This post is a part of my “Board Book Beauty – Savoring the small as I read to my toddler” series. To see all of the posts in the series, go here.

Katie has a slew of imaginary friends. In addition to her favorite stuffed animals, we’re often accompanied by a host of people we cannot see. Beo (my spelling – Jonathan thinks it’s spelled “Billo”) has been with us the longest, joined in recent weeks by Julie, and then Da. These three go everywhere Katie goes. She shares her meals with them. When she lies in bed and requests one last drink before going to sleep, it’s essential that they also slake their thirst. I’ve been told that she cannot sit on her potty because it’s already occupied by, you guessed it, Beo, Julie and Da.

It’s endearing and sweet (most of the time, anyway), this childhood world of hers. I’m not sure where her three friends originated, but she seems to have an awareness that they’re pretend. There’s a silliness present when she talks about them, a kind of light in her eyes, a laughter in her tone.

Beo, Julie and Da are safe friends for my sweet, introverted girl. She knows how to interact with them. They’re comfortable. Predictable. Understandable.

Such things are not always true of those friends that live in the real world. While most of her interactions with kids her age have been positive, Katie’s had the occasional run-in with another toddler, a few instances where this girl of mine who is so much like her Mama, who tends to stand, unsure, at the edge of the crowd, withered beneath a more assertive child’s aggression. I don’t know whether it’s due to such incidents, her natural introversion, or some combination of the two, but she’s started resisting whenever we tell her we’re going somewhere – church, or BSF, or MOPS, or some other such gathering.

“No want to go,” she says. “Poople [People] there,” and no matter how much we remind her of how much fun she has with her friends, no matter how much we tell her about the good times she’s had in the past, she remains adamant.

Six months after Katie was born, we visited Jonathan’s best friend from college (besides me, of course) and his family. During the course of our time together, they gave us a book for her: Friends, by Helme Heine. The inscription in the front reads, “Congrats! Hopefully this book will help you pass on your interest in cycling and making great friends!”

It’s true: Jonathan does have a knack for making great friends. He still talks to several guys from college, guys who have been there for each other, who have managed to maintain contact throughout the nine and a half years since graduation. They’ve been to (and in) each others’ weddings, celebrated the birth of children, talked about the good and the bad and the hard and the easy things that have come their way.

Friends was a fitting book, then, for him to give us. It features three barnyard animals – Charlie Rooster, Johnny Mouse, and Fat Percy (the pig) – who go on adventures together. They look out for each other. “Good friends always stick together,” they tell us, and they “always decide things together.” They’re “always fair,” but sometimes they “can’t be together,” at which point they dream about each other, “the way true friends do.”

And this, this is what I hope for my girl as she grows. That, despite her quiet introversion, she’ll someday develop the kind of friendship that both of her parents have had the privilege of forming, the kind where you look out for each other. Where you stick together and are fair and decide things together. (If she wants to dream about her friends, that’s fine too, but not a requirement.)

She’s two. Imaginary friends are normal and safe, and I am glad that she has them. Someday, though, I hope she knows that, no matter how predictable and comfortable and understandable Beo and Julie and Da might be, no matter how much pain may come from relationships, real friendships are worth the risk.

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