LIKE MOST PARENTS of a teen, I worry about our daughter’s future romantic relationships. So far, she’s done quite well. Her first love who was not her Daddy was someone who would make the heart of any mother just soar: Tall, Jewish, part of a large family, he doted on the needs of my child and encouraged her to eat her vegetables. But there were problems, not the least of which was that he was imaginary.
We were driving home from school when I first heard about him. My little girl said that she had a new friend.
“How nice,” I said, half-listening in that end of the day kind of way.
“He hangs out by the playground,” she told me.
I listened a little closer.
“He talks to me all day,” she said. “Only me.”
Now she had my attention. I had read the books. I knew I was not supposed to show them any fear, no matter what the topic. But I also read the news and I didn’t like the sound of this at all.
Tentatively, I asked, “Do you know his name, sweetie?”
Her eyes locked onto mine in the rearview mirror.
“Of course,” she said, like I was denser than overnight Playdoh.
“It’s Bibi Geggy,” she said.
“Geggy,” I said? “Bibi, you say?” I scribbled it down while still driving.
“He brings his dog,” she told me. “It’s a really nice dog.”
“What’s the dog’s name?” Something made me ask.
“Walter Fleischman,” she said, and then she clammed up. Couldn’t get another word out of her all the way home.
There were no Geggys in our local phone book and no Fleischmans of any spelling. The next day her teachers told me that of course no one hangs around the playground and that certainly no one had been talking to our child day after day.
Perhaps another mother would have figured it out sooner. I mean, his name might have given him away, but remember for a moment the likes of Bebe Rebozo and Bibi Netanyahu–now there are two names kids could really love–and experience, like I did, the joy of the plain old fun at the sound of something. Bibi Geggy. What a great name.
My child was delighting me, making me laugh. And not from a pratfall or some cutesy kid thing, but from deep within the vast magnitude of her imagination.
When I called my sister I got my reality check. The conversation went something like this.
“You had an imaginary friend.”
“I did?” When? I was genuinely stumped by this suggestion.
“Andy Hattenrash? He wasn’t imaginary.”
Perhaps my daughter originally intended to keep Bibi around for a short while; maybe he arrived packed-and-ready-to-go after a month or two, but with just the eensiet bit of encouragement from her mother, my daughter’s friend stuck around long enough for us to get to know him real well, and I don’t regret a minute of it.
Pablo Picasso is well known to have said that he spent his adulthood trying to get back to painting like a child. It’s always been one of those quotes thrown into feel-good books and make-art-from-the-science-side-of-your-brain books but it never meant so much to me as it does when I ponder Bibi and what his extended family brought to mine. And there was an extended family. There are babies–sometimes five, sometimes 10, depending on the day, whom he cared for with his sister, Acalcia; at some point Walter Fleischman found honest work as a police dog in Schenectatoad before finding Mu Shu, his soulmate, and being transferred to Queens; Bibi took up with the ever-unsteady Rosie, who wanted to have children, and then he broke it off with her, a decision we all came to agree was best for everyone involved.
And along with his own concerns, it came to be that some issues that were presented to our family got processed through Bibi and his.
For instance, a friend walked out of a bad marriage and came to stay with us. She was in rough shape.
About two days into her visit my daughter asked me, “What’s divorce, Mommy?”
I explained it.
“Well,” she said, “Bibi Geggy is divorced.”
Didn’t know he was ever married.
“Oh yes. To Acalcia.”
“His sister?” I was a little alarmed.
“Well, they were married,” she explained, almost whispering, “but now they are traveling as brother and sister.” And she nodded very knowingly.
The otherwise-intelligent book I once used through my child’s development was full of admonitions about providing other outlets for her imagination, not letting her get too dependent on the imaginary friend’s existence, and how not to let him take the heat for any of her bad behavior.
That book missed the point of our Bibi. He was never held up against her bad behavior. He was always held up to mine. He was patient, made perfect banana-clam cookies, led a daily parade playing the trombone, and never rushed dinner or bath time to get back to work, or so I was told on a fairly regular basis. That means he was a good listener, a creative playmate and available even on deadline. He still sounds like a much better parent than I am.
And because of that Bibi and me, well, we got along like peanut butter and jelly. I mean, who doesn’t need a role model? I did. Still do. And even though one day Bibi did get packed off with the pacifiers and the pull-ups, he continues to remind me—well into adulthood as I am—to appreciate the rewards of thinking like a child.
This piece ran some years ago in my parenting column, Mother’s Day, in The New York Daily News. I am reprinting these columns here for your use in writing your own parenting views. Enjoy.