When Taylah was a little girl she had an imaginary friend named Josh. He wasn’t around a lot, but would pop up occasionally, usually in very random places, such as the Adelaide airport.
When BJ was little, he had an imaginary friend called Melman. I was quite fond of Melman. He had a complicated back story, and his mum seemed to keep dying every other week, but he was good fun. We heard a lot about Melman for quite a while, until BJ got old enough to have real friends, and then Melman faded into the background.
About a year ago, Ava introduced us to Lily and Mali. Two little girls who she apparently did everything with. I’m not sure if they were sisters or just friends, but it was ‘Lily and Mali’ this, ‘Lily and Mali’ that.
After a little while, it wasn’t enough to just have Lily and Mali. The thing about being the youngest in a family of four kids, is that all your siblings have friends they can talk about, or they do things at school. When you’re home with Mum, you don’t have anywhere near enough interesting stories. Lily and Mali were good friends to chat about, but Ava needed more.
Enter ‘Rainbow School.’
Rainbow School, for all the stories I’ve heard about it, is quite possibly the most magical place on earth. All of Ava’s friends are there including real ones, imaginary ones, and all characters from the Smurfs movies. In fact Papa Smurf is the teacher at Rainbow School.
All the best toys and games are at Rainbow School. All the best people. All the most wonderful stories come from there. It is a beautiful, wonderful happy place.
So many conversations I have heard from the lips of Miss Ava, have started with the phrase, ‘At Rainbow School….’
Towards the end of last year, Ava spoke less of Lily and Mali, less of Rainbow School, and more of actual people. She had friends in her world and with that the need for imaginary people dissipated.
When we moved to Port Lincoln, we heard barely anything about it. In fact I can’t remember the last time Lily and Mali were named, and apart from a solitary mention of Rainbow School to my dad on the phone not long after we moved, neither were talked about.
Until last week.
Ava has been very preoccupied with our life in Darwin recently; I think it’s finally registering with her that this is not a long holiday. She talks frequently of her friends and my mum, and, now, Rainbow School. As we go about our business in the day, I am regaled with the tales of the happenings at her imaginary place, and it’s beautiful. I’ve missed Rainbow School.
But in a bittersweet twist, it turns out that she doesn’t ‘go’ to Rainbow School any more. Imaginary schools it seems, do not cross State Borders. Just because it’s not real, doesn’t mean it’s transportable.
Rainbow School lives in the capital of the NT, and there’s no going back.
It breaks my heart a little bit to hear of it. You always expect that when your kids leave things behind, it’s because they no longer have any need for them. Like when Melman faded into the background, or Josh stayed at Adelaide airport forever.
You don’t ever think that the dreams of a tiny person can actually be left behind because they feel they have to. That just as they say good-bye to their grandparents, and friends, and play group, they also say goodbye to a whole other world they have made up. Not that it’s completely gone of course; it’s just that now she is quite definite in saying, ‘I don’t go to Rainbow School any more. Rainbow School is in Darwin.”
We’ve been here four months now, and it’s ok. It’s going smoothly. We have friends and a good church, and I love the kid’s school. There is a lot going well for us.
But there’s a look people have, when they first to Darwin. A look that says they aren’t quite content. That although they are here, it’s not forever. It’s a look that you grow to know, so that when, a few years later, they say they are leaving, you’re not surprised. You always saw it coming.
People give me that look now. Almost like I’m a flight risk. Or like I’m judging their little town, and comparing it to to home. And I get why, I totally understand it.
But I don’t want to be that person.
I want to be here, and be present, and grow like a happy little flower content with where it’s been planted.
I don’t want to be constantly looking back to Rainbow School.
The kids have all bid farewell to imaginary friends in the past, as well as real life friends this year. It’s been hard at times, and there’s been lots of conversations based around the idea that it’s ok to move on. It’s good to move on. BFF is a nice idea, but not realistic when you’re 5, or 8 or 11.
Life goes on. People move on. And you become better for it. You become more because of it.
You learn that even if your life wasn’t what you thought it was, it’s still your life, and you can still dream, and make plans and write stories.
You still own all the good times. You are still who you are because of them.
And no matter what, you’ll always have the beauty that is Rainbow School.
Even if you can’t go there anymore.