Toby has…. a friend.
He's not invisible. We've just never met him.
And apparently he's not imaginary… but… he is.
Toby started talking about 'his friends' when he was just over 2. He would tell long stories about 'his farm' and all the animals that lived there. We would see a tractor in a field and he would immediately pipe up that "I had a tractor JUST LIKE THAT on my farm!"
I generally ignored the stories, recognizing that it was a way of saying "Wouldn't it be cool if…"
However the stories kept getting more detailed and stayed consistent. I began asking vague questions about the things he was telling me, like how many chickens he had and what types of veggies he grew.
Eventually a reference to 'my friend' started showing up in the stories.
"My friends at my farm, they used to drive a combine."
"My friend has a game just like that, but theirs is PURPLE"
"My friends at my farm like to do that too"
Over that next year or so the stories of his Farm began to branch into a tale of a big fire in the barn.
He would tell the same story over and over again, about how all the cows were mooing and mooing and wanted to get out so they had to help them.
I heard the story so many times that my replies became repetitive and un-interested.
"Oh my, that's too bad."
"I hope the firefighters came to help"
"Oh no, poor cows"
Once when my sister was watching him, and hearing the stories many times herself, she began to quiz him for more information aside from the rehearsed story.
"Do your friends live at your farm with you or just visit?"
"One of them lives there with me. Sometimes. He helps out in the barn."
"What does he help you with?"
"Ooooooh you knooooow….moving wooood…and giving food for the cows…but he doesn't live there with me anymore"
"Oh? Why not?"
"He got sick...... So he can't live with me anymore."
"One time, there was a fire in the barn, and the cows were mooing and mooing and running running running to get out and the BIG fire trucks had to come and we were helping find all the cows. But he's sick. And now he can't live there. *Continues playing casually with cars, unfazed by what he's saying while my sister quietly panics and tries to memorize the story to tell me*
We started thinking along the lines of him remembering some past life or something, because he would talk about things that were not part of our household discussions or play.
For about a year it stopped. I hardly remember hearing stories about his farm or his friends when he was around 4.
But then when he was 5 and a half it started again. EVERYTHING we talk about somehow gets related back to something his friends did.
We started quizzing him on names again. He started calling him Carl, and his brother's name was Carol.
And again, I can recognize that it's his way of taking part in the conversation. We talk a lot and he's trying to fit in. But it's become incessant.
Anth:"I was working on a truck today that had to have it's entire hood replaced-"
Tob: "Carl one time was working on a truck that had to have it's hood replaced AAAAND all the wheels AAAAND all the windows"
Me:"Uh-oh, i think the cookies are burning-"
Toby: "One time Carl and his mom were making cookies and they forgot about them for too long and there was all kinds of smoke in the kitchen, and they thought, 'what the heck?' and then went 'OH NO THE COOKIES' and they were all BLACK…like BLACK…and burnt."
Grampa:"Well, I got that tree all cut up today-"
Toby:" One time when Carl was cutting up a tree, he couldn't hear because he had his ear protectors on, but waaaaaaaaay up in the bush there was ANOTHER tree that fell and it ALMOST landed where Carl was, but then it didn't, but then Carl had to cut up ANOOOOOTHER tree"
..And on…and on… and on…
We've learned that Carl is 7.. a year-ish older than Toby. His brother Carol is 6. They live just around the corner from the Toronto Zoo.
Toby knows all this because he talks to him on the phone all the time.
Sometimes Carl seems like an adult because of the jobs he's been said to do. Sometimes there are stories of Carl and his mom… because Carl is really only 7.
So… if Toby ever starts a story for you with "My friends" or "Carl", it's usually from somewhere inside his head.
I never had invisible friends growing up, so I don't know how to react or if I even really need to react to it more than any other phase. Is it a phase? Is it something more?