Monday, March 17, 2008

Imagination and Curiosity

My daughter has the most depressing imaginary friend in the whole world. Her name is Blently (the imaginary friend, not my daughter) and she lives by herself. She has no parents, no friends, no way to get across town to visit my daughter. When I ask what Blently eats, I am told that she likes pizza and macaroni. When I ask how she gets her food, I am told that “a man” gives it to her, but that he doesn’t stay to eat with her.

I don’t know what to make of Blently. She pops up in conversation every now and then. Usually it’s an announcement in the car, something like, “Blently is very sad today. She still does not have anything fun to do.” When I offer to pick the poor girl up, I am told that “She is very busy and cannot play.” I ask if there’s any way that Blently can come and play at a time when Mommy and Daddy don’t watch—hoping to bring some relief to the monotony of the poor girl’s life. But, no, she has no way to get to our house and she will be too busy at any given time.

Yet, there are some qualities of Blently’s that I’m afraid my daughter likes. For one, Blently is 4, a year older than my daughter. She could use the potty several months before my daughter could. She can also sing very beautifully, but, one supposes, to a null audience. She can write, she can read, and she doesn’t cry when she’s lonely. Their choices of food seem pretty much the same.

Could it be that Blently is my daughter’s Tyler Durden?

I hope not. I hate to think that somehow my daughter’s unfulfilled fantasies of living by herself in a kingdom of loneliness. Psychologists have come a long way in how they view imaginary friends. Even Dr. Spock said some pretty depressing things about imaginary friends in his early career and much of these have been mainly debunked by now.

I don’t think that imagination is a bad thing. I don’t think that having an imaginary friend is, for the most part, anything but fun. I don’t want to stifle any aspect of my daughter’s creativity with this whole Blently thing, though I do wish she’d let the poor girl branch out from her dungeon.

Imagination is another side of curiosity, to me. By playing through this Blently scenario, my daughter is exploring the world. She is discovering what it would be like to live by herself—even if she were a year older—and in what ways she is dependent on family for her everyday things. She is also exploring the realms of happiness that she has playing with friends and with her little sister.

And curiosity is only a good thing. Whenever someone is praised for being “smart,” all they are seeing is the level of curiosity that the person exhibits. The answers to whatever questions one may pose are out there—it’s the questions that elude most people. If someone asks you why the sky is blue and you know the answer (Rayleigh scattering), it’s only because you bothered to ask the question yourself one day.

It is an important role of a parent to cultivate a child’s curiosity. Easy answers or brush-offs are not conducive to this; don’t train your child to feel stupid for asking a question. Instead, follow them through and show them how each answer can lead to other questions.

In the meantime, I have to try and encourage my daughter to come up with someone less heartbreaking to hear about every day.


Jennifer Chernoff said...

I kind of wish my kids had imaginary friends, but then - I too would also hope that they where a little more lively. Sort of like how on Charlie and Lola, Lola is friends with "Soren Lorenson". I like saying that name. haha. Jonas named a Angel statue "Zoomy" the other day. He was terribly fascinated by it. Uhhh... like the rest of my day I am drawing a blank. Sorry, this is going no where. haha.

Annet and Kirk said...

We watched an Australian movie recently that we had never heard of before and we are in Australia...

Anyways, it is called Opal Dreams, along the lines of the girl having 2 imaginary friends and how this affects the family. We found it quite a good movie, so thought I would mention it...