(originally written 9/26/16, edited 7/27/21)
I could feel myself shaking in her steady warmth. Between gasps of air, I muttered, “Chili got run over by a car.” She pulled me in tight, “Oh Olivia,” she said in my ear, “I’m sorry to hear that.” She hesitated for a moment, then added with the tiniest hint of a smile, “but I think you will be ok.”
At the time it was devastating, many emotions were welled up inside me. How could this happen to the only imaginary friend I ever had?… We were so close… And yes, her name was Chili.
Now, as a foster mom, I see children play pretend every day — sometimes they fly to the moon in an empty box, or storm a castle as they climb a hill. Their pretend play has no limits, nothing they can’t see or do. Some of them — perhaps the most creative — even had pretend friends.
But what amazes me the most, is when pretend play sneaks into reality. When it seeps through the cracks of our emotional scars in an attempt to fill them with words, or truths, to help us feel whole.
“Olivia?” My 3-year-old foster son calls to me, “will you be my pretend mom?” I pause what I am doing to look at him. His eyes are hopeful, playful even. I smile, his young mind not understanding the irony of his question. “Of course I will,” I say, as I watch him closer.
The way he looks at me now, when he calls me “mom” for the first time, hits a nerve I didn’t expect. And while I long to someday be a “real mom”, as Pinocchio would say, I can’t help but feel that right here, in this moment of pretend, is where I want to be.
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