When I was about 10 years old, I overheard my then-5-year-old sister talking in her bedroom. I wandered in to see who was visiting.
There was nobody there.
"Natalie, who are you talking to?"
"My friends," she said nonchalantly.
"Umm... what friends?" I asked, looking around at the empty room.
"My friends," she said impatiently. "Over there," she said pointing to nothing in particular.
"Oooh," I said, not understanding at all. "Your friends. Over there. And what are your friends' names?"
"Cob and Laytit Sassis," she responded, not skipping a beat. Then she returned to combing her Barbie doll's hair.
I started to laugh. "Mom," I remember calling, "Natalie has imaginary friends. Their names are Cob and Laytit Sassis."
I remember my mother laughing, but there was a worried look on her face. She never tried to talk Natalie out of her imaginary friends, but I could tell they made her uncomfortable, and I'm not sure why. What could my mother have been afraid of -- that my sister's imaginary friends were a sign of some sort of mental disorder? That my sister was seeing ghosts? Should I have been worried?
Now, thirtycoughcough years later, I have a 5-year-old daughter with an equally active imagination. Alex doesn't call the people she imagines her "friends," however, she calls them her "babies." "My babies are excellent swimmers," she'll tell me sometimes. Or, "today is my babies' birthday. They'll be 11."
Further investigation has revealed that Alex's babies have names, but the names change from day to day. They don't live in our house, but actually live in a baby hotel, where they can get room service. There are sometimes 3 babies, sometimes 7, sometimes 2. They have about 235 birthdays each year, and sometimes they're 3 years old, sometimes they're newborns, sometimes they're teenagers. They know Hannah Montana personally. And they've been a part of Alex's life for about 2 years now, and don't seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.
Personally, I enjoy Alex's babies -- they've been great launching pads for some pretty profound discussions. When my grandmother died last week, Alex solemnly informed me that one of her babies died as well (she's since been resurrected). As a result of this proclamation, we had a long discussion of what death means, and what we believe happens after you die. When Alex told me that her babies were just born, we talked about how it feels to have a newborn baby and be a new mother, and how you take care of a newborn baby. When Alex lamented one day that she was forced to put her babies in the "Naughty Corner," we launched into a discussion of why mommies discipline, and how discipline is really a form of love.
I'm sure one day Alex's babies will fade into the ether, and become distant memories. But when that day comes, I suspect I'll miss them, and the conversations they've inspired. Alex's imagination is definitely been one of the reasons we're as close as we are. Hopefully, imaginary friends or no, that will continue.
Karen Walrond is a writer and photographer in Houston, Texas. You can read and see more of her work at Chookooloonks.