Thursday, 27 September 2007

Imaginings

My daughter has an imaginary sister called Charlotte. She comes and goes, but she is always there. Much like a real sister I suppose. She generally arrives when other people are talking about their own siblings. Along with another hairline crack in my heart.

This is what it is like to fail your child. To feel you have failed them, anyway. The sense parents have when their child falls downstairs behind a turned back, or is bullied by faceless tormentors at school. It is a melancholic stab, a powerless ache accompanied by the throb of guilt. To begin with I tried not to mention Charlotte, for fear of encouraging the fantasy. But recently, since she (both of them) are a bit older and wiser, I decided to ask for a bit of information about her. She lives with her mummy and daddy - she has different parents - a little way away and is older than my daughter. She helps out when my daughter is feeling lonely or out-siblinged, which really amounts to the same thing.

I think I suggested that she wasn’t a real sister at some point. “No, I know she’s not real” my daughter replied and cuddled closer on the sofa.

When it is time for bed, I ask her to take her clothes off herself and then put on her pyjamas. “Hmmph. I can’t do everything daddy”, she says.

That’s true. Sometimes you need a little help from someone nearby, and sometimes, perhaps, you need a little bit more than that.

“Will you do some computering daddy, before you go downstairs?”, she says, when it’s time to go to sleep. “I want you to look after me.”

I kiss her cheek and she whirls around onto her side, flinging an arm casually around my neck.

I go next door, amused that the mouse-clicking made by writing about her, is a comfort to her. One day when she is too old for mouse-clicking, the words might be a comfort to her too, I hope.

56 comments:

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

My sister had an imaginary friend when she was your daughter's age as well. I would tell you not to feel you've failed your child, because you most certainly have not. But it might fall on deaf ears. As your daughter grows and travels through life, she will remember her daddy as being the best one in the world and will feel so happy that she never had to share him.

Omega Mum said...

Fill that hairline crack around your heart with new! improved! heart sealant (I recommend the flexible sort - it's useful at coping with all those other metaphors - hearts being full, hearts breaking etc) and do not give it another thought. My eldest (next sibling there after two years) filled me with despair because I had neglected to provide her with the big sister another friend had and was wistful for years, despite my constant attempts to persuade her that big sisters don't come as a retro fit. My middle child complains vigorously that I have failed to provide him with a brother. My youngest is desperate to be an only child. Whatever you do, it's wrong.

Xbox4NappyRash said...

Man, you're killing me.

Beautiful stuff.

The Good Woman said...

Oh Stay at Home Dad I have missed you! Bambi has suddenly asked for her door to be left open at night and, after all the change she has managed in the last few months I too marvel at the small sounds of movement that bring her comfort. It's not the big things....

Crystal Jigsaw said...

Your words are a comfort to anyone who reads them. You write beautifully.

Crystal xx

lady macleod said...

But don't we all need an imaginary friend? In the realm of stranger than fiction - I thought for years I had an "imaginary sister", then turned out she was real.... So you never know..

I have a little gift for you, next you stop by look down to 25 September.

I love how you write (sigh with a wee tinge of envy).

Frog in the Field said...

Oh Stay at Home Dad,
Your posts are so bloody heart-jerking. I thought only gay men were this sensitive, it's wonderful!
I think you're a great Dad, she obviously adores you, you are not a failure, just a very loving Dad.

Tina said...

That's such a lovely post SAHD. You know I'm sure, that one day your little girl won't need her imaginary friends or siblings. But she'll always need you.

merry weather said...

Ah, you are still here. Good.

That was a very poignant post, I do feel sad having read it and I'm not sure what to say...The things in life that appear to us to be missing, that we most crave, are they not perhaps the aches that spur us on to aim higher, struggle harder... I'm not sure that's helpful, but it rings true, faintly, but truely. Take care

Jan said...

Its fantastic how parents words (uttered/muttered yrs ago ) DO return...out of the blue...and sometimes just when you need them.
Lovely post, SAHD; you're handling the special sister brilliantly; your daughter needs her for the moment but one day, Charlotte will fade, and there'll be other girls ( friends who become almost like sisters)and they'll be ringing your daughter, laughing with her, chatting with her and they'll be giggling on the sofa and Charlotte will be miles and miles away...
By the way, Ive "tagged" you on my blog.
If youre not into it, Ill forgive you !

Livvy U. said...

It is sooo good to do my near-nightly check and find you have posted again!

For all sorts of reasons, Anna-mouse will be our only child, too -and I've thought about it long and hard, and know that if life had dealt a slightly different hand she would have had siblings. But... that's not the hand we hold, so I try to get on with giving her all the things I didn't get because I did have a brother and sister. I think in the end it's swings and roundabouts and only children often have very powerful experiences of the world and their place within it.

Anna-mouse has an imaginary friend, too, and it gives me great comfort - it really does seems to keep loneliness from her door.

Your computering is marvellous, and we must, one and all, keep some hard copies of these nocturnal ramblings for them to treasure. Nothing could be more comforting to her in later life than to know how very much you love her.
x

carrie said...

I think the way you write about her is so touching, I know she'll treasure it later, when she's old enough to appreciate it. But for now, it is such a nice image to think of a little girl hearing the computer noise and drifting off into sleep . . . you're a good Dad.

And imaginary friends? Not so bad.

Omega Mum said...

You've been away, right? Or you hate all our comments? Or you're playing out the bit of your life that I'm convinced exists but that you never blog about.

Kaycie said...

My daughter had an imaginary friend when she was that age, even with a little brother around. I think it's wonderful and healthy, a good use of their growing imagination.

My girl is sixteen now, and the imaginary friend is gone, but she remembers it fondly. In her friend's place is wonderfully creative mind. Perhaps your daughter is displaying a creative streak she inherited from her father.

Swearing Mother said...

What a lovely Dad you are, I am sure one day when your little girl reads what you have written about her, and she surely will, she'll understand lots of things she's too little to realise now.

Lucky girl and lucky Dad.

Best wishes.

Jen said...

What a heart warming post! I love that she asked you to write about her, and yes, someday reading what you wrote will be one of her favorite things to do. She will treasure it.

Rebecca said...

I remember clearly being able to hear my parents (watching tv, or chatting, or cooking, or whatever they may have been doing) while I went to sleep. It was always very, very comforting.

I imagine mouse-clicking and keyboard typing is particularly soothing. :)

Stay at home dad said...

A huge amount of insight here in all your comments. Fascinating.

Wakeup... I don't seriously think that but it is a nagging feeling. Well it was. I'm not sure after reading your comment and other people's that it is any more... Very intersting point about the sharing.

OM, I've tried that, but whenever I come back for more it's developed a crust and doesn't work. I think I need the tube verison. How interesting about all your children's different sets of feelings.

Thanks xbox. Summer seemed to send me a bit melancholy. Perhaps winter will correct that.

Hello TGW! Me too. Are you 'back'? I will come over and check.

Thank you CJ. Very kind indeed.

Too true, too true your ladyship, and thank you. I will come over and visit!

Thanks Frog, I think! No, but really, thank you. It's a subject for a whole new post, that one..

Thank you Tina. Actually, that's what I find infinitely sad, that once we, her parents, are gone, there won't be anyone. But of course there will: friends, partners, cousins etc.

Hello Merry. Yes, still hanging on... Wise sentiments and helpful too actually. I think that's entirely right. Much like trying to get writing published!

Thanks Jan. What lovely images. I'll come and see asap.

Thank you Livvy. I have been remiss in my visiting of late and will be catching up shortly. Interesting to hear about your experiences. Good positive idea to make the most of the situation. Perfect.

Thank you Carrie. No, not so bad. Probably at some point in the future they'll send a child straight to the shrink for that, but it's still ok so far...

Hello again OM. I was at the rugby actually in Paris! No more secrets to tell you I'm pretty sure. Quite the opposite on the comments.

Kaycie, that's interesting. You're right, she does have a vivid imagination and can keep herself amused for ages. (Handy, that.)

Thanks Swearing mother for such nice comments. It would be nice to think that she might get something out of it later.

Jen, thanks. I'm beginning to think it's quite likely the more I read here.

Rebecca, now you mention it, I remember too. Everything goes in in equal measure during childhood doesn't it. The unimportant is important and big issues are somehow less serious.

Pig in the Kitchen said...

It's so horrible to feel that you're not quite up to the mark as a parent. I wonder if it goes with the territory though?
My children all have each other, but do they have enough attention from me? Have I let too many homework assignments slip back into school bags without the requisite amount of maternal attention? Should my eldest really be polishing everyone else's shoes, even tho she assures me that she enjoys it, and it was her idea?
There are so many pros and cons to all the different family units that exist. But the most important thing is that those that do the parenting do the unconditional loving. I don't think your daughter lacks for that kind of love.
Lovely post.
Pigx
ps FITF's comment did make me smile, what a result, you can pull in the pink readers too!

Stay at home dad said...

Thanks Pig. Yes, I think you're right. Easier to understand at arm's length isn't it, but at the coal face these things seem wired in.

And I'm not sure whether the pink readership has any interest in this stuff...!

debio said...

Oh, SAHD, children always want the one thing they can't have!

Imaginary friends/sisters/brothers are perfectly normal, I am sure.

I used to call my daughter an 'imp' when she was being playful and we both entered the imaginary world of there being a 'Chief Imp' and 'Big Imp' who could be blamed for bicycles falling over, dishes being dropped, food being spilled etc.

She has never forgotten and even jokingly mentions the imps now when something goes awry.

I look on this a positive stuff - we would all like our worlds to be different somehow. Slough off the guilt - this one can't be solved...

Stay at home dad said...

Hello Debio and thanks for your wise words. Yes we all want what we don't/can't have, don't we.

Btw, the imps sound great - shouldn't they be a children's book ?!

Sparx said...

Hello SAHD - welcome back. Great post - and imaginary friends are supposed to be signs of high intelligence so well done. You're obviously a great Dad and she's very happy. I want another child as well but the spud is likely to be an only child - just means we get to spoil them that little bit more, hey?

debio said...

Now that's a thought I've never, ever had!

Stay at home dad said...

Hi Sparx. Thanks, yes, you're right. I realised the other day that's it not always only children who are spoilt anyway.

Debio - get writing!

@themill said...

Welcome back - do hope you take your darling girl to the rugby too some day!
And being an only child does not necessarily mean being spoilt - youngest son's best mate has everything he could wish for materially, but is not at all the spoilt brat, having parents who are very strict about behaviour, manners etc.
What about a puppy?

Lilly said...

Some say imaginary friends are actually spirits from beyond to keep children happy while here... If it helps, encourage it for now!

Glad you posted again, I was getting withdrawal symptoms.

Crystal Jigsaw said...

Award over at my place, Crystal xx

Frog in the Field said...

It's meant as a compliment.
My husband never says the emotional things, he couldn't write them either, he'd get all tearful and so avoids it all.
So I'm saying you're giving 100% to your daughter.

Suffolkmum said...

I always seem to come late to your lovely blogs and find that everyone has said it all. But I'll chip in anyway. My daughter, same age as yours I think, has an older brother, but still has an imaginary friend/sister (called, rather weirdly, 'Gubbyshire'. Think I prefer Charlotte). Imaginary Charlotte is very lucky to have such a lovely sister and surrogate Dad! And it's interesting to think they can be comforted at night by sounds that didn't exist when we were small!(Well when I was small anyway)!

Stay at home dad said...

Thanks @TM. Yes I will be sure to do that. A nice spring morning down at Gloucester opposite the shed.. Think you're right. Puppy though, hmmm. Pet beetle maybe?

Hello Lilly. Thanks! Could be true, for all I know. Certainly poetic.

Thanks CJ. Will pop on over...

Elsie Button said...

I have typed out something i read the other day about an only child, and thought of you...

'If their lack of brothers and sisters shows at all, it is in the importance they attach to relationships beyond their immediate family. They hardly ever wish things had been different. They've seen how shabbily brothers and sisters can treat one another. Don't let anyone put you off having just one child. Provided she's not wrapped in mothballs, she's likely to grow into a perfectly decent sort, and when they've carted you and your photograph albums off to the Twilight Home, at least she won't refuse to come and visit you because she's not speaking to her sister and her brother's wife isn't speaking to anyone.

She'll be cheaper, quieter and faster to mature. She'll become accustomed at an early age to adult conversation and solitude and, if you are the sort of people who won't be able to resist pandering to her every whim, it will be very much easier to do it for one than it will to do it for lots.'

I think there are pros and cons to both. And having more than one child is not necessarily best. I honestly think that. Elsie

Stay at home dad said...

Don't worry, Frog, I took it as a compliment. I too couldn't write about this stuff until I started blogging. I always used humour instead. Don't know what's happened to the humour now though!

Hello SM and thank you. Is it mainly girls who have them do you think? Gubbyshire is a great one. And yes, computers didn't exist in my world until ten years ago...

Hi Elsie. Thanks for that. Interesting and very true in many regards. To feel guilty about this is illogical but visceral in some way.

Omega Mum said...

I've just got to ask - did you deliberately translate your occupation into German the other day on your profile, or was it an attempt by the Teutonic brigade to take over your blog?

Stay at home dad said...

No, I didn't do it and couldn't get rid of it. I noticed a few things mysteriously turning German... What my Great Aunt would have said I've no idea (well, I have).

Anonymous said...

My son had an imaginary friend, when he was a similar age. He was called Bubble and joined us for meals sometimes, as well being company for my son. This son also has 2 older brothers and a younger sister, so not sure what that says about our family or the only child debate! We still sometimes talk of Bubble - he was a good friend and we all enjoyed him when he visited, if that doesn't sound too mad. He just gradually faded naturally until we realised he never visited any more.

With best wishes to you and yours

Nikki

Stay at home dad said...

Thanks for that Nikki. No, that sounds brilliant and the perfect way to treat it I think. Actually it is also interesting in relation to the only child issue. Thanks!

Reluctant Memsahib said...

Your daughter mightn't have a sibling but she has a wonderful dad and all the female bloggers out here are at risk of falling in love with him for his enormous sensitivity. Don't read too much into the sibling thing though; when Hat (who has two older siblings) was 8 she invented an imaginery friend, Elie; she used to have quiet tea parties in the garden with her. She even celebrated Elie's birthday with her and dressed up in her best dress. I think Hat invented Elie because she needed somebody who would listen to her; I think she got tired of battling to make herself heard above a much bigger brother and sister. I think lots of children invent friends for lots of reasons. A happily fertile imagaination usually.

Stay at home dad said...

Hello RM and thank you. I think I'll gloss over your first point and mvoe straight to your second! Interesting that it can happen even in the midst of siblings. It already doesn't happen so much anymore and is probably little more than a game.

DJ Kirkby said...

How beautiful and how skillfully you dealt with this. I think the hairline crack appeared when you held her in your arms for the first time and realised that you could never protect her from all of life's unfairness. I think that crack is on every good parent's heart.

Bel said...

(No time to read all the comments, so maybe a bit redundant.)

I always feel the same way when we go to a playground or something and see all the kids playing with their (what I then believe) are their brothers and sisters. It makes me feel guilty about our son not having a steady playmate (oh God, what an expression).
Then again, I know that providing him with said playmate would be too late now (he's four already) and above all, a foolish decision, considering the reasons why he is a single child. Sometimes the downsides of a decision pale in comparison to the downsides of the alternative. That is why you made the decision in the first place, isn't it?

guineapigmum said...

I used to have an imaginary friend called Susan. I remember her fondly but lost touch quite a long time ago now! I was anything but an only child - no 3 out of 6 (although there may only have been 4 of us when Susan was around). Perhaps I was just looking for something of my own amidst the hubbub of a big family.

Motheratlarge said...

It's difficult, isn't it. Your situation doesn't sound entirely dissimilar to ours in some respects. Our daughter (18 months) is too young to be aware of what's happening, but husband and I have resorted to inventing an imaginary creature/little brother for her. And we don't have the excuse of being children. It's amazing how much comfort we've drawn from this little imaginary person, who doesn't exist outside our heads. According to my husband, he lives in the chimney and is book-loving, a little shy and rather gentle. No projection going on there, obviously. We chat about him quite a bit, and he seems to have filled a gap in our hearts.

Stay at home dad said...

Thank you DJK and well put. It feels doubly bad after she helped me so much.

Hello Bel. No, hardly redundant and thanks for taking the time. Sounds similar to our position. You sound admirably logical; but it's a tough, tough choice for a mother isn't it.

Hello GPM. Interesting again, and useful for understanding how these things work, possibly.

Hello M@L. How poignant. And unexpected. It sounds like the sort of relationship one has with an unborn child. (I hope you don't have fires in that chimney.) But I suppose the tooth Fairy, Father Christmas et al are all born the same way.

blueangel said...

My lil sis had an imaginary friend called Sen. Then she said that her friend Sen had a brother, his name is Ben. Then a few months later she revealed that Sen and Ben had a younger sister called Jen. Some kids need more than one imaginary friend!

Stay at home dad said...

Hi Blueangel. Fantastic - a whole imaginary family! Thanks for commenting, this has all been an educaiton...

Marla Fauchier Baltes said...

I really like your writing style. I hope you post again soon. We have an "only" too or a "singleton". Some days it gets to me too. I picture my daughter alone with no siblings, as I can not imagine my life without my sisters. Not to mention my daughter has health issues and who will help her when we are gone? But, at this point we can not adopt another child. I have faith God will take care of her. That is all I can do some days.

Stay at home dad said...

Thank you MFB, if I may call you that. I'm sure you're right, God, or someone else, will take good care of her.

Pig in the Kitchen said...

We're waiting....

Stay at home dad said...

Hello Pig. What do you think this is? A blog?!

IngeniousRose said...

Oh Stay at home dad, you have not failed your daughter at all. She clearly adores you and worships you. My daughter has no siblings, and whilst this is a shame it isn't a situation I can change. All we can do is support them and do our best, and it sounds as if you are doing exactly that.

Stay at home dad said...

Thanks IR... I think I've come to terms with it over the course of these comments!

Pig in the Kitchen said...

Oh dear, sorry, silly me. Is it updated automatically with each phase of the moon?

Stay at home dad said...

Yes, something like that!

Jeremy Adam Smith said...

Huh. You'd be really, really reassured and interested in this blog entry about Marjorie Taylor's research into imaginary friends: http://daddy-dialectic.blogspot.com/2007/09/more-imaginary-friends.html

Stay at home dad said...

Hello Jeremy. Yes you're right, that is fascinating. Thanks for posting it. I like the bit about building blocks vs stuffed toys - that rings so true...