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Making Plans for Nigel

A child's imaginary friend helps the whole family communicate with one another

My parents live in Texas and we — my husband Tim, Freddy, 9, Clara, 6, and I — are in the Northeast. Staying in touch can be challenging, to say the least, but these days it's much easier thanks to our shared fictional friend Nigel Blueberry. Nigel lives mostly under the dining room table of both houses, and is capable of traversing great distances instantly. He's been accused of snooping (since he can slip inside balloons to spy on people), tattling ("Clara just threw her homework out the car window"), and eating the last brownie (it was delicious). But he's also a trusted protector — recently, he was dispatched to Japan to watch over Freddy's vacationing friend Alex.

Children are often terrible phone conversationalists.

Mine will shake their heads "yes" and "no," point out the window by way of explanation, or worse, simply hang up at the first opportunity. Now that Nigel is on the scene, Freddy and Clara call up their grandparents unbidden: "Nigel wants me to tell you I made the all-star baseball team," or "Nigel is coming with me for my first violin lesson." They also make artwork about him and send it to their grandparents without prompting. Likewise, Dadada and Mamama call to announce things like "Nigel is taking us to Hawaii for our 50th anniversary. Isn't that nice of him?" or "Nigel wanted you to know he saw a poisonous snake in the garden today!" Recently, on a rare trip all together to a taqueria in Austin, Clara whisper-giggled in Dadada's ear, "Nigel is under the table right now and he is ... naked!" Don't worry, Nigel, your secret is safe with us.

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