My daughter has an imaginary sister called Charlotte. She comes and goes, but she is always there. Much like a real sister I suppose. She generally arrives when other people are talking about their own siblings. Along with another hairline crack in my heart.
This is what it is like to fail your child. To feel you have failed them, anyway. The sense parents have when their child falls downstairs behind a turned back, or is bullied by faceless tormentors at school. It is a melancholic stab, a powerless ache accompanied by the throb of guilt. To begin with I tried not to mention Charlotte, for fear of encouraging the fantasy. But recently, since she (both of them) are a bit older and wiser, I decided to ask for a bit of information about her. She lives with her mummy and daddy - she has different parents - a little way away and is older than my daughter. She helps out when my daughter is feeling lonely or out-siblinged, which really amounts to the same thing.
I think I suggested that she wasn’t a real sister at some point. “No, I know she’s not real” my daughter replied and cuddled closer on the sofa.
When it is time for bed, I ask her to take her clothes off herself and then put on her pyjamas. “Hmmph. I can’t do everything daddy”, she says.
That’s true. Sometimes you need a little help from someone nearby, and sometimes, perhaps, you need a little bit more than that.
“Will you do some computering daddy, before you go downstairs?”, she says, when it’s time to go to sleep. “I want you to look after me.”
I kiss her cheek and she whirls around onto her side, flinging an arm casually around my neck.
I go next door, amused that the mouse-clicking made by writing about her, is a comfort to her. One day when she is too old for mouse-clicking, the words might be a comfort to her too, I hope.