When Are Kids Too Old For Make-Believe?

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My daughter, who is turning eight, believes her stuffed animals are real.

“Does she really think they’re real or is she pretending?” my partner’s 11 year-old daughter asked while we were all in the same room. I shook my head like a mad woman to shut her up.

“Of course they are real!” I responded.

“Yeah,” my daughter said. “They are real.”

When I say my daughter honestly believes her ‘stuffies,’ as we call them, are real, I’m as serious as a heart attack. This morning, after she had breakfast, she fed the stuffed platypus beside her (a bowl of dry Cheerios.) Every night, when we lie in bed, she needs to know what Clancy (her stuffed bear) did while she was at school.

Yes, it is always me putting on a fake voice as I say, “I made a lemonade stand!” And then my daughter will ask questions:

“Where did you get the lemonade, Clancy?”

(Me as Clancy: “I had to stand on a chair to reach it in the fridge!”)

“How many people came by?” asks my daughter.

(Me as Clancy: “Only four and I spilled so much because it’s hard to pour lemonade with paws!”)

She believes that I speak for her animals because I have special powers to understand them.

Sometimes, I’ll leave bowls by her stuffed animals, with just crumbs, and act surprised when my daughter sees that they have “already eaten dinner.”

My daughter loves stuffed animals. Obviously. I can’t go on a trip without  bringing her back one from an airport gift store. But she doesn’t just get the animal – she gets an entire story.

Two weeks ago, coming back from a trip, I brought home a stuffed ostrich (yes, I actually found one of those). The story behind that was that the stuffed Ostrich ended up on my hotel balcony and was very shy, but I ordered her corn from room service and then I had to shove her up my shirt and pretend to be pregnant to get her on the plane. (Because, of course, airlines don’t allow ostriches on board.)

“She said she wanted to live with a little girl with brown eyes and brown hair and I told ostrich that I had one of those!” I added. My daughter beamed upon hearing this.

My partner, who has two children older than my daughter, thinks I’m doing a great disservice to my daughter, as he watches her put blankets on her stuffies and make sure they have pillows before they all go to sleep. He thinks she’s too old for make-believe like this. He thinks the problem, too, is that I’m a liar. Or, rather, that my daughter will one day figure out that her stuffies were never real and then she’ll think I’m a liar.

(I have gotten caught before, I’ll admit. I have told her both that I was born a mermaid and that I’m from the planet Pluto. Recently, she asked how I could be both. So, of course, I told her what any parent would: “Once I turned from a mermaid to human then I went to Pluto.” She understood and presently, my daughter’s building a rocket ship so we both can go to outer space.)

I disagree entirely with my partner. I disagree because she is only 7. And yes, by this age, most all of her classmates know that Santa isn’t real and neither is the Tooth Fairy. I disagree because of a little thing called “imagination.” My partner is a business guy. I am a writer. I live in my head and tell stories. But this isn’t about me.

I look back at think about my daughter who had to have a bottle when she was 3. She looked incredibly ridiculous walking around with a bottle. I used to tell her father, “Well, it’s going to happen eventually. You don’t see 10- yearolds with a bottle, do you?” when he moaned about it.

Parents are in such rushes to hurry their children. Yes, this is parenting. We rush them to learn to walk. We rush them to learn to talk. We rush them to toilet train, get off the bottle, and read. Of course, this is eagerness, too, because we can’t wait to see them crawl, or walk or hear them say words.

I hope my daughter believes her stuffed animals are real for as long as possible. This is because I am an adult and being an adult is not fun. We have to worry about mortgages, our jobs, heartbreak, divorce, making sure we have toilet paper in the house and paying our hydro bills on time. When you think about it, being an adult sucks.

I feel the same way about her believing in stuffed animals as I did getting her off the bottle. One day, she just stopped. I threw out the bottles. There were absolutely no problems. Do you see any teenagers who believe that stuffed animals are real? Exactly.

“I’m sure by the time she’s 8 she’ll stop believing that her animals are real. And then, she’ll have 80 years of reality,” I sighed to my partner.

My point really is simple. She’ll have decades of real life and, if my daughter and I are lucky, only less than one decade to use her imagination. I’m in no rush to have to tell her ‘the truth.’

Now I have to go grab Clancy and Pinky and Ellie (the bear, a hippo and an elephant), who all have gone outside to jump in a puddle. Or so I’ll tell my daughter when she gets home from school today.

(Photo: Hemera)