For those of y’all that have been following along at home, you may recall that my 5 year-old daughter has an imaginary brother.
This imaginary brother has been a benign nuisance who, from time to time, pops up on a couch, in the back seat of a car, needs a hug before bed, or is slow to get on or off an elevator. I personally tolerate his imaginary antics because my daughter insists on his inclusion and, technically, he’s family. Otherwise, I woulda probably dropped his imaginary ass off at the imaginary Greyhound station and sent him to join the imaginary Navy.
My friends who know a thing or two about early childhood development tell me not to worry. In fact, they say, having an imaginary friend is a sign of higher intelligence in children and that we should actively encourage the kid to tell us more about this fantastic sibling. I’m not gonna lie, I even had an imaginary friend myself when I was a kid (buy me a drink, I’ll tell you all about him), so I’m eternally empathetic to my daughter and her relationship with this brother no one else can see.
That said, this morning on the way to school, my daughter announced that today is her imaginary brother’s birthday and, as such, we needed to do something “nice” for him.
“Something nice?” I asked.
“Yeeaaaaah, something nice,” she replied.
“Just what do you think he’d like?” I said, curious as to how far she was going to take it this time.
“He said he wants to go to Pump It Up and Pizza Hut and the Lego Store,” she told me from the backseat.
“Like the for real ones or can we go to the imaginary ones?” I inquired hoping to get the latter.
“We have to go FOR REAL!” she whined.
At this point, as a dad, I had two choices; I could explain to her that, while this occasion may be very real to her, it’s not real to anyone else and risk breaking her heart, trampling on her spirit, and/or provoking a very real tantrum. OR, I could just do what fathers have done from time in memoriam and play the one card we keep in reserve for moments just like this and put that shit on mom.
Now, before we go any further, y’all gotta remember that about eight weeks ago my wife gave birth to my daughter’s extremely real baby sister. A baby sister who has spent the better part of the last four nights awake and screaming. A baby sister who has no qualms about demanding my wife’s 100% undivided attention. A baby sister who is determined to rob my wife of her remaining youth and sanity before the end of the month.
Passing the buck on this isn’t as easy as it may have been in the past. I’ve seen my wife struggling with this new baby. I’ve tried to step up and step in where I can. I mean, as a father, there’s a huge deficit in what you’re able to provide an infant seeing as how we don’t produce milk. So our job is primarily focused on keeping Mom comfortable or, if there are other kids around, picking up the slack with them to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.
I do that. I prepare meals. I give baths. I take the kid with me when I run errands. I refill glasses of water while Mom nurses and all that. I try to stay visible while keeping problems invisible as best I can.
But this is a visible problem with an invisible cause.
My 5 year-old’s goddamned imaginary brother’s birthday.
I was stuck. Do I commit time and money to activities for an invisible kid in order to placate some higher level psycho-educational developmental need for my daughter because I partially feel guilty about the time she’s losing with us due to her baby sister? Or do I screw over my wife who is already being run ragged trying to keep up with the needs of our new baby while sharing the same guilt about the time she’s losing with our big girl.
Someone was going to be disappointed.
Someone needed to get the shaft.
Someone had to lose.
I’d now committed nearly eight whole minutes to this dilemma when it finally dawned on me…
ONE OF THE PEOPLE WHOSE FEELINGS I WAS CONSIDERING AIN’T REAL.
At which point I told my daughter that, in celebration of her imaginary brother’s birthday, I was going to take him with me to work and we’d have cake for lunch.
Problem. Fucking. Solved.
If I wasn’t driving, I would’ve patted myself on the back.
Maybe tonight I’ll pick up a pizza on the way home. Maybe I’ll get some cupcakes too. Maybe we’ll even light a candle and sing “Happy Birthday” for the imaginary brother on his special day.
But I’ll be damned and a half if I’m gonna get extorted into going to Pump It Up or doing any other out of the way shit for this inconvenient invisible asshole who keeps interfering in the smooth daily operations of my family.
I might just take him to join the imaginary navy today anyway.