There’s nothing fishy about your kid’s imagination

Richard Farleigh
MY DAUGHTER Jasmine, seven at the time, looked at me terrified, and I tried to reassure her. “It’s okay Jassy, you need to see a doctor. You’ve got a temperature and you feel like vomiting. You’ve had it for a few days, and sometimes you feel better but then you feel sick again.” “No, Daddy! He’ll give me an infection, and I hate them!” I tried not to smile despite her words. “No, he won’t give you an injection, he’ll probably just give you tablets.” “Please, no Daddy, I really don’t want the doctor. I’ll be fine.” “I’m sorry Jas, but you’re too sick. We’re going.”

Jasmine suddenly turned very thoughtful, and carefully looked around the room confirming no one could overhear our conversation. She moved closer to me, and dropped her voice to a whisper. Nothing is as precious as a child’s secret. “You don’t understand, Daddy. It’s everything that I want.” “How do you mean?” I whispered back, lest our bond be broken. “A friend told me that if I think about it every day, as hard as I could, it would happen. I would feel sick, but it would be worth it. And now it’s happening” “But what’s happening Jassy?” She looked around the room again and said… “I’m turning into a mermaid.”

Another time and another place, and my son Lucas, six, was thirsty. “Dadda, can we buy some water?” We were in the port of Monaco after a hot day, and I answered, “No, let’s hop in the car. We’ll be home in just a couple of minutes; you can have some water there.” He looked at the sea, splashing and sparkling and alluring. “Can’t I just drink some of that water?” I spotted a moment to slip in a little educational explanation. “No, that’s seawater Lulu. You can’t drink it, it would just make you thirstier – it’s got salt in it.” “Oh”, he said, nodding with understanding. “Has it got pepper in it too?”

All parents have probably had similar experiences that make them stop for a moment in awe and wonder about their child’s mind, personality and conviction. When Jasmine convinced herself she was turning into a mermaid, she believed it so much that she almost convinced part of me too. It reminded me of when I was a child and was wearing a new superman outfit which naturally convinced me that I was superman. So I jumped off the roof of a shed. “Look Uncle Bill, I can fly!” Luckily a startled Bill was good at catching falling children; otherwise I’d probably be in a wheelchair.

As we get older, the immensity of our imaginations fades, but is that a good thing? Yes, we don’t want to jump off too many roofs, but surely we evolved imagination as some sort of tool to help us survive and prosper. And maybe, like our eyesight and hearing, its weakening through ageing is natural but not desirable. So I try to keep mine alive and often let my mind wander. A bit like meditation, but more fun. Now, I wonder, would a sick mermaid need a doctor or a vet?

Richard Farleigh has operated as a business angel for many years, backing more early-stage companies than anyone else in the UK.