By BETH VRABEL
“Hey, Fred,” Benny says casually as we stroll through the mall.
“Who are you talking to?” I ask him.
“My friend, Fred,” he answers and then slips his hand into the wooden one of a mannequin.
“Oh,” I say, since no other response comes to mind.
Benny, 4, makes new friends everywhere we go. Only not all of them are actually people.
We have Betsy the Balloon, Chippy the Chipmunk, and, my personal favorite, Itsy, his pointer finger. “Who are you talking to?” I ask in the car after hearing him chatter nonstop from the backseat.
“Oh, just Itsy.” And then Itsy dances.
Friendship isn’t restricted to people. Maybe that’s in part because he also doesn’t refer to people as, well, people.
“Is this a place for humans?” he might say as we head to the park. Or, “Do humans like to eat this?” about the lunch I put in front of him. I choose to think of this as a phase rather than a judgment on my cooking, so I just answer the question with a yes. Anything and anyone can be a friend.
I love this time in my children’s lives, when their imagination explodes. Benny sees dragons, elephants or puppies where we see clouds. Sprinting down our backyard hill transforms him into a superhero. Anything is possible in his mind (even growing up to be bacon).
Benny will spend a half-hour scribbling on a piece of paper. And then he decides what it is that he’s drawn. “It’s a rocket,” he’ll say. “No, wait, it’s a volcano.” You almost can hear the wheels grinding in his mind as he makes sense and magic out of the world.
But, as with anything, the good goes hand-in-hand with the bad.
“There’s an animal in my room!” Benny shrieked one night as he was supposed to be sleeping.
“Don’t worry, it’s just a stink bug,” my husband told him.
“No, Daddy, it’ll stink on me. When I sleep, it likes to stink on people.”
And thus began several weeks of not sleeping.
In the dark and in his mind, a little bug has horrifying power. So do shadows, dust bunnies and anything green that might be on his plate (clearly not meant for humans).
It’s a fascinating phase that I hope lingers, despite the dark aspects. Our daughter, Emma, still has an intense imagination.
But when she put on her Halloween costume this year, she was Emma in a fairy costume, not Tinkerbell.
Benny, though, was Peter Pan.
Beth Vrabel lives in West Manchester Township with her daughter, Emma, 7, and son, Benny, 4. For more Smart Mama columns visit www.smartmamapa.com.