My rowboat disappeared one day.
When I was 3, I had a little rowboat. I rowed it from the path beside the house, past the big oak tree, and up to my mother’s rose garden whenever it rained long enough to make a small pond under the Oak Tree. (Which was often). I wore a little yellow raincoat and red boots just like Christopher Robin.
Then I would play in the rose garden. The rose garden had a little house, with a teaset and kitchen. I had tea parties in my house, and many adventures. I’m sure I played out there for hours.
One morning, shortly after I was four, I woke up on a rainy morning and ran out to play. My rowboat was gone. My raincoat wasn’t bright yellow, and my boots weren’t the red I remembered. I stood at the side of the pond, confused. It wasn’t a pond anymore, either. It was a big puddle. A puddle that didn’t even reach halfway up my boots.
In my four-year-old wisdom, I finally reasoned that I had either dreamt the whole thing, or pretended I had a rowboat. So I tried to do that again. I pretended to row a boat across to the rose garden. It wasn’t the same. And when I explored the rose garden, my house and my teaset were gone, too.
I desperately tried to recreate my play, but it never worked. Not that day or the days following when I attempted it.
And it wasn’t the only pretend play that was gone, either. At daycare I was meant to nap every day. I never did. I used my blankie to put on a puppet show while I laid down between the chairs. The puppets had always talked by themselves, before. I never had to say a thing. But then, one day, they were silent. I had to do it myself. And when I tried to talk for them, I got “shushed” and told to get to sleep! I was mortified. I’d never been shushed before!
This was one of those little mysteries that I’d never got my head around. Even in my adult head, I had reasoned that I must have been dreaming or sleeping. Until recently. At the beginning of August, TVOne in New Zealand broadcast a show called “Real Life: Can’t Sleep Kid.” The gist of it was that a little girl would get up from her bed every night, climb into her mother’s bed, and “sleep play.” She would not respond to or acknowledge her mother, and appeared to be in some kind of intricate game complete with imaginary friends.
After a drawn out assessment and sleep study, the doctors figured out that the little girl wasn’t sleepwalking or dreaming. She was quite awake. She was in something they call an “eidetic virtual world” where she had created a whole playspace in her parent’s bed. What she saw, and what her parents saw, did not match up.
My brain clicked. GOTCHA! That was exactly it! My rowboat and my puppets WERE real… to me, anyways. I, too, had created an “eidetic virtual world.”
And at some point, my brain had severed the synapses that had allowed me to create it. And for the girl in the show, it happened, as well. When her parents changed her going to bed routine, and insisted she stay in her own bed, her virtual world disappeared too. I’m sure it was just as disappointing to her as it was to me, the day my rowboat disappeared.