Did you have an imaginary friend when you were a child? Mine was a cocker spaniel named Annabel. I can only think my choice of friend sprang from a combination of a neighbor having a cocker spaniel and my having seen Disney’s Lady and the Tramp. Where the name came from is a mystery. I recall my mother telling the story of my uncle starting to sit down in his easy chair only to have me say, “No, no Uncle Graz, you’re about to sit on Annabel.” She was real to me even if no one else could see her.
I was reminded of my long ago friend when I saw this title in the Sunday paper: A salute to imaginary friends and other self-directed play. My parenting experience has been limited to cats and dogs, but for some reason, I still occasionally read John Rosemond’s weekly columns on parenting. He’s a family psychologist who offers down to earth advice to today’s parents. He’s old school, which is fine by me, and often rebukes helicopter parents and those who “worry about all manner of things that deserve not even second thoughts.” This week’s unnecessary worry was about imaginary friends.
Yes, today’s parents worry about their children having and believing in imaginary friends. I’m sure it never occurred to my parents to worry about Annabel. Rosemond thinks that “imaginary friends sharpen language and social skills” in children. It’s not only okay but also a plus for children to be able to play by themselves with or without imaginary friends—and without a digital device—according to Rosemond.
Do you remember lying on the floor with crayons and coloring books or puzzles, having a tea party with your dolls, or arranging your toy soldiers for the next big battle? Those are activities we could spend hours on, either on our own or with friends. I also spent plenty of time with my picture books, long before I could read. I just had a flashback to the 78 rpm albums my mom used to play for me on the—gulp—Victrola record player. Some were musical, with songs like How much is that doggy in the window, while others told stories of Chicken Little and Mighty Mouse.
The memory of the albums sparked a vision of the Dale Evans cowgirl outfit Santa brought me just before my January birthday. My sister was born on that fourth birthday and was a colicky baby, so I’m sure I was left to amuse myself for many months after she arrived. The Christmas photos of a sled, new baby dolls, and my own personal table and chairs in front of the tree remind me that I was one lucky little girl with plenty of options for solitary play. I suspect my imaginary friend Annabel may have quietly disappeared around that time, but I still remember her fondly.