This weekend, Patrick & I were driving through Northgate after shopping for decorations when he asked if he had ever told me about his imaginary friend, Penny. When he was in preschool, and his mother picked him up at the end of the day, he spent the rides home telling her about what he and Penny had done at school that day--who they played with, what they did. His mom became suspicious when Patrick told her that Penny was a boy. She figured it out when Patrick's teacher told her she had no kids named Penny at the school (and also when Patrick began to regale her with stories of Nickel & Dime, Penny's brother and sister, and Good Dollar & Bad Dollar, Penny's cousins).
What is interesting about Patrick's imaginary friends is that he really didn't spend his days playing with Penny, Nickel & Dime, and Good Dollar & Bad Dollar. He had friends--real ones--at his preschool that he played with. But when he got in the car, what happened that day was not "Legos with Timmy" but hours filled with Bad Dollar pulling all the little girls' hair, and running around with Penny.
Patrick said that he did some research a while back about childhood imaginary friends, and discovered that this is not uncommon. We are, of course, most familiar with the kind like Fred. This sort of imaginary friend, where the child creates a solitary world, is the more psychologically troubling kind, the kind that indicates that the child has difficulty connecting to others, or feels isolated in some way.
Telling stories about an imaginary cast of characters, however, isn't indicative of loneliness. Rather, Penny & his family showed an active imagination, a passion to create and to keep things interesting.
After all, Timmy probably only ever built boring old towers with his Legos, anyway.