When Henry was an infant he went through a ghost phase. And by ghost phase I mean he saw ghosts (ie: waved at Nothing, smiled at Nothing and acknowledged the presence of Nothing in a way that was both unsettling and mystical to his reasonable parents.)
This phase lasted from about nine to 12 months of age. It began one morning when I
waltzed plodded bright bleary-eyed into Henry’s room and spotted him staring into space, smiling and blah-blah-blahing at a very specific Nothing in the corner of his room.
“Good morning Henry,” I said.
No reaction. He was too preoccupied with the Thing I Could Not See to pay me any mind.
For three whole minutes my perfectly rowdy baby failed to whine, coo or so much as nod in my direction. Although I was invisible, the Thing I Could Not See remained perfectly in focus.
I stared at the Nothingness he was staring at.
What on earth was he looking at? Or better yet, WHO was he looking at?
“Henry? Yoo hoo? Good morning,” I
It took some effort to divert his attention. When he finally did turn to face me he gave a little goodbye wave to the apparition in his room.
“Sweetheart, did you see something over there?”
He smiled smugly as if to say YOU DUMB ADULT. YOUR EYES ARE TOO OLD TO SEE WHAT I SEE. Returning to his usual helpless state, he threw his arms in the air and grunted – the universal baby sign for GET ME OUT OF MY CRIB DAMMIT.
Intrigued as we were, Joe and I were also slightly freaked out. When it came to communicating with us, Henry’s verbal skills were limited to BLAH, DAH and ITE. When it came to ghosts however, our son was downright loquacious. On more than five occasions we caught him babbling with, or staring at the same empty corner in his bedroom. One night when we were reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar, he did as he always did: immediately flip to the butterfly at the end of the book except this time when he pointed to the wings he also pointed to … the same corner in his room.
When Henry was about 10 months old, we decided to share his psychic powers with other people. We did our best to downplay the psychic part because no sensible adult would tell another sensible adult that their kid sees dead people.
“It’s gotta be my grandparents,” Joe said confidently.
“Or his guardian angel,” Oma replied.
“Or himself from the future,” I added.
“Or his imaginary friend,” my mother-in-law said.
We all wondered what it looked like, until one day it hit us when, once again, he flipped to the butterfly in the caterpillar book and enthusiastically traced its wings.
“Hank’s ghost has wings,” I told my brother-in-law Phil.
“He probably sees fairies,” Phil replied somewhat matter-of-fact.
This somehow sounded a lot less creepy than seeing ghosts. Suddenly I was enchanted. Just the thought of Henry seeing fairies made me want to fly out of my bedroom window dressed in a blue nightgown. A Tinker Bell! In my house! How wonderful!
But according to Phil I would never see the offending sprite. Society has a way of beating the fairy dust out of us, so that by the time we’re able to describe metaphysical encounters we’re too blinded by logic to see them in the first place.
“A lot of babies see fairies,” he continued. “It’s a THING.”
Or as we parents like to call it: A phase, and like all phases this one eventually came to an end.
By the time Henry was a year old his fairy was gone; flew the coop. My son, riveted by more material pursuits, no longer sat in his crib for 15 minutes babbling conspiratorially at Nothing. He no longer waved goodbye to Nothing. Sadder still: he no longer insisted I flip to the butterfly at the end of his caterpillar book.
Instead he began to study the illustrations of ice cream and chocolate that pop up about midway through the caterpillar book.
“Mmmm,” he’d say, pointing to the cake.
“But what about the butterfly?” I’d ask, flipping back to the monarch. “The butterfly is your special friend, right?”
(Furious head shake.) Nope. Not any more. Not in a world with ice cream and chocolate cake.
“But the wings! You love the wings! They’re magical, remember?”
(Grimace.) Nope. They’re just bug wings.
“OK, well then, how about I wave bye-bye to your fairy before I tuck you into bed?”
(Snort.) Fairy? What fairy, you dumb adult? Flip back to the ice cream.
I’d flip back to the ice cream.
“Mmmm,” he’d say, beaming.
So now I do the only thing I know how: I make up stories about how ice cream has magical powers and how fairies must eat ice cream in order to fly fast and that once there was a little boy who saved all his ice cream in the freezer in hopes that a fairy might visit his house to fuel up. And that once, when his ice cream stash had reached immense proportions, he woke up one day to find iridescent fairy dust on his bedsheets.
Since Henry is barely two, this story holds his attention for about 30 seconds. But for 30 seconds my son appears to be rapt with wonder and though it’s difficult for this dumb adult to read his silence, I interpret it as belief.