My son’s imaginary friends are all cats. Invisible, tiny cats. They follow him from place to place, appearing unexpectedly and at random. Once, making a sprint for the airplane bathroom on a long flight to Hawaii with my then 3-year-old, he stopped mid-aisle and announced, “Oh! My cats! My cats are here!” By the time we got to the bathroom, he had rounded up five of them, and they all had to come in the tiny airplane bathroom with us. They crawled all over everything and made a big mess, apparently. Then they came back to our seats and took a nap in his lap. He told all passers-by about this.
The cats arrived very unexpectedly one day, shortly after he started preschool. On the first day, we were being chased home by invisible raccoons. They reappeared on the second and third and fourth days. After a few more, the invisible raccoons were chasing invisible cats and we had to slow down so the cats could jump into the car and escape. The raccoons disappeared after that, but the cats were here to stay.
These cats live complex lives. Many of them get lost – frequently – and he must heroically rescue them. Mysteriously, most of them get lost up a set of street trees in one specific area of neighborhood which is on the walk home from his preschool, and now, his elementary school. This area is known as “the cat way” and God help you if you do not travel that road on the way home. The lost cats need us!
Sometimes the cats have mom and dad cats who go around with them, but not always. Some seem to be cat millionaires who have boats and planes. These cats always beat us to our house. A large contingent of them once went out and got jobs because they wanted to earn enough money to get bikes. After a while, all the invisible cats were zooming around us on the sidewalk with fancy new bikes. They quit their jobs after that. (Apparently, once you have earned enough money for a bike, there is no other earthly reason to have a job.)
Sometimes, these lost cats are scared and need to be carried, or are injured and we need to stop to administer imaginary first aid. (This usually involves leaves and sticks.) The cats will climb my son, his bike, his backpack, and so on. Once he is thoroughly overrun, it is my job to carry all the extras. Mostly, they like to stand on my head and shoulders. Luckily, imaginary cats don’t weigh much, and they don’t have those horrible razor claws of real kittens. Occasionally, one lost cat is rescued who is especially weak from being lost, or injured more severely than we can mend with sticks and leaves in the sidewalk hospital, and I must carry it very carefully home. Yes, I have made the mile long trek with my hand out in front of me, palm flat, so I do not dislodge an imaginary cat.
My wildly imaginative and inventive son recently created an imaginary tube that allows us to collect the lost kitties in my car when the weather is bad. We get in, he opens the end (it goes “thump”) and the cats pour out of the neighborhood and into the car. I feel like the Pied Piper of cats, cruising the neighborhood in my Volvo Mommobile, sucking up invisible cats and taking them home. This week there were two of special note. One, a “newborn cat whose eyes aren’t even open” was very small and needed lots of attention. I was required to tuck him safely into my scarf at my neck to keep him warm. He was dubbed Cutie Pie and I got updated reports on his recovery over the next few days. The second cat was “also a new borned cat, but he is older and has fur and his eyes open. He is called Fuzzy.”
Last night, it was decreed that these cats, successfully integrated into our family, the stuffies, our two real cats, and the large clowder of invisible cats who live here, had reached the milestone of their first birthday. My husband helped him bake a chocolate cake. There was a candle. We sang “Happy Birthday”, but the cats were so small that they needed some help blowing out the candle and eating their cake. My son beamed (with only a bit of chocolate frosting around his lips). That’s how we spent Friday night.
I don’t know what my son will remember from his childhood, but I hope he holds onto the memory that some days, the imaginary cats got to have parties too.