With three kids around the house, I often wonder who's running the show. On any day, one kid might need more attention than another. It's a good day when I feel like I'm running the show. Over the past year, I've felt like Kelly has been running the show. Who's Kelly? Great question. Kelly is almost always with us. As Audrey's imaginary friend, she can be seen (or not seen, as the case may be) all over the house, out in public, fighting fires, climbing ropes, sliding down slides, and running after our car as we drive away.
Audrey: (spontaneously screaming) Mommy! Stop the car!
me: What? Why?
Audrey: Because Kelly is chasing behind our car! We need to pick her up! Stop the car!
me: No - I'm not going to do that.
Audrey: (distressed) But she is RUNNING. AFTER. THE CAR!
me: Well then she has to catch up with us at the next stop light. I'm not stopping the car.
Or when Audrey's supposed to be in bed for the night:
Audrey: Wait, Mommy, I need to get one more thing.
me: No you don't. It's time to be in bed, no more getting out of bed.
Audrey: No! No! I just need to get Kelly.
Because she's not talking about a drink of water or a kleenex or a stuffed animal, it always makes me pause. Then in that brief moment, she's up, across the dark room, and over to the door. She opens the door quietly, talking to the air right around her knees, and she's usually whispering so quietly I can't hear. She then reaches out - again, to the air around her knees - picks up something, carries it back to her bed, and settles into her covers peacefully.
Sometimes I wonder if this is truly an imaginary friend or if Audrey is actually seeing someone.
me: So what does Kelly look like?
Audrey: Well... she's a little girl. She's 4.
me: Oh, really? A little bit older than you, huh?
Audrey: Yeah, she's older than me.
me: What does she wear? Is she in jeans and a shirt like you have on?
Audrey: Well, Kelly likes to wear dresses. They're pretty.
me: What color is her dress?
me: Does she have blonde hair like you have?
Audrey: Uh... no. She has white hair.
She has white hair and a white dress? Does she glow while she walks?! Or float?!? Is she in period attire?
An imaginary friend is one thing, but there are times when Kelly seems to cause a little trouble. For instance, one day Audrey made it all the way to the restroom, ready to sit on the toilet and then proceeded to pee in her pants.
me: Oh, Audrey - what happened? Why didn't you pee in the potty?
Audrey: Because Kelly told me not to.
Or while eating dinner...
me: Audrey, you need to finish vegetables if you want to have some dessert.
Audrey: I don't want any dessert.
me: Are you sure? When we pull out ice cream, you may want some.
Audrey: Kelly told me not to eat my green beans, so I'm not going to eat them.
In the bath, Audrey will ask me to save a place for Kelly; smashed somewhere between her and Frances' large blue baby tub. The other night Audrey asked me to get Kelly dressed for bed first. When I pantomimed dressing a little girl about Audrey's height, she told me I was doing it wrong. Clearly, I was promptly informed, Kelly didn't have a nightgown like Audrey, but rather some other kind of pajamas that required a totally different way of dressing.
One day when Audrey was in trouble at church, I took her to the back lobby so she could continue to make loud, non-specific word sounds out of earshot of the rest of the congregation.
me: (quietly) Audrey, you are going to sit out here until you can quiet down enough to go back to your seat. No books, crayons or toys back here. You sit until you can quiet down.
I walked away from her so I could attempt to listen to the priest speaking. I tried to imagine that no one else in this very tiny church could hear my daughter shouting. Audrey watched me for awhile, then flung herself onto a wooden chair claiming she was "too tired to be quiet." After a couple minutes where I wasn't paying any attention to her, she shouted again, but this time in recognizable words.
Audrey: Mommy! We have to go to the bathroom!
me: You have to go potty?
Audrey: No - Kelly has to go potty! Hurry, Mommy!
me: Audrey. I'm not taking you to the bathroom.
Audrey: No, Mommy! Kelly has to go to the potty! She has to go now!
me: Kelly is pretend. So she can use the pretend potty.
Audrey: (incredulously) What? Where is the pretend potty?
me: (I pointed into the corner of the small lobby - a clay jug sat on top of a small pedestal) She can go there.
Audrey fixed her jaw, eyes wild, she turned her head to assess the pretend potty. Then she darted to the corner, lifted Kelly up to the clay jug and rattled off familiar instructions.
Audrey: (hushed) Ok, Kelly. Get up there. Ok. Go ahead.
She waited patiently while Kelly did her deed in the clay jug.
Audrey: Ok. Great job. Good job, Kelly. I get some toilet paper.
She grabbed a pretend wad of toilet paper, balled it up, and by this narrator's interpretation, wiped Kelly's face with it, but who am I to judge? I can't see her! Then Audrey lifted Kelly down off the clay jug.
Audrey: Ok, Kelly, now pull up your pants. Good job.
She turned around and looked at me, proud, indignant, smug.
Audrey: Kelly used the potty.
me: Yes, I can see that.
We had a babysitter watch the kids a couple weeks ago, and as Tom drove her home at the end of the night, she relayed an interesting story about Audrey cursing during bedtime stories. While the babysitter was reading to Sean and Audrey, a character in the story fell and got hurt. Audrey blurted out, "Oh F**k!" The babysitter told Audrey that this wasn't a nice word, and proceeded to ask Audrey where she heard it.
Audrey: Kelly told me.
Kelly - by my outside perspective - frequently is Audrey's number one fan. She's often telling Audrey things that Audrey really needs to hear. Or Audrey is rescuing Kelly from certain peril. When Audrey is with Kelly, she seems to feel stronger, almost invincible. Kelly helps Audrey be even more brazen than she might be on her own.
Wouldn't it be great if we all had imaginary friends like this? Imagine life with someone as part of our entourage who told us exactly what we need to hear, and cheered us on as we accomplished important things in life? Or someone who gave us permission to be naughty when we just didn't want to adhere to life's rules anymore?
If I had an imaginary friend, she would be a mom of three kids. She would always know the right thing to do, and she would always stay centered, even when her kids are going bananas. This imaginary friend would be my constant support, keeping me going every day. This imaginary friend would be wise, and her wisdom would know no bounds. And for added dramatic flair, this imaginary friend would have an Irish accent.
Irish Imaginary Friend (IIF): Now Anna Marie, don't leave Frances alone in that swing, because she's strong enough now to reach up and grab the mobile with birds and mirror on it. That's why you hear the strange clicking sound when you're out of the room.
IIF: You can hide some spinach in the kids smoothies, and they'll never know.
IIF: Put Frances in a laundry basket with some toys in the kitchen while you cook, that way if she falls back, she won't fall on the floor and hit her head.
IIF: Your boy Sean has just pulled the dirtiest pair of shorts he owns out of the hamper and is about to wear them out the house.
IIF: Today is the day to treat yourself to dark chocolate, because these children are like wild banshees.
On Mother's Day we went out for brunch as a family, and I had a glimpse of what this kind of imaginary friend might say to me. I was explaining to the kids that I just took a job at the YMCA, and that I would be one of the child care providers in the Kids Stuff area where they go to play. These adults are called "teachers" by the kids - though I liken what we do more closely to being camp counselors - we play games, read books, run around and have fun. My kids were so excited to hear that I was going to become one of their Y Teachers.
Sean: Are you going to get a Y shirt?
me: Yes I am! I'm pretty excited about that.
Sean: Yeah, that will be pretty cool.
Audrey: You're going to be my teacher?
me: Yes I will!
Then Sean sat quietly for a moment, pondering.
Sean: You know, Mama... I've thought about becoming a Y Teacher.
He was thoughtful and smiling and nodding. He looked inspired, as if he could envision himself doing the same thing some day. Though I hope that Sean has even greater heights to climb in his career goals, it was still delightful to see him thinking about being a Y Teacher. Who needs an imaginary friend, when I was receiving encouragement from my son about this recent job change in my life? It was pretty unexpected and amazing. I was touched.
me: You have? You've thought about becoming a Y Teacher?
Sean: Yeah. I have. Except... I'm kinda into this superhero thing right now. But I have thought about becoming a Y Teacher.
Just like that, demoted. I frequently don't know who's running this show. Be it imaginary friends, children under the age of 5, or a somewhat organized, frazzled, and hopefully mostly loving mom of 3, this life is never boring... with or without imaginary friends.