Raising Richmond: Eaten by sharks

Sharks! Murder! iPads! Inside the weird world of my daughter’s imaginary siblings.

During school pick-up one evening, my daughter’s preschool teacher asked me if she had friends in her neighborhood and what their names were. I rattled off her friends’ and her cousin’s names–all boys– and she shook her head. “No, I don’t hear her talk about them.” 

I knew where this was headed.

“Does she talk about her sister Maya?” I asked.


“She doesn’t have a sister.”

Last summer, after a visit from two older cousins who live out of state, my daughter started to refer to them as her brother and sister. We corrected her, but she still talked about them like that, and eventually those real siblings turned into a pair of imaginary siblings: Seth and Maya (she has both Seths and Mayas in her life). She had previously mentioned a brother and sister who lived in the attic, but those two were never named and, other than the attic situation, we didn’t know anything about them.

As for Seth and Maya, she talks about them to her dad and me all the time. She had mentioned them to my sister and mom, too, but I didn’t know she was telling people who didn’t know she was an only child all about them. After her teacher mentioned it, I did have a talk with my daughter about how Maya and Seth aren’t real. She said they were. We still went with it. And her backstories (other than their ages) on them have been pretty consistent. She would make an excellent witness giving a false testimony.

Here are some things we know about Seth and Maya:1

  • Although they are her brother and sister, my husband and I are not their parents. 
  • Maya and Seth originally didn’t share parents, but now they do. 
  • Maya’s age is anywhere from a baby to my age, but she and my daughter have the same birthday. 
  • Maya moves a lot. She’s lived in California, North Carolina, and Colorado. I think she lives in Chesterfield now. 
  • Maya calls smoke detectors “stinky foot.” 
  • Maya calls my daughter “banana face.” 
  • Maya does not whine, and she can count to 100 in Spanish. 
  • She listens to her mother and is a good girl.
  • Seth has always been a trouble maker. He steals iPads. He ran away because he didn’t like his family.

— ∮∮∮ —

A recent conversation my daughter had with her friend:

Friend: Do you have another brother or sister?

My daughter: I only have one sister. My brother ran away in the woods and was eaten by the big, bad wolf

F: That sounds scary.

MD: No, it was sad.

— ∮∮∮ —

After that conversation my daughter told me, “Seth thinks that hitting is kind and hugging is bad.”

“I thought Seth was eaten by a wolf?” I asked her.

“It threw him up,” she said.

A few minutes later she told me Seth is good now, and he’s sorry for hitting.

“Who does Seth live with now?” I asked.

Turns out that Maya and Seth now live together with their mom. I asked what happened to their dad.

“He was at the beach house and fell in the ocean and was eaten by sharks,” she said.

— ∮∮∮ —

During a grocery store visit, a week after we talked about why we don’t take the carts home, my daughter told me that Seth and Maya stole a grocery store cart at Kroger. Maya killed the police so she wouldn’t go to jail.2

On top of all that turmoil, the kids have a new mom. Their old mom was eaten by sharks at the beach house.

If those bomb shells weren’t enough: Maya also has the same jumpsuit as my daughter.
She doesn’t talk to them. They’ve not been to our house. When I’ve asked if I get to meet them, my daughter mentions something about seeing them in “100 days.”

— ∮∮∮ —

While these little sociopaths aren’t normal, the concept of imaginary friends is. In an article in Parent & Child Magazine developmental psychologist Nancy S. Buck, says, “Imaginary friends let children explore relationships and work through their feelings.” Parents are encouraged to ask questions to help with imagination-building, short of pretending that you can see and interact with their friends, too.

Although Seth and Maya behave very badly during a year when my daughter has been testing the boundaries of her own limits for behavior, I’m not sure what she is working through with her siblings. I didn’t even know she had such strong feelings about police or owning grocery store carts. But I love to hear what she comes up with, and it’s fascinating to hear the stories she weaves from our real lives (for instance, she knows I saw a lot of sharks at the beach this past summer, and she covets everyone’s iPads).

Kids hang onto imaginary friends as late as age seven. It’ll be interesting to see how Maya and Seth grow, or if she lets them go and gets new people to tells us about. I am very grateful they are not real, though. They sound like terrible children.

Photo by: Maciej Chojnacki

  1. I’ve kept a log of things she tells us about Seth and Maya. 
  2. We probably shouldn’t let her play Grand Theft Auto. 
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Kelly Gerow

Kelly Gerow lives and writes in Richmond. She probably does other stuff in Richmond, too.

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