Amelia, my four-year-old, has had an imaginary friend named Shabalah since she was one. Don’t get the name? Me neither, and it’s always awkward introducing Shabalah to new people in our lives when they don’t know Amelia for the bright, creative, and perhaps emotionally disturbed child that she is. Shabalah has been with us for so long that when my daughter says something at the grocery store like “don’t forget the celery for Shabalah’s salad,” I just nod and throw the organic California celery harts into the cart, scratching ‘celery for Shabalah’ off my shopping list. She is part of the family – and I have come to take a certain pride in the fact that my daughter’s imaginary friend doesn’t have an everyday-name like Fred or Sally. Shabalah is exotic-sounding and for my sister Lori, a little scary. We aren’t allowed to talk about Shabalah in front of Aunt Lori.
New friends have come into our lives because Shabalah has been in Texas. I don’t know what she’s doing there – if she’s visiting family, or has a job interview, or maybe she’s a Cowboys fan? But she’s been gone for a few weeks, so Amelia has busied herself with a cast of imaginary playmates who need to be picked up at the corner of Eastern and Jefferson every day on our way home. There’s Karen, Allan, Vanessa, and Maness (who I once confused for Vanessa, but is apparently a different person altogether – a baby, in fact). Every time we stop, Amelia sends Allan to the trunk. I have not bothered asking her why this is – I am just thankful that I am permitted to continue driving the car.
After hearing Amelia describe in great detail what all these friends do, the mother of one of her real friends suggested I take her to a behavioral specialist for screening. I gave the woman my best fake smile and nodded. The truth is I think it allows her to be creative and resourceful and maybe I’m missing a larger psychological problem, but I do not discourage Amelia’s imaginary play.
Sure, on occasion she demonstrates some of the same antisocial behaviors that her mother has. If a kid she does not know approaches her at the park, or tries to talk to her in a store, Amelia will frown and look at me like the universe has tilted. And I understand this, because I am an introvert who is instantly mistrustful of others. I do not participate in teams or groups. Not wanting her to end up cynical and alone like her mother, and with the same food addictions, I have encouraged my child to be more social and to make real friends in addition to Shabalah et al.
And she has. Once she gets to know a person she warms up, and becomes fast friends. Watching her effectively establish real relationships has kept me relaxed about Shabalah and the crew, and helped me trust that she will be a productive member of society and not a hermit writer crouched in the corner of a Unabomber shed, biting her nails and binging on M&Ms. Hooray.
I do hope Shabalah comes home soon. I miss hearing about her, and people are asking what she’s up to. Mostly, I miss freaking out Aunt Lori.
Causes Cari Oleskewicz Supports
Doctors Without Borders