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For whatever reason, my family was never that into “imaginary friends”. I distinctly remember there was a brief time when I realized I didn’t have an imaginary friend but other kids around my age would occasionally have one. So I gave a rather half-hearted effort around the idea that Charlie Brown was my imaginary friend. But my heart wasn’t really in it and I gave up on the idea within the span of dinner that evening.
Neither of my brothers had a true imaginary friend that I can remember either. I’d like to think it is because we are all level-headed fellas who have a good head on our shoulders and wouldn’t get all wrapped up in something as silly as an imaginary friend. Or maybe it was because we were each so popular that we couldn’t keep up with our flesh-and-blood friends and did not have the time or energy needed for development and maintenance of such an undertaken. Unfortunately, I have a sneaking suspicion it is because we just weren’t that creative at the time.
Despite not having any imaginary friends around the house to buddy up with or get into minor degrees of mischief with, that does not mean that there still was not a fictional character lying in wait within the walls of our home. He wasn’t as much a friend as he was a stand-in or a scapegoat for when things went wrong for my middle brother, Matt. His name was Not Matt. (That whole “lack of creativity” thing is really starting to come into focus now.)
While I don’t remember exactly when or why Not Matt first made an “appearance” in the McKenna household, I do know that he lived under Matt’s bed. We also never really got into any kind of description of what he looked like that I can recall, I always just thought of him as pretty much looking like my brother Matt, only with slightly darker features and slightly less helpful attitude. You know, something like this, if Matt ever looked like Johnny Depp…
Luckily for all of us, and probably Matt in particular, Not Matt never did anything particularly egregious and really did not come out all that often. Sometimes the blame was placed on him for things that had gone wrong around the house and on occasion there was the tantalizing possibility that Not Matt might actually be able to take Matt’s place at some activity or function that he did not want to go to.
For the record, none of us every real believed that Not Matt existed. It quickly became an inside joke in the family. We openly would wonder when he would come out again or have brief discussions of whether or not some small accident that occurred was due to him (spoiler alert: in a shocking upset, Not Matt was in no way involved in the ill-fated Pound Puppy Extra Point). There were also times when we considered if we needed to bring him some food. Thankfully he never left the house and went to school in my brother’s place.
Pretty soon, Not Matt went the way of all good legends. Like the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot, most discussion of Not Matt quickly began to center around not actual sightings but speculations about whether or not some strange occurrence could be attributed to him. In my mind, there is no definite point in time when Not Matt faded away from the family and in that regard it is fitting that he left in the same manner that he came.
But for one brief moment in time, Matt had a scapegoat clone and who wouldn’t want that. So unfortunately for the time being if something goes wrong in the vicinity of my brother Matt, he seeming would not have his clone around to take the fall for him. Unless, Matt has kept Not Matt in hiding all of these years and he is finally ready to re-release unto the world or mischief and imagination.
And so while McKenna Family Scholars debate whether or not Not Matt will ever come back around, it is entirely possible that we are asking the wrong question. Maybe the important issue to consider is not “When will Not Matt come back?”, but “Will Not Alexander or Not Audry show up?” And if they do, Amelia has a little mouse and her “friend” Emma that can hang out with them and show them how to get in trouble. They might even end up finding Not Matt together.
Early on when Amelia was a baby, I remember pausing for a few moments and looking at a few pictures of her as well as some old baby pictures of Hannah. At that moment, it was so easy to look back and see how the Hannah in those baby pictures correlated to the Hannah that was right in front of me in living color. “She always smiled like that when she was happy”, “she always tilts her head like that when taking pictures”, “even back as a baby she was always content to sit and play with whatever was in front of her”, and so many other thoughts came flooding over me. Even though she was only 4, it was like I had always known her and what she was about.
Despite already being a few months old, that day I felt like Amelia was a blank slate. I didn’t really know who she was. Who was she going to become? At what point would I be able to look back and say “she has always done that”? What would I think about those same pictures later on? I can’t pretend just a few years later that I have all of the answers, but Amelia is definitely not a blank slate anymore. She has certainly filled my memory and my soul with a great many shades of vibrant colors. And she is most certainly ‘spirited’.
Often times we use that word, ‘spirited’, as something of a joke. A nice way to say that Amelia is angry a lot. But to be honest, this past year has really shown me how true that description is for Amelia. With most everything she does, she puts her whole spirit into it. There are so many moments of pure, unabashed joy. Running to the bus stop in the morning at full speed after her beloved sister. Eyes getting so wide when she realizes that it is gymnastic day or ” ‘Jama Day!” To be certain, she also puts her all into throwing giant fits and crying at the top of her lungs wen things don’t go her way, as they often don’t when you are three years old.
But I think my favorite part of the past year has been really watching her personality unfold and watching her interact with the world around her, especially when she thinks I am not paying attention. Having her dolls and Sesame Street figures talk to each other and sing each other songs, not to mention give each other kisses and hugs. The way that she plays out real life issues and struggles via her dolls. At this point it has been a few months since Amelia has had to be put in time-out for hitting me, Susie or Hannah, but I have lost count of how many times recently that Amelia has put one of her babies (always the same one) in time-out for hitting.
Half of the time before bed, she tries to read me the story instead of the other way around. She can’t actually read, but watching her look at the pictures and try to recreate her version of the story from those visuals plus what she remembers hearing is fascinating to me. I can literally see the wheels of her mind turning and picking up new skills every day. It has been a thrill to watch her realize that “I bigger now!” (just like her older sister, a few years back) and to have her be able to not only sing songs and request songs by name that she has heard on the radio, but remember that a certain song is my latest favorite (“Daddy, its your HAM!”)
The past year has been such a whirlwind of an adventure and like any good roller coaster, it has had its ups and its downs. But I wouldn’t trade this ride for any other ride in the world. The best part of all is that it has only just begun. And while I still don’t know exactly what the future holds for this ride, I have a much better idea of the possibilities and I am invigorated.
Below is the ever famous “birthday video” that we put together for each of our children every year. With the death of Apple’s Mobile Me, they need a new home, so here they will live on my blog! Enjoy!