguishing between fantasy and reality. Since to my knowledge she hasn’t spoken to them while we’re at the mall, introduced them to her friends at school, or told the hostess at the restaurant that we are a party of 10 instead of 6, I think we’re safe. There are other reasons she may get sent to therapy (fodder for future blog posts), but this isn’t one of them.
Researching this issue in the context of childhood development, as well as having just watched Sex and The City again for the umpteenth time, has given me cause to examine my own alternate universe. The fantasy lives I have created for myself and that I carry with me every day. I can’t help but wonder, “Is having a rich fantasy life the sign of a bored middle-class, middle-aged mom or the sign of a genius undiscovered?”