All the Imaginary People, Where Do They All Come From?Joel Stein
My three-year-old son will not tell me anything about his imaginary friends. I’m concerned that they’re not a good influence.
Months will pass without any mention of them. Then one day I’ll ask Laszlo who he’s talking to and he’ll say, “Oh” as in, “Oh, I’m glad you asked.” Then: “Gockies and jockies.”
As a professional journalist, I will follow with a probing question, such as “What are gockies and jockies?” Or “If a gockie and jockie were standing here, would I be able to tell the difference, or are they pretty much the same?”
“Oh,” he’ll say this time more exasperated. “Gockies are gockies and jockies are jockies. Okay?” in a way that clearly means: “Can you just type jockies and gockies’ into Wikipeida and leave me alone, you dumb asshole.”
Like Laszlo, I was an only child at his age; my sister didn’t arrive until I was seven-and-a-half. So I had an imaginary friend too. His name was Peppy, and while my parents disagree with me about this, I’m pretty sure I pictured him as a life-size pepper shaker. The important thing about Peppy was that he was always around, was fascinated by my stories, could be placed anywhere I wanted and moved instantaneously according to the rules of quantum physics, thus allowing me to yell at my parents for trying to sit or stand in places I decided Peppy was at.
Last week, as I was giving Laszlo his bath, he told me to be careful because gockies and jockies were there with him. And that I should wash them. It was then that I found out that gockies and jockies were tiny people. Then, today, when I asked about their height, he indicated that they were a bit taller than him. His story has more inconsistencies than the story from guy who shot Trayvon Martin.
Gockies and jockies conveniently have a lot of the same characteristics as Laszlo. They like fruit so so so much. They are so so so nice. They are so so so fast. I hear this a lot. Because they, too, are so so so repetitive.
But the fun part of gockies and jockies is that they do a lot of the things Laszlo and I just did. They get on planes and deal with their luggage the week after we took a trip. They drive on little toy cars on the floor as they go to school and then come home and take baths. Either Laszlo is very happy with his life or he has absolutely no imagination.
What he’s really doing, it turns out, is using imaginary friends to work through all the stuff that’s he learning: How did that luggage get back to me? Let me think it through. And since I’m not going to sit there for that, he’s invented someone or maybe it’s two people, or perhaps two entire races to listen to him go through the logical possibilities.
It turns out that 63 percents of kids under seven have had an imaginary friend. Some parents mistakenly think this is a sign of a lack of social development or rational thinking. These are often the same parents who tell their kids about Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny. Marjorie Taylor, a psych prof at the University of Oregon who wrote Imaginary Companions and the Children who Create Them, says kids with imaginary friends tend to have better verbal skills, are more social and are better at understanding other people’s points of view. They also tend to make up stories that their dads can turn into multi-billion dollar intellectual properties, like Winnie The Pooh. So I’m all about encouraging gockies and jockies.