Back in the spring, we let a friend of Eleanor’s move into our house. Well, more accurately, Eleanor told us that a friend was moving in, an imaginary friend. Deer, as her name suggests, is a deer, and she has become Eleanor’s best friend. Eleanor had imagined a few other creatures in the past, most notably a cat who lurked in her bedroom at night, but they always disappeared after a few weeks.
Deer stuck around and made herself very comfortable. She began to demand meals, so we poured a bowl of cereal for her each morning (Though she prefers cupcakes with sprinkles.). She needed a bed, so we laid a blanket and pillow on the floor in Eleanor’s room. We buckled Deer’s seatbelt in the car and caught her as she jumped into the swimming pool. Deer liked our house so much that she began to bring over her friends, first a boy named Khana, then a girl named Corna, and finally a mouse named Squeak.
Eleanor calls her pretend friends’ parents regularly, seeking permission for their children to come play. She throws birthday parties and sets out picnics for them nearly every day. She talks to her real-life friends about Deer and becomes upset when they don’t enter her imaginary world.
At first, the imaginary friends upset me. Eleanor knows that she has a sister who is not here, and for me, these invisible friends provided tangible proof of her loss. She was so lonely that she had invented playmates. After a bit of research on imaginary friends, I had to set aside my worry.
Scientists have found that children use imaginary friends to practice verbal and social skills, and often do better in school than their peers. Eleanor’s friends are here to nurture her mind. She doesn’t have some deep emotional scar; I do.
Deer still lives with us, but Khana, Corna, and Squeak are visiting less frequently now. They seem to always be jetting off on vacation or catching a cold that keeps them in bed. I miss them already.
(Photo of Deer’s birthday party.)