When I was a child I didn’t have imaginary friends. I did however, have an imaginary alter ego. Her name was Orange Cecelia, or sometimes Orange Ce-Sara, and she was orphan who lived in our backyard.
Miss Orange was very self-sufficient. She harvested, cooked, and ate grass. She wove clothes from grass. She lived in a tent of grass. Are you noticing a trend? There wasn’t much else, other than grass, in our backyard. I filled many play dishes with mounds of grass, pulled it up by the handful to sprinkle over my elephant slide as a mock-up of my grass tent, and patted it all over myself to mimic grass clothes. As long as I concentrated on pulling up dandelions along with the grass I got no complaints from my parents.
I enjoyed being Orange Cecelia because she didn’t need any help. I think it’s hard for young children to be so dependent on other people. They don’t have any autonomy yet and can’t fulfill their most basic needs. Anyone who has spent time around kids knows that they often are frustrated by wanting to do things all by themselves that they just haven’t mastered yet. They can’t fix their own food, bathe themselves, or go anywhere outside their immediate surroundings. They can’t communicate well, not being able to read or write, use a phone or the internet, and may even still speak poorly enough that only family members understand them. But it’s not only frustrating to be so dependent for your entire life* but scary. At any moment these people might leave. Who would love you and make you cheerios? Who would put you to bed and read you stories? I think children understand, at a basic level, that their daily existence hinges on other people.
Orange Cecelia’s existence didn’t hinge on anyone else though, only on that year’s grass harvest. She was free from the weight and worry that important people wouldn’t be there for her anymore. She had freedom from being told what to do and not to do (except of course, don’t pull the grass from other people’s lawns, don’t put grass in your hair, only pull dandelions and not other flowers…). She didn’t worry that without parents she’d be hungry, lonely, cold, or unloved. She didn’t have parents, she was an orphan after all, and she was just fine. She was obviously able to meet all her own grass-oriented needs. Orange Cecelia’s life was her own and it was a relief to be her sometimes. I hope that I identify this kind of behavior and imagining in my own kids, I want to make sure that they have room in the house rules for these exercises in autonomy, both important for them at that moment and for their future development.
And so, ramps. Obviously all that Orange Cecelia play has prepared me to yank leaves from the ground and enjoy eating them. The four year old in me is absolutely tickled pink by the idea. Does this mean I’m finally a grown-up?
*And extra frustrating because you don’t understand how you will grow up to be able to do these things later, did you ever notice how many books and t.v. shows for kids teach them about how they will grow and change? Children have only ever been children, it isn’t obvious to them that they will change and become adults, they have to be told, many times over, that it will happen.