Just Imagine…One Big, Happy Family — by Jamie Levine
My daughter, Jayda, adore babies. As soon as she sees a stroller glide into the playground, she immediately stops whatever she’s doing and races over to say “hi.” I’ve trained her to only touch the feet of a baby whom we don’t know, but sometimes Jayda can’t help herself, and gently reinserts a pacifier, when she sees that it’s fallen out of a baby’s mouth. Both strangers and friends have often remarked that Jayda “needs a little sister or brother,” but as a single mom heading to grad school, I certainly don’t have the resources—or the desire!—to have another baby. And oddly enough, Jayda has never asked me to have one—nor outright expressed the desire to have a little sib. Instead, she simply enjoys role-playing; sometimes she asks me to pretend to be her baby, and sometimes she plays this game with her friends, trading off the mommy-baby responsibilities with them. Other times, she announces that she “has a baby in her belly,” and struts around proudly. I play along and congratulate her and ask when the baby’s “coming out,” and she lets me know, as she pretends to race off to the doctor, and then plans a party to celebrate the birth.
Other times, Jayda simply dotes on her doll-babies. She has a variety of them—in all ethnicities—as well as a high-chair, bunk beds, and various bottles, binkies, and clothing for her babies. She even has her own “Baby Bjorn”-like carrier that she straps on so she can strut around with a baby pressing close to her chest. I know Jayda would be a wonderful big sister, and though I do feel pangs of guilt every now and then when I see Jayda fussing over one of her friends’ baby siblings, Jayda never pressures me, personally. She only asks to spend time with friends’ babies—never to bring them home. And back at our house, she happily greets her own “babies” with no regrets. In her own amazing way, Jayda has figured out how to use her imagination to shape her reality—without putting any pressure on me!
A few weeks ago, Jayda and I went to the city for a dinner party at my friend’s apartment. Jayda was delighted to discover that my friend has a little dog, and spent the entire evening enjoying the dog as her playmate. When it came time to walk the dog, Jayda begged to join my friend’s daughter on the walk—and insisted on holding the leash the entire time. She assured us that “I can do it!” and insisted “I’ll be very careful!” and she proved to be an exemplary dog walker. Later in the evening, when we were back at the apartment, Jayda asked to walk the dog again, but my friend turned her down. After pouting for a few minutes, Jayda came up with a compromise: She put the leash back on the dog, and happily walked him around the apartment, again and again…for the rest of the night.
Back at home the next day, Jayda rummaged through one of my drawers, and came up with a “toddler-leash” that I’d used on her over a year ago when were visiting Sesame Place and a few other crowded places. She immediately asked me to put it on her, and when I curiously obliged, asked me to take her for a walk. Huh? After stepping outside with her, I soon discovered that Jayda was pretending to be a dog. She ran down the block (with me tugging on her as I raced to keep up with her), and stopped several times to squat. “What are you doing, Jayda?” I demanded. “Peeing!” she answered with a giggle. When she started wandering onto a neighbor’s lawn, I reprimanded her: “Get off of the lawn, Jayda—it’s not ours” and she remarked, “I’m just sniffing around—I’m not doing anything!” Lest I feel foolish for yanking a little girl around the block, Jayda barked at strangers, letting them know she was a dog. It was quite amusing…up until the end when she asked me to get a plastic bag (“I don’t have one, Jayda!” “Well, just ‘tend to get one, Mommy!) and instructed me to pick up her invisible poop. Yet again, Jayda’s imagination proved to be a remarkable thing.
At the dinner party in the city, several of my friends had warned me: “Jayda’s definitely going to ask for a dog now—watch out!” But she never did. She simply took things into her own hands—and her amazing imagination—once again, and let me off the hook. Who needs another baby or a dog, when I have a daughter who can be anything she wants to be? It’s reassuring to see that our family is just perfect for both of us.