Imaginary Friends

The first time we discovered Isaac had a dream life was over a year ago, when Isaac was just starting to become more verbal. One night, in the midst of night terrors, he cried “Isaac don’t want eye-fire, Isaac don’t want eye-fire!” Later on, while watching Lord of the Rings, we realised that eye-fire was… the eye of Sauron. (It was curious though, because until that nightmare, we didn’t think Isaac had ever seen a picture of the eye of Sauron nor other depictions of what would pass as eye-fire.)

Other than that early episode, Isaac seldom displayed signs of an active imagination. He did not pretend play at all until around a month or so ago, and even when he did, it was to pretend that a basket was a vacuum cleaner and the rope of my yoga mat was its wire. It is very amusing to watch him pretend to explain them as if he were on YouTube but hardly the sophisticated fare that his peers are engaged in.

Then around two to three months ago, we became acquainted with “Tiko and Tako”. The first time he referred to them was during bedtime, when after saying his usual goodnights to us, he added “Goodnight Tiko and Tako!” I asked him who they were but he mostly just found it funny that I was asking and kept laughing. Because he gestured vaguely at the ceiling when he said goodnight to them, I assumed that he had named the two lights in our room ‘Tiko and Tako”.

Tiko and Tako would continue to make random appearances. Sometimes Isaac would say goodnight to them. Sometimes he would repeat our whole conversation with him saying goodnight, me asking who they are, then going into laughing fits at the reenactment. (As I type this, I realise that this makes Isaac sound a little deranged! Perhaps all toddlers are.) Sometimes, he would answer my question of “What is your Chinese name?” with “Tiko and Tako!” So I never really thought very much about them. In fact, I wasn’t even sure if they referred to two characters or possibly one character named “Tikoentako”.

Then a few days ago, I came across the topic of imaginary friends in an early childhood article and it struck me that perhaps Tiko and Tako are Isaac’s imaginary friends! So I began to question him about their characteristics and antics and managed to surmise that they are two black-haired boys who like to “run and play around”. Isaac could also answer when I asked what they were doing at any given moment such as, “Tiko and Tako are just playing in the rain outside and getting wet!” (This was first said when it was raining outside our room fourteen levels up in the sky and slightly creepy to hear. Later, he would clarify that they were actually playing on the balcony.)

Because there were some inconsistencies and sometimes Isaac sounded like he made things up on the spot, it reassured us that they were products of his imagination, rather than um… ghosts hanging out in our house.

Anyway, last night, I thought of the eye-fire, eye-of-Sauron episode and decided to test if Tiko and Tako had literary origins as well.

“Are Tiko and Tako boys or girls?” Boys.
“What colour are Tiko and Tako’s hair?” Black.
“What colour are Tiko and Tako’s eyes?” Green.
“Do Tiko and Tako wear glasses?” Yes.
“Are Tiko and Tako taller or shorter than Isaac?” Taller.
“Can Tiko and Tako fly?” No.
“Do Tiko and Tako ride on broomsticks?” Yes.
“Can Tiko and Tako fly when they ride on broomsticks?” Yes.
“Do Tiko and Tako have lightning shaped scars on their faces?” Yes.

So Isaac’s imaginary friends are *drumroll* … … Harry Potter! 🤣

Of course, I think I asked a lot of leading questions to begin with, but it gave me a good laugh on a Sunday night!

Questions from Isaac

Isaac has constantly surprised us with his intense curiosity, his rapid understanding and ability to recall and apply concepts to novel situations.

Then last night, he quite outdid himself. Ning and I were having dinner and Isaac was playing in the dining area. He was looking at a bottle of screen cleaner — basically clear soapy liquid in a transparent container. After a while, he moved from the dining area where there were red chairs and a dark carpet to the white marble floor a few paces away. Then he commented “You can see more clearly there!”

I asked him why, thinking he was going to say something about brightness because the dining area was closer to the light, and that would have been a concept quite well within his grasp. But instead, he answered “Because the floor is white here.”

Which had me stunned for a moment and I quickly checked with Ning if he ever taught Isaac that. He didn’t, and the closest I could think of was how I explained to Isaac once that he could see the dark pupils in his toy cat’s eyes because its irises were blue; but in my eyes the iris is dark so it’s hard to see the pupil. That was the closest we taught him about colour contrast so it was quite amazing to hear him understand and apply it to a different context.

By now, he’s also started asking questions that we have to take a moment to think about before we can answer (such as the surprisingly deep question — why is ice cold?). Ning and I are going to have to do quite a bit of homework to refresh all the stuff we learnt when we were younger and to find ways in which we can teach them to him in an accurate way which can be built upon as he grows older! But it’s going to be such fun!

Letting Go

Before Isabel was born, Isaac used ask at bedtime for “Mama to be very close to Isaac”. I would lean my forehead against his and he would make some comment about how “Mama looks very blur” and then we would fall asleep like that, forehead against forehead, breath to breath. He didn’t like to me turn my back to him then, and if he awoke in the middle of the night to find me facing away from him, he would tug at me till I turned over to face him. Even after Isabel was born and while she was sleeping in her own room, Isaac and I would sleep like that.

Then I brought Isabel into the room and it became more of a challenge to put both to bed, without disturbing the other. Isabel usually falls asleep first, which meant that I could still attend to Isaac. Other times, she would wake and need to be soothed so I had to turn away from Isaac so I could pat and soothe her. Those times, Isaac never complained about having my back turned to him, and sometimes he would have fallen asleep by the time Isabel had too.

Last night, with a wrench in my heart, I realised that he did not ask me to sleep very close to him, and has not asked that for a while. And he has been perfectly compliant whenever I had to turn to Isabel to soothe her. I always found it hard to answer when others asked if Isaac has been jealous since Isabel came along, but it became clear last night.

No, Isaac has never been jealous of Isabel. During the early days, Isaac became needier — I now see that it was more from the separation during birth and the need for reassurance that I am still there. But it was not because of jealousy or competition. Except for times when Isaac is in pain or distress, he has always been generous in sharing me with Isabel. Not once has he fussed when I needed to drop something abruptly with him when I need to attend to Isabel (although I make it a point to devote attention to him and acknowledge him afterwards).

It could be that Isaac was simply growing up and sooner or later he would grow out of needing me so much. But I know my child and he is a child after my own heart and I know that this is not yet the end of that brief and fleeting time when a mother is the centre of her son’s life. When Isabel is not around, Isaac still acts as he always does with me, so happy just to have my attention and so concerned that I am happy too. But when she is, I know that in his simple child’s heart, he has made the conscious choice to let me go.

And perhaps, this is why I don’t want to have another child after Isabel. Isaac had the privilege of being firstborn, centre of our world — but he also had to face the enormity of letting this privileged position go. Isabel will never be our only child, but I hope that in return, she will always be our youngest, our baby, and never have to put herself aside the way Isaac had to.

But whatever it is, they make me so happy, and I am so grateful to have both little Is in my life =)