My son Christian has had an invisible dragon-friend since he was two years old. He’s blue (I haven’t puzzled out the contradictory twist of physics by which “blue” and “invisible” can coincide as descriptors) and about the size of a big toe. A pocket-dragon, you could say–though I’m given to understand that most often he flies around my son’s head during the day.
Before he could verbalize, I used a lot of sign-language with Christian, which he picked up and put to use with a facility that astonished me. (Clearly he understood what to do with language–he just couldn’t get his mouth to make words yet.) He invented some signs of his own, including a verb-marker I called his “do-it” sign. “Do-it book” meant read, “do-it shoes” would be a request for shoelace-assistance, and so on. At 14 months, his newly invented sign was “Dragon”–I assumed in tribute to his favorite book, The Cowardly Dragon… But perhaps Dragon has been with us from that early date.
When Christian (whom I have always called “Hobbit” for his curly hair) discovered at age three-and-a-half that there was a book called The Hobbit, nothing would do but to read it right away, despite my protests that it’s an un-illustrated “grown-up” book. “YOU can read it to me,” he declared in his most decisive, debate-ending tone–and I acquiesced, assuming he wouldn’t last for more than a few pages. As we neared the final chapter, I wrote disbelievingly in my journal:
“Surely a great deal of the language is over his head, but I’ve overheard him relating plot-points and descriptions to grandma, and he’s discussing character motivation as we read…
‘When Invisible Bilbo converses with the dragon, is Smaug only pretending to be polite? Or is he really a nice dragon, and the dwarves were mistaken?’
‘Do you suppose Smaug is flying off to Lake Town to attack the people, or to get a drink?’
(He was quite willing to consider the dragon ‘not wild’–HIS Dragon’s influence, perhaps–at least right up until the dragon began to burn Lake Town. Then: ‘They’d better kill him fast!’)”
(Yes, he was the kind of three-year-old who used words like “mistaken.”)
Dragon’s days have mostly mimicked Christian’s, though always with a twist. He played Dragon T-ball (in which dragons field more players than kids do), took Dragon Swimming Lessons (where dragons learn wing-strokes, their arms being too small for effective swimming), and is apparently a great reader of Dragon Books (which are necessarily printed on fire-retardant paper).
Dragon has been part of our family adventures for years, through the medium of Christian’s story-telling. There was the time Dragon’s soccer-team got a flat tire on their Dragon Bus and almost missed their game. And the traumatic episode when dragon “ran out of Blue” and had to become a Green Dragon–until it was discovered that he could “check out Blue” from the library and resume his original color. At least until the books–and the Blue–came due.
Even now, a few months from Junior High Scool, Christian readily answers my inquiries about what Dragon is up to. (Dragon Algebra, in case you wondered.) The other night when we were figuring out the Chinese Zodiac for each member of the family, he asked me when he had started talking about Dragon, so he could calculate his age. (Dragon was born in the Year of the Sheep, go figure.)
Last year he and I collaborated on a tribute to Dragon: a tattoo twining up my leg. Christian described him in detail so our artist could get it right (because, duh, Dragon is INVISIBLE to the rest of us) and signed off on the likeness, sketched in Sharpie on my leg, before we broke out the permanent ink.
Some parents have to “break the news” to their kids about Santa and the Tooth Fairy, but I’ll always remember Christian, aged four or so… Deep in a discussion of Dragon’s latest escapades, he suddenly paused, looked me seriously in the eye, and gently asked: “Mom, you DO know that Dragon is PRETEND, right?”