Parenting a Visionary Child
September 23, 2004 6:45 AM   Subscribe

My 6-year-old daughter sees things other people don't. "Skitter scatters," ghosts, auras. She just started school and there's something in the lunchroom only she can see, and this one makes her nervous. [mi]

First, I'm asking for someone who's had them to tell me how he or she dealt with these experiences, and how that turned out.
Second, I want to know what myth/story/magic/cinema might yield to identify this mysterious object.
From my girl:
It's on the ceiling of the cafeteria. It's the size of two adult fists. It's black and white and swirls. It's shiny but not sparkly. It is magical and not mechanical. The one picture she has drawn of it shows an uneven black band swirling around a mostly white center. (I imagine it's motion and appearance are like Jupiter's red spot.) It seems to float against the corrugated metal of the ceiling.

Believe me, I would be no less skeptical than some of you surely are, but I have chosen to respect her experiences and I'm asking for people to respect this query. There are familial precedents that have been that have been used to reassure, but not encourage her. Please don't advise meds, or counseling.
posted by putzface_dickman to Human Relations (109 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
The one picture she has drawn of it shows an uneven black band swirling around a mostly white center. (I imagine it's motion and appearance are like Jupiter's red spot.)

Just to clarify: this means it's flat, like a projection on the ceiling?
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 6:54 AM on September 23, 2004

Response by poster: No, it is a sphere.
posted by putzface_dickman at 6:56 AM on September 23, 2004

This would make an interesting openning to a story.

Does it frighten her, or just make her nervous? Is it always there? Can it speak -- does it have any sentience at all?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:57 AM on September 23, 2004

Could she be having some kind of pre-migraine visuals? (Migraine visuals aren't always accompanied by pain.)
posted by zadcat at 6:57 AM on September 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

What's with the totally inappropriate Google ads? To get to your first question, I had a bunch of 'imaginary' friends and visitors. They were certainly very real to me. I could see them as plain as day, and had entire conversations with them. I think it's fairly common for kids and I'm not really sure how I eventually 'grew out' of them. I dealt with those experiences by enjoying their company and my parents never thought I was odd, needed meds, or was otherwise making stuff up. What is your second question about -- are you trying to find outside references to this specific black-and-white swirl to corroborate her story?
posted by fionab at 7:02 AM on September 23, 2004

Ehh, she's six. I'm no expert, but I would advise watching her for signs of depression or acting out or extreme behavioral problems, but otherwise: she's six. If the things she sees don't disturb her or create large problems for her, as long as they don't seem to be the tip of some larger problem, then I don't think I'd worry. Let her see them, and don't tell her they're not really there unless they frighten the bejaysus out of her or something.

My cats regularly see things I can't see. Sometimes I SWEAR I see one of my cats run by in a totally empty room, and I've heard many other cat owners say the same thing. When I was an infant I stared at things my Mom couldn't see. Just after my Grandfather died in tragic circumstances when I was five my Mom found me sitting up in bed one night; she asked me why I was awake and I very peacefully and happily told her "Grandpa was here..." Little foot-high people visited me and talked to me at night when I was your daughter's age, and to this day the memory seems as real as anything "real" I have experienced. When I was your daughter's age I dreamt about falling night after night until I was no longer afraid of heights ... then the dreams stopped.

I guess none of this means anything unless I tell you that I am now wacky and a bit of a misfit but otherwise sane and well-adjusted. The mind is a big place, reality is a strange place, and your daughter is six years old. Maybe she's "sensitive." Maybe it's just something that will pass.
posted by Shane at 7:07 AM on September 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

i'm confused - are you asking for explanations of what this might be?
i'd say that your daughter is expressing her fears and trepidation at a difficult time (starting school must be at east as bad as starting a new job) in a way that she finds suitable. it sounds like she wants reassurance and love and time - school will work out ok and this thing will be forgotten.
if that's disrepsectful, or sounds like counselling, i'm sorry. i'm not trying to be rude or disrespectful - on the contrary, this seems pretty normal and a quite valid way of dealing with such pressures.
posted by andrew cooke at 7:08 AM on September 23, 2004

Sounds like she sees spiritual realities.

Tell her to be careful who she shares this stuff with, if you don't want the school system cramming meds down her throat.
posted by konolia at 7:09 AM on September 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

oh, and my teenage daughter has seen entities in our houst that frightened her. We simply told her that since she was the one that saw it, she was the one to cast it out. So in the name of Jesus she did, and it left. I don't have any recommendations that don't involve the Lord, but let me know if any more insights from that direction would be helpful.
posted by konolia at 7:13 AM on September 23, 2004

Response by poster: She's asked me what it is. I don't know. Because she doesn't know it is starting to seem sinister to her. Having an explanation of what it might be would be a way to help her feel safer that she would be receptive to. Telling her it's nothing, or to ignore it without some plausible explanation won't work.
Skitter scatters were compared to soot sprites from My Neighbor Totoro.
Those people who are in the house an then disappear sound like ghosts.
The colors around people are sometimes called an aura.
Then she gets a bit of science, and a bit of story, or a bit of myth to fill in. Followed by a healthy bit of love and sympathy.
I want it to be okay for her to keep telling me about these things. I want, in the parlance, validate her experience, while helping her feel safe.
She loves school, and seems eager to go.
So, yes. I just want a story.

Konolia, thanks. We're not Christian. But I appreciate your response.
posted by putzface_dickman at 7:18 AM on September 23, 2004

Yeah, also what others said:

Please show her support and reassurance and love, and watch out for people who immediately want to "treat" her.

Do the things she sees disturb her? Does she seem otherwise well-adjusted and happy?
posted by Shane at 7:19 AM on September 23, 2004

tell her to throw stuff at it when no one else is there, when that happens and she sees it dosn't react she might be more comfortable.

If it eats her, then, well, don't fuck with the swirlie after that.
posted by Space Coyote at 7:19 AM on September 23, 2004 [19 favorites]

Then she gets a bit of science, and a bit of story, or a bit of myth to fill in. Followed by a healthy bit of love and sympathy.

That sounds perfect. "It's probably some kind of energy ... we don't understand everything in life." Can you tell her, like, "Well, it's not hurting you, so don't worry about it and just let it be"?

If it eats her, then, well, don't fuck with the swirlie after that.

LOL! Priceless.
posted by Shane at 7:23 AM on September 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

Then she gets a bit of science

Oh in that case, it sounds vaguely like a hydrogen atom, using the Bohr model. Maybe she has electron microscope eyes?
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 7:26 AM on September 23, 2004 [2 favorites]

As a child I saw what I came to call Sandmen at the periphery of my vision sometimes. If you ever saw the old Sesame Street stop-motion animation of sand on a black background that's why they sort of looked like.

I viewed them as sort of a game, trying to catch a full on glimpse of them. Never scared me. Only thing odd looking back on it was I'd only see them in certain places. Wasn't a conscious thing as far as I can recollect.

Sort of lost track of them as my attentions were drawn elsewhere as I grew up. This was roughly from age 4-9. So for me it passed without any ill-effects, if you can take my word for it.
posted by Animus at 7:28 AM on September 23, 2004

I've been plagued by visual and auditory hallucinations for most of my life--ones including, but not limited to, spherical orbs pulsating and spinning in the corner of rooms.

But I wish to respect your final sentence as order.

(And then I choose to ignore: I have been diagnosed as having schizo-affective disorder tagged on to my other mental ailments: this puts me at degree of ease: I am comforted by an explanation.

These diagnoses have been determined by more than one psychiatrist, and my medication goes a long way to help repress these hallucinations. If only I had begun taking these medications sooner: I would have been saved of a great quantity of grief.)
posted by tenseone at 7:32 AM on September 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

Oh in that case, it sounds vaguely like a hydrogen atom, using the Bohr model. Maybe she has electron microscope eyes?

Or some amazing minerals!
posted by fionab at 7:33 AM on September 23, 2004

Response by poster: Shane, andrew, all. The thing is when I said I didn't know, and mom said she didn't know, and no one had any idea, she got scared. None of these other things are scary to her. This one is because she feels like she's on her own and not getting the reassurance she'd expect, I think because I've led her to expect that there is some kind of explanation or comparable for just about anything she's experienced.
posted by putzface_dickman at 7:33 AM on September 23, 2004

I don't know much about kids, so this might not be relevant at all, but I've known two adults who had these types of experiences. Even if what they were seeing wasn't real, the fear they experienced was very real to them. They needed someone to talk to about that fear, and more importantly about their other fears in life, and that seemed to help them. It's not about playing amateur psychotherapist, but about taking someone's emotions seriously. I believe personally that people's visions are just ways of expressing some things they feel that they have a hard time expressing any other way.

One woman I was very close with started to see black spots appear on her hands. After about a month, she realized that it was part of a whole series of ways in which she felt "unclean". Although it took her another two years of hard work in analysis to come out of her depression, the black spots disappeared immediately once she understood the way she felt about herself.

My girlfriend once had a friend who regularly saw a ghost in her apartment. My girlfriend told her that the ghost was probably just lonely and looking for someone to talk to, and that she should try talking to it and reassuring it instead of being afraid of it. Her friend admitted that she had been very afraid of dying recently. Shortly thereafter, the ghost told her that it was just looking for someone to smile at it, and when she did, it faded away and didn't come back.

So I'd suggest that instead of focusing on explaining to her what she sees, or even reassuring her, focus on getting her to explain how she feels about it and whether she feels that way often. Maybe she can talk to her vision and get it to explain to her why it's there. Maybe there are lots of other things that she sees, things that are real, but she feels that no one else can see them. Maybe she has things that she wants to tell you or ask you for, and seeing visions is a good way of getting your attention.
posted by fuzz at 7:33 AM on September 23, 2004

Just to share an experience, a friend's daughter saw things when she was this age. It was quite spooky and disconcerting to see her do it, but eventualy we figured out that she was emulating characters on her favorite TV Show, Scooby Doo. Granted, she would say "Oh! Look! There's A Man!" Or something like that, and didn't see shapes, much less relate the story at a later time, like your daughter. (?)
posted by rainbaby at 7:33 AM on September 23, 2004

konolia might be on to something that can be applied in a secular household. Since only your daughter can see it perhaps tell her that it belongs to her. Tell her that since it belongs to her she shouldn't be afraid of it, because it is hers. Somehow get the point across that she is in control even though she might not understand the swirlie.

Maybe read her a fairy-tale where a lad or lass confronts something they don't understand, but end up winning... I can't think of ones that would mirror this situation exactly, but many of them deal with confronting the unknown. It sounds like she has a brawny imagination, She must be a blast to raise. Maybe she needs something to exercise her imagination upon?

As for the migraine thing... she could be seeing phosphenes...
posted by sciurus at 7:37 AM on September 23, 2004

Just be careful around spirals, mmkay?

At the risk of outing myself as something other than the icy cold rationalist I normally am, I once performed a simple banishing ritual (with instructions from someone I *really* trust) after moving into an apartment in which my entire family had some hard-to-explain experiences. You can say it was in my head and I won't mind, because it worked, and that's all that matters.

The six-year-old brain is pretty hard to figure out. Maybe she's making stuff up, maybe she isn't. I think you're taking a great approach (respecting her perceived reality and all), but if she's *only* upset because you can't explain it, do you think there'd be much harm in making something up?
posted by Eamon at 7:38 AM on September 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

All of this is fine and good, but speaking as someone with a (benign) tumor in my head that created odd visual effects, it couldn't hurt to ask a doctor or even neurologist about this as well. Could be a manifestation of something physically wrong.
posted by baltimore at 7:40 AM on September 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

This one is because she feels like she's on her own and not getting the reassurance she'd expect, I think because I've led her to expect that there is some kind of explanation or comparable for just about anything she's experienced.

Well, if it were my kid, I'd try to wrap this "you're on your own, kid" feeling about the ceiling sprite into the basic on-your-ownness she's having to deal with with school in the first place. So, you can let her know that just because you can't be there to see the thing with her [like you can't go to school with her] you'd really like to hear some more about it [like with school] and encourage her to talk about the thing on the ceiling in the same way she tells you about her classes, her friends, what she ate for lunch, etcetera. These other things will also be things that you don't necessarily know all about "You had WHAT for lunch? I don't know what that is... tell me about it" but that's an okay way to interact with the world of things. In my mind it's like a shooting star, one person sees it and has to explain the phenomenon to others who missed it, it's also pretty tough to prove and/or disprove in specific, though you can get pretty certain in general. Other points that are fairly important here:

+ might want to mention to her that the ceiling thing is a good topic of conversation for you, mom and her, not necessarily to chat with everyone at school about. tell her why [because they'd feel bad if they didn't see it, because they might think she was faking if they don't see it, because kids and teachers have a consensual version of reality they like to impress on others, whatever]
+ while I applaud your willingness to accept your daughter's version of what is going on, be aware of danger signs when just seeing something on the ceiling could be indicative of a larger problem, a la what tenseone says. If the thing talks to her, threatens her, commands her, or is otherwise behaving in ways that make her uncomfortable [not just in a "mommy and daddy don't know what this is" way] make sure she lets you guys know and you accept the fact that there might be a problem. if it's not telling her to do anything, there's no problem in this regard.

I like the "very big molecule" explanation myself.
posted by jessamyn at 7:55 AM on September 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

We simply told her that since she was the one that saw it, she was the one to cast it out. So in the name of Jesus she did, and it left.

Christ, I thought you were kidding.

My parents had a far nicer attitude to visitors. They're just saying hi, and it's very special to be able to see them because most people can't. Keep it innoncent, make your kid feel special, and you won't scare the ever-living shit out of them.

Fucking hell... What's with the "you smelt it, you dealt it" attitude with Christians? How's about lending a hand in the "casting out"? It's a six-year old child, for chrissake.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:58 AM on September 23, 2004 [3 favorites]

I agree with baltimore. It absolutely cannot possibly hurt to get a doctor to check this out. Treating it as a psychological issue isn't much use if it's physiological. It's not advising meds or counselling, it's simply good advice, visual hallucinations can be symptoms of a physical problem, I'd at least rule that out, especially given that your description of this sounds very similar to the aura I used to get before a migraine.

I also agree with andrew cooke that this could easily be a manifestation of stress. I also agree with jessamyn.

That said, kids do "see" things all the time, I had an imaginary friend, my sister used to get visits from our dead grandfather when she was a baby, etc. I guess what I'd do is just treat it the way you treat her other "visions": respect that she believes she sees it, try and get her to verbalize what it is that makes her nervous about it (are you assuming that this is because you haven't explained it to her, or has she said that?), reassure her that it cannot hurt her, perhaps encourage her to give it a silly name (this could make it less a part of "the unknown"), maybe make up a story about what it is and above all make sure that she knows that she can talk to you about it.
posted by biscotti at 8:00 AM on September 23, 2004

Like baltimore and tenseone and others say, it's probably not a bad idea to be cautious and keep an eye out, check her out but without causing her more stress or alarming her.

The thing is when I said I didn't know, and mom said she didn't know, and no one had any idea, she got scared.

I guess all young kids see parents as all-knowing and infallible. Maybe you can break it to her that you don't know everything, not everything in life has or needs an explanation, and that all of this is okay? It's all just part of life, some things just are what they are? And just because you don't have an in-depth explanation doesn't mean it's scary? It strikes me that this a really good thing for a child to learn, before she grows up and gets to quantum physics and learns just how much we humans don't and never will understand, at least with the left side of our brains ;-)

Hmph -- tell her I'm jealous. I never see skitter-scatters anymore.
posted by Shane at 8:02 AM on September 23, 2004

my sister, my mother, my aunt and i all get migraines. we're all medicated for them, but only i get the optical kind. that description is almost exactly what i see. when i was a small child i saw something similar (although i don't remember having the other migraine symptoms as a small child. i don't even know if children *get* migraines) and sometimes it scared me.

so, i'm not saying your daughter needs medication, or counseling, but you might want to keep in mind that there could be a physical problem. but, personally, i first resort to logic. "honey, you see it but i don't. that doesn't mean you don't see it, just that i can't tell you what it is. but it hasn't hurt you. and it can't hurt you because things that can hurt you are things that other people can also see." it worked for me. you can insert your little bit of science by showing her those things in art books which demonstrate how after images affect how we view art. tell her it's an after-image of something. ask her to tell you what she thinks it's an after-image of you can take your cue for the rest of the story from what she tells you: something rational, like the blackboard; or something irrational, like the fairies that used to inhabit the meadow where the school is built.

like you noted, this one is probably scary because she's seeing it at school, which is unfamiliar and where she's alone. can you enlist a teacher's help to reassure her that she's not alone at school?

(and i think jessamyn has put it very well, but i would add that in addition to warning signs if it starts to tell her threatening things, visual hallucinations can be warning signs of serious medical problems. there is, for instance, a very unusual autoimmune disorder which causes blindness that often begins as spots or clouds in the vision. the s/o is just coming our of chemo for treatment of it. if it were my daughter, i would have her eyes checked)
posted by crush-onastick at 8:02 AM on September 23, 2004

Basically, you're looking at 3 possibilities:

1. She has an actual medical problem. I personally doubt she does, but you might keep an eye on her, make sure she's not experiencing any kind of health problems. Ask if she feels and pain when she sees these things. I bet that she doesn't, but it's worth asking, just to put your mind at rest.

2. She has a good imagination. This one's a lot more likely. Children often imagine things and convince themselves that they're real. You just have to humor them and let them tell you about what they've "seen". Telling her to draw pictures of what she sees might be interesting, and might act for her as a way of dealing with these aparitions.

3. There's something supernatural going on. Hard to say how likely this is. Some would say very likely, some would say impossible. (I tend to say it's possible, there have been some unusual "occurances" in my family as well.) Many would be quite militant about this sort of thing being impossible, so you might not want to share this with other adults just yet. Like konolia, I'm Christian, so I can echo his sentiments about casting out in the name of Jesus. However, these "things" that your daughter sees don't seem to be sinister, so for the time being, It doesn't sound like you have too much to worry about there.

As for my 2 cents worth, I'd say, let her talk about what she sees, maybe draw some pictures. Don't treat these things as shocking, and she won't either. And keep us up to date with what happens: I'm curious! :)
posted by unreason at 8:08 AM on September 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

Metafilter: don't fuck with the swirlie
posted by unreason at 8:10 AM on September 23, 2004

Is there any way you can post the picture she drew?
posted by kamylyon at 8:11 AM on September 23, 2004

Oops, I forgot you had her draw a picture. I second kamylyon. Can you post it?
posted by unreason at 8:15 AM on September 23, 2004

Response by poster: Sadly, the picture is at home and I am at work.

I appreciate all of these supportive comments, from everyone, about how to be a good parent to my daughter in this situation. I believe that I am acting with all the respect due the formidable complexity of human neurology, brain chemistry, and mental illness. We are vigilant parents. I think I'm on reasonably firm ground in those regards.

Can I get some narrative help on the what to call it / which Hopi myth tackles an encounter with the unknown / How Poe's "Descent into the Maelstrom" might be going a bit to far. /
How it's not big enough to be Zuul.

I need a narrative peg to hang this discussion on, because the Daddy doesn't know all / sometimes you're on your own cats are out of the bag.
What are constructive storylines that we might track on these issues. Halloween is almost here, so, 'tis the season to tackle the unknown, surely something age appropriate comes to mind?

posted by putzface_dickman at 8:23 AM on September 23, 2004

If you are looking for something that might help explain the meaning, you could use the yin-yang symbol, for its meaning in terms of the balance of opposites. The more one learns (and she's learning so much right now), the more one understands (or "sees" in her case) this sort of ever-swirling composition of negative and positive, which aren't opposites so much as equally necessary, but different, faces of nature. You might just tell her that this could be a symbol of the things she's learning that may sometimes seem to oppose each other, but which we usually find out - sometimes after many, many years - are really just different views of the same thing. This is extremely difficult, if not impossible for a six-year-old to really grasp, so you might also explain that this may be the reason it seems so disturbing. You might explain at what age you yourself finally began to understand how this works. (Just one possibility, in terms of relating it to certain universal ideas that can be reflected a certain type of image.)
posted by taz at 8:24 AM on September 23, 2004 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Bonus points for swirliness.
posted by putzface_dickman at 8:25 AM on September 23, 2004

Whoa, "Descent into the Maelstrom" is way too brilliantly terrifying to bring up! Let's leave Poe out of this ;-)

putzman, it sounds like you're a really good, supportive, caring parent. Props to you. If there's any little support I can give you in an e-mail, please feel free. Maybe, for now, "Just becasue Mommy and Daddy don't have a definitive explanation is no reason for you to be scared" will help?
posted by Shane at 8:30 AM on September 23, 2004

It's black and white and swirls.

Yin and Yang.
posted by trondant at 8:34 AM on September 23, 2004

Having been a see'er of things like this all my life, seeing the picture would help, but I'll give it a shot.

I don't believe the 'swirlie' is malevolent. I think it's watching out over her, like a guardian, if you will.

Since you've already told her you and your wife don't know what it is, you can't go back on that and tell her that it's a window you and mommy can look through to see that she's okay, or eating her vegetables, since it's in the lunchroom.

It being black and white could have some significance, but I'm at a loss atm to tell you what.

Is it more black than white, white than black? Does it look anything like the yin-yang symbol? If so, it's definitely not 'evil'. (this from a old asian woman I knew as a teen)

I don't have a story for you regarding this. Some people see things that others don't. This doesn't make them freaks, but it does make them different. It isn't a bad thing to be different.

To go back, tell her it's a guardian [whatever word you decide on] that's just checking in on her to see how her day is going.

Oh, if you could post the picture when you get home, that would be good.
posted by kamylyon at 8:40 AM on September 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

Why not make up a story about it with your daughter? She'll probably have more of a feeling of control over it if she helps make up the story, to give the swirlie some context. Why not encourage her to think about where it might have come from, what its name is, what it does, etc. Come up with a few "talking points" for her to hang her story on (if it's actually called "Swirlie", then talk about what sorts of things a swirl could have to do with - water going down the drain, soft ice cream, things she colours, etc.), maybe encourage her to have some sympathy for it (maybe it's just lost and it wants her help to go home), that sort of thing.

I certainly wouldn't tell her that it's a window you spy on her through, that's pretty creepy, in my opinion.
posted by biscotti at 8:42 AM on September 23, 2004

Sorry, that's what my mom told me about my lunchroom visions.
posted by kamylyon at 8:45 AM on September 23, 2004

When you go back to speak with your daughter, you don't have to violate the "I don't know" answer. For one thing, it's a good thing for kids to know their parents don't know everything but are willing to help find the answers. There's the critical difference. Just leaving it at "I don't know" isn't enough. Follow it up with "I was thinking about your question and asked some friends/looked in a book/searched the net. Here's the new information we may have to help identify it..." This tells her that a) you're honest and can admit when you don't know something but b) love and support her enough to look into it further.

You've got some great suggestions from the previous posts about guardians or something that is lost. Who knows maybe it's a flow of energy, sound or air she can see. I am thinking of how wind and sound behave when they hit surfaces. They tend to bounce and swirl a bit.
posted by onhazier at 9:17 AM on September 23, 2004 [2 favorites]

I saw multi-colored, intensely shining floating dots in the dark when I was a little girl. They moved in very interesting formations, like flocks of birds. I called them Shadows.

I thought they were beautiful. I never thought they were supernatural. I thought they were what the air was really made of, and that you could only see them in the dark.

I think now that they were only optical illusions, perhaps connected to a lazy eye and burgeoning near-sightedness. I dunno. When I spoke of it to adults, no one made a big deal out of it, and then I grew up and stopped seeing them.

Consider that she may be seeing something because of a vision problem, or actual natural phenomena that she reacts to so strongly because she's bright and imaginative. Maybe tell her you talked to us, and some of us remember seeing things when we were little. None of us were ever hurt by them so we want her to know she'll be okay. If what's really bothering her are that the grown-ups are stumped, that might make her feel better.
posted by melissa may at 9:23 AM on September 23, 2004 [3 favorites]

Assuming that it's not just the reflection/shadow from a fan of some sort; some kind of extraction fan duct-thing, with the light bouncing off it and onto the ceiling of the cafeeria, I'd just tell her not to worry.

I used to create objects out of the 'twilight particles' that used to float in my bedroom at night as a child. I've experienced any number of wierd things (without the use of drugs) and I know reality is nothing like tv soap operas or Richard Dawkins would like to make out.

I've seen a dark shadow in the shape of a person standing in the corner of my living room. Still, and quite distinct, while I was doing kin hin one evening. I asked a zen master about it, and he said, don't worry about it - forget about it - just a shadow - can't hurt you - but if you you get all caught up in that sort of thing it can give it a substance it doesn't really have - so forget about it, don't dwell on it - let it go - drop it. That's what I did.

I saw a 'shadow' bunny one morning on a golf course. Stone cold sober, some time afterwards. I watched it for a bit and carried on my way.

Tell her it's perfectly harmless.

The best approach for her, I would imagine, is, if she sees something 'unusual' - just observe it - no trying to figure it out, no trying to come up with an explaination, just observe - silently - for a moment (if she wants) and then forget about it and carry on with whatever else she was doing.

I remember sitting up in bed one night and looking down at my feet. There was one hill in the sheets where one foot was. There was another where my other foot was. And then there was a third in the center. Which moved. It moved around one foot, and then around the other and back into the center. And then I went to sleep.

Tell her it's nothing to worry about and it won't hurt her and leave it at that. Simple and uncomplictated. Don't go into it, don't dwell on it. Tell her not to dwell on it.

If it really is the cosmic vortex of some nascent rip in the space-time continuum ... the worst that'll probably happen is she might arrive home before she went to school. :)
posted by Blue Stone at 9:26 AM on September 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

It might be an Angel...
posted by hughbot at 9:40 AM on September 23, 2004

I saw a 'shadow' bunny one morning on a golf course. Stone cold sober, some time afterwards. I watched it for a bit and carried on my way.

Your last name wouldn't happen to be Darko, would it?
posted by COBRA! at 9:52 AM on September 23, 2004

There's a type of therapy/community work that comes out of New Zealand from David Epston and Michael White, called Narrative Therapy, and it's really all about helping people constucting helpful narratives for problems in our lives.

In one of his co-authored books, Epston has a chapter called "Weirdly abled" kids, and how to appreciate their wonderful abilities. Here's a chapter about imaginary friends that gives you a good idea about their approach.

By the way, my daughter had been having some fears, and we applied for an imaginary friend for her, using the procedure detailed by the girl Emily in the article. Eventually, I got our request to David Epston, who I know from workshops - he got in touch with the girl Emily (who's now 21). She then sent an email to my daughter with all the necessary information about her new imaginary friend.
posted by jasper411 at 9:56 AM on September 23, 2004 [2 favorites]

I'd call it a mandala and explain to her how people make these things all the time and have for thousands of years. There's plenty of mandala information behind a quick Googling, so you could take the explanation any direction you like in order to match up with any belief systems you're trying to teach her.

As a bonus, you could get some black and white sand and sit down and make a Swirlie Mandala with her. Purposely mess up and make a show of being able to wipe it away ("The great thing about mandalas is that if you don't like them, you can just blow them away! Watch!") so she can feel some control over the Swirlie in the stressful school context.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:57 AM on September 23, 2004 [2 favorites]

Fucking hell... What's with the "you smelt it, you dealt it" attitude with Christians? How's about lending a hand in the "casting out"? It's a six-year old child, for chrissake.

She was seventeen, and we were with her when she did it. The look of relief on her face when we were done was priceless.
posted by konolia at 10:17 AM on September 23, 2004

I just had a thought... if you were told to 'invoke jesus to make it go away", and it didn't go away, would you be too scared to tell your mother that Jesus wouldn't listen that you would stop mentioning it?
posted by Space Coyote at 10:19 AM on September 23, 2004 [2 favorites]

I am not a christian, but there is a really great book by a sociologist named Peter Berger called "Rumors of Angels" Essentially, the book talks about how we can't proove that god (or the supernatural) exists with science. However, because of the number of experiences people claim to have, we can't rule out such things either.

“Angels, are God’s messengers or "signals". Today, transcendence has been reduced to a rumor . . .but we can set out to explore these rumors and, perhaps, follow them to their source.” He goes on to say that we may not see angels, but occasionally might find a feather.
posted by Quartermass at 10:20 AM on September 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

Keep it simple. If she watches T.V., tune in to a couple of her favorite shows ('Dragon Tails', Disney, etc.) and tie the experience to something you see in the show. Make something up that she can identify with. Get creative man!! Good Luck...sounds kinda fun.
posted by repoman at 10:24 AM on September 23, 2004

No advice, I just wanted to say that this is an incredible thread in several ways.
posted by Hildago at 10:40 AM on September 23, 2004

just had a thought... if you were told to 'invoke jesus to make it go away", and it didn't go away, would you be too scared to tell your mother that Jesus wouldn't listen that you would stop mentioning it?

If it came back, we would help her run it off. We have authority to do that, in the name of Jesus. We just wanted her to have the experience of doing it herself. Now she knows how.

We are pretty laid back about that kind of stuff. My husband has seen entities himself, of both sorts (angels and demons) altho the majority of that was when he was much younger and lived in the Mountain West.

I don't see these things, myself, and prefer it that way ;-)
posted by konolia at 10:54 AM on September 23, 2004

Response by poster: An anonymouse MeFite emailed me this:

My best idea (for the moment) is the native Australian myths that
are used in Patricia Wrightson's books - notably "Nargun and the
Stars". These are full of strange creatures - some malevolent, some
very kind - that are very old and which live in nature. It's a very
different thing from typical "fairy" myths of little people - she
writes about the silence of rock spirits and the chatter of
fluttering things in trees. It's been ages since I read them, though.

They're books for kids.

I thought this portion of the message would be good to share here.
posted by putzface_dickman at 11:06 AM on September 23, 2004 [2 favorites]

Not sure if it's been mentioned (sorry, pressed for time and can't read all responses), but when (and not if) you take her to a doctor, I'd suggest you don't connect the two. Saying "it's probably nothing that can hurt you, but let's check with a doctor" is pretty much saying "panic" in big flashing letters.

(on preview: Wrightson's books are pretty good, too. Balyet's another one.)
posted by GhostintheMachine at 11:09 AM on September 23, 2004

just had a thought... if you were told to 'invoke jesus to make it go away", and it didn't go away, would you be too scared to tell your mother that Jesus wouldn't listen that you would stop mentioning it?

If it came back, we would help her run it off. We have authority to do that, in the name of Jesus.

No, that's his point - using religion connected to it seems like bad news, since the kid might be too scared to tell you that using God didn't work - and it might just color them against your particular faith since God failed them so blatantly.
posted by agregoli at 11:31 AM on September 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

God didn't fail, and doesn't fail-and again, we are talking in my case about a girl who was seventeen-now eighteen. If she had been younger we would have handled it ourselves.

And she wasn't terrified, just creeped out.
posted by konolia at 11:40 AM on September 23, 2004

God didn't fail, and doesn't fail-and again, we are talking in my case about a girl who was seventeen-now eighteen. If she had been younger we would have handled it ourselves.

And she wasn't terrified, just creeped out.

But your advice was towards a six year old - it's not the same thing. And in that instance, God would have appeared to fail to her. I don't feel ascribing a particular reason immediately to this situation with the six year old is the greatest thing - since it might be a physical malady, for example.
posted by agregoli at 11:45 AM on September 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: This is unusual, but I wanted to see if there are lurkers, and if they had stories like melissa may and Blue Stone, and others. I liked those as well as I liked the advice. So if people want to send them to my gmail account, "fortenbras" I'll try and find a way to share them.
posted by putzface_dickman at 11:58 AM on September 23, 2004

I wouldn't worry about it. Kids see things like this, heck, if it made it into Star Trek, it probably happens to _everyone_ as a kid.

If she doesn't want to classify it, why not at least try to make it pleasant? Something like that could easily end up scaring her if she starts to think it's a spider. I'd say it's a fairy or some other happy imaginary character.

Tell her not to discuss this with everyone, like others have suggested. Let her know it's OK to talk with doctors about the problem, though, if she wants to -- no sense making her afraid of them. The last thing she needs it people teasing her over something natural.

If this weren't a psych problem, I'd suggest she'd see this apparition in more than just one place.

You're a good parent to worry about this, though.

She's probably not old enough for this, but if you think she is, you could just come clean and say that because she's young and her mind is still developing, that it can make mistakes like this easily, that it's normal, and that as she ages she'll be better.

Whatever you do, don't go cramming religion down her throat to explain this. That's something she should discover on her own, if she chooses to.
posted by shepd at 11:59 AM on September 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

Did I mention as a kid I played far too much Moon Patrol and for a while fantasized the different things in the game (missiles, aliens, etc) were coming after me when I was about her age? When I told my parents they took away the video game. I hated them for that for a long time but it all worked out in the end. Now I have it for MAME! HAHA!

AND SEE! I turned out ok.

[ You're probably thinking right now, oh hell, better get her to a psychiatrist RIGHT AWAY! :-D ]
posted by shepd at 12:01 PM on September 23, 2004

You might want to go with the old "swamp gas" technique. Tell her something to the effect of it's light reflecting off the tables or the metal or off of something that someone's drinking in the cafeteria (which could actually be plausible). Whatever you tell her, I suggest that it be something tangible. All this mythology/making up stuff doesn't sound like the best plan for a 6-year-old.
posted by bitpart at 12:05 PM on September 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

Often a swirling or shimmery abstract manifestation represents the 'outside' end of a portal. As for a story or myth, IANATR but in Tarot cards the magus is usually depicted with the right hand obscured by or engaged in a swirling pattern. This would dovetail into an explanation about how someone is merely checking in on her to make sure things are going well in her new environment...
posted by Fezboy! at 12:13 PM on September 23, 2004

Pet peeve: When in the face of a perfectly unexplained phenomenon for which they don't have enough information to make even an educated guess, people start making up untestable, convoluted, forced pseudo-scientific 'explanations'.
Truth is, given the information we've got at this point, an other wordly portal is just as feasable as 'light reflecting off tables´.
posted by signal at 12:36 PM on September 23, 2004

I don't have any complete answer or hypothesis - just a variety of scattered thoughts that I want to add to the discussion:

1. Don't be tempted to reject logical explanations. When I was a young child, "bollards" came up in an in-car discussion. I asked what they were, but despite everyone else yelling "there! in the road!" I couldn't see the big white pillar with luminous yellow colouring because I was looking for minute debris on the surface. That is to say - the other kids can't see what your daughter is describing, but that isn't to say it is necessarily unseeable... it might be that her frame of reference is incompatible with other people's at the moment (she might simply be too damn expressive for them). The first time I got pins and needles, I described the feeling as best I could. When asked if I had pins and needles I of course said no - I hadn't heard the name for it before... ...that said - don't be closed to possibilities. I don't feel that telling her it isn't real is very wise.

2. Don't tell her it can't hurt her if the idea that it might hasn't entered her head. Don't even raise the concept of harm until she raises it as a concern.

3. Continue and encourage her to talk about it.

4. I don't think it's right to make up an explanation, or do anything that you think constitutes lying to your child.

5. Don't discount the possibility of this being the manifestation of a physical problem. Don't, whatever you do, succumb to the taboos of mental illness and mental problems as some of the early responses on this thread do. Medication would not be the first resort of any right thinking doctor... that said don't think that there isn't a way for you and her to resolve the situation yourselves. I think Shane and fuzz made sense in this respect.

6. Celebrate, as I'm sure you already do, that you're raising an exceptional, unique person, and not some wanting dullard. Whatever it is - she can handle it.
posted by nthdegx at 12:51 PM on September 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

hi. real quick because i am out the door: i couldn't mail personally because your profile is not loading. i have some idea what i going on if you could give me a few details (location, etc)
i'd really like to help or at least comment but i am in a total rush. i will try to get back to it this late this evening or you can email me.
(lots of threads i'd like to have help/commented on but the storm rages and i have to catch the witch)
posted by ethylene at 12:55 PM on September 23, 2004

I have no memory of imaginary visions when I was a kid, but I have had a handful as an adult. The really intense and realistic ones (there are two that come to mind) always happen in the middle of the night, after waking up suddenly.

The first one was the dark form of a man in a fedora standing over my bed and looking down at me. I can't describe the terror that I felt as I knew that he saw me looking at him looking at me. That paralyzing terror that prohibits you from making any movement or sound. You know the kind. Then I watched as it dissipated into nothing.

The second one happened in the same bedroom (the room I shared with my sister at my parents' house). I awoke to see a tiny man - midget-sized, but proportioned normally. He was wearing a robber's mask, a wool hat and a striped wool sweater (like the one that Freddy wore in those "Nightmare on Elm Street" movies). He was crouched in the upper left corner of my room looking around. I got the feeling he was up to no good, but didn't feel particularly threatened, just disturbed. Once again, this one dissipated into nothing.

I don't know what they were, but I know they weren't dreams, as the adrenaline rushing through me was very real, and prevented me from falling back to sleep right away.
posted by MsVader at 1:14 PM on September 23, 2004

MsVader: I've had similar experiences, which I eventually chocked up to some form of sleep paralysis and associated phenomena.

And ethylene, that's possibly the most intriguing comment I've ever read. I hope you can share with the rest of us, and not just p_d.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 1:34 PM on September 23, 2004

Dude sleep paralsysis scared the shit out of me. Man, I had them every day for a few weeks and then they went away, but they got worse and more complicated through out the experience. The feeling of something terrifying and completely unholy being in the room and then the feeling of being dragged/falling. Scariest thing ever.
posted by geoff. at 1:56 PM on September 23, 2004

signal, I think it's our obligation to look for rational and natural possibilities before considering mysticism. Why would uninformed mystical guesses be better than that? We're just looking for answers and trying to help, and starting with things that might be causing her problems with perception, like her vision or brain or general health, is a necessary place to start. The first priority is that she be okay.

If someone had told me that my Shadows were from strange signals from my brain or because my eyes were made this interesting way or the air was full of fine particles that I might actually be seeing, honestly, I would have loved it. If you think about it, angles are no less magical than angels.

I knew all about fairies as a girl. I wish we'd spent more time on the scientific method. I find that sort of knowledge -- and even the kind of thinking you need to do to find that sort of knowledge -- very liberating. And that's coming from someone who loves romance and moonbeams and even Tori Amos so the two are not mutually exclusive.
posted by melissa may at 2:20 PM on September 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

If I were in this situation, my response would be, "I don't know what that is; what do you think?" Sounds like you've got a bright, imaginative child -- the detail in what she's describing is extraordinary -- so instead of imposing some external explanation on it, let her come up with her own story, and teach it to you.
posted by ook at 2:33 PM on September 23, 2004

(There's just something marvellously abstract about what she's seeing; it'd seem awfully boring to bury it under a layer of fairytale or cartoon-character or religious foofaraw that'd be just like everybody else's. I had a whole chorus of imaginary people and situations and history and between-places built up when I was around that age; it gradually faded as I grew up, but I'm glad I was able to hold onto it as long as I did. Fantasy was one of the first things I was able to control or really feel like I owned -- I'd have been horribly disappointed if someone had come along and said, oh, that's just like X. I think your daughter's onto something good here, and you're lucky she's willing to share it with you, and you're to be commended for being so supportive.)
posted by ook at 2:49 PM on September 23, 2004

It can't hurt to see the doctor; I doubt she's mentally ill, but it could be migraines. You might also get her eyes checked, because if she's focusing on something neutrally colored and seeing tunnels or spots, there might be something wrong with her vision. At the same time, maybe she just is seeing stuff- personalAnecdoteFilter: I used to see things like this all the time- a woman in an old fashioned dress from the corner of my eye, or just motion and eventually, I just named the woman Iris and decided she was just keeping an eye on me to make sure I was okay, and I named the spots and motion the nightwalkers- they were just little bits of night that got lost and walked around in the daytime (hence the name.) Feel free to offer her Iris or Nightwalkers; it certainly made me feel better (and kind of special, because nobody else saw them.)
posted by headspace at 3:32 PM on September 23, 2004

Is her school, perchance, located on a Hellmouth? :-)

I'm only half-joking. School, especially an elementary school full of sugar-charged shrieking little kids, would probably have a lot of chaotic energy floating around. If you choose to look at her experiences with the assumption that what she says she sees does, in fact, exist (and bear with me here, Scully, because I'm about to do just that), then a small vortex-thingie, especially somewhere especially chaotic like the cafeteria, isn't totally unlikely. Also, she says sees it on the ceiling. Maybe she's just seeing the bottom of it--maybe it's in the room upstairs and poking through a little?

If you know any friendly neighborhood witches in your area--not the faux-Wicca scented-candle kind, the old-fashioned kind--you might want to give them a call and see if they might recognize the description. (Academia is full of 'em.) But if it's not bothering her or anyone else, I would tell her to leave it alone. And don't poke at it, neither.

You also might want to read the interview/correspondence between writers Alan Moore and Dave Sim from a few years back; Moore is a magician and Sim has had his own strange occurences. The section in Part II about what a four-dimensional mathematical equation would look like if it materialized in three dimensions, and how that might be (mis-)interpreted by the people who happen to see it is neat. Maybe it's bollocks and maybe it ain't, but in any case, it's an interesting read. If you're really curious, you can try e-mailing the people at PEAR, the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research program at Princeton's engineering school. They try to pin down paranormal events to quantifiable scientific explanations--not debunking, like The Amazing Randi, but explaining, or trying to explain, the actual phenomena.

And kudos to you and your wife for not being too freaked out about it. She'll most likely grow out of it, but if not, then hey, that's not such a terrible thing. Just keep her away from movies like "Poltergeist" and "The Sixth Sense" for as long as you can. Oh, and feel free to start reading her the Wrinkle in Time series, although that may be a bit over her head--she'll like Meg and Charles Wallace. Or there's the Harry Potter series, of course.

(Subtext of comment: yes, this kind of thing does happen. I wouldn't automatically assume it's something spiritual or mystical, per se, just that science hasn't figured everything out quite yet, and there's still plenty of perfectly rational things that we just don't understand. If you and your daughter were living in another time, place, and/or culture, you'd have a lot more support and information available to you than early 21st Century mainstream culture America. But you're here and now, and so you're stuck with Ask.Mefi. :-) )
posted by Asparagirl at 3:40 PM on September 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

If you and your daughter were living in another time, place, and/or culture, you'd have a lot more support and information available to you than early 21st Century mainstream culture America.

Or you would have been burnt as witches and little witch spawn. Could go either way, really.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 3:48 PM on September 23, 2004 [2 favorites]

One thing I have learned working with children: they are generally good at telling what they need. Please do see a doctor, but also listen.

I know I shouldn't comment on other answers but:

God didn't fail, and doesn't fail-and again, we are talking in my case about a girl who was seventeen-now eighteen.

Konolia , I don't mean to be harsh, because you may be a very nice person. But bad things do happen to a lot of good Christians, for whatever reason and saying it isn't so, just doesn't help. Some of us are very, very lucky; some people aren't. Bad luck does not equal spiritual weakness. I was terrified by tragedy when bad things happened to good people, because my grandmother's fundamentalist friends were always telling me that God never fails. I am sure that many, many of the 2000 people who died in the Caribbean were very good Christians.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 6:33 PM on September 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

What a way to welcome fall. P_D, don't keep us in the dark n the resolution of this!

And as an ardent rationalist, may I politely request the konolia dogpile cease? Others have shared their honest, spiritually-oriented responses to such phenomena without generating a backlash.
posted by mwhybark at 6:48 PM on September 23, 2004

Coming in late, but take her to the eye doctor too, just to be sure.

I'm with melissa may, i think--i've seen, and sometimes still see, multicolored flecks moving around in my peripheral vision, and if i close my eyes.

I love the making up a story (with her contributing most of the info about them) idea too. She needs to know that it's not a danger or scary. Maybe it wants to go to school to learn stuff too, just like her? or something
posted by amberglow at 6:55 PM on September 23, 2004

Konolia , I don't mean to be harsh, because you may be a very nice person. But bad things do happen to a lot of good Christians, for whatever reason and saying it isn't so, just doesn't help. Some of us are very, very lucky; some people aren't. Bad luck does not equal spiritual weakness. I was terrified by tragedy when bad things happened to good people, because my grandmother's fundamentalist friends were always telling me that God never fails. I am sure that many, many of the 2000 people who died in the Caribbean were very good Christians.

Forgive me for not being more specific-I meant that demons always have to buzz off when told to by a Christian. As to bad things happening to people, of course I understand that, having lost a good (and Christian) friend way too early to lung cancer-and he wasn't a smoker to boot.

But I don't see that as God failing. I understand that I don't have to have an understanding for everything.

And more apropo to the topic: If something is commanded to go and it doesn't, it may simply be a garden variety hallucination caused by a chemical imbalance. Or a rift in the space time continuum...;-)
posted by konolia at 8:05 PM on September 23, 2004

Demons? Please. I'm amazed at the lack of common sense and rationality here. As any first year philosophy student will tell you, the simplest solution to a problem is most likely the correct solution.

Look, kids are growing and changing at an incredible rate. Their bodies are in a constant state of transition - something we adults simply can't relate to. Hence, kids experience things like growing pains, chronic nightmares, weird hormone fluctuations (well, at puberty at any rate) and all sorts of strange stuff. They are, in a biological sense, unfinished.

As has been said repeatedly, it's probably harmless. In the off chance that it's not, mention it to her doctor next time you go in for a checkup. If it's worrying you, go in for that checkup sooner rather than later.
posted by aladfar at 8:43 PM on September 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

It's either a vision issue or a brain issue...neither of which necessarily implies something serious or permanent. Though, of course, it may be. To not get it checked out by a medical professional would be negligent, IMO.
posted by rushmc at 10:01 PM on September 23, 2004

I still want to see the picture she drew.

And what everyone who told you to see a doctor said.

I'd go to an opthamologist first. Just in case it was 'just' a vision thing.
posted by kamylyon at 11:21 PM on September 23, 2004

It could easily be the way the light falls on something or the effect of a globe on a lighting fixture. I remember as a child of probably about the same age as your daughter, at my church there was a door with a window that had a sort of textured glass that diffused and refracted the light from inside interestingly. The light through that window was such that I remember thinking it Jesus himself in that room. I thought that for a long time and went back to look at that window many times. Children's imaginations know no bounds.
posted by wsg at 11:32 PM on September 23, 2004

You know what it could be too? The reflection off someone's watch or jewelry or a metal corner or a fire extinguisher or something in the cafeteria itself. Even a lunchbox (if there still are metal ones).
posted by amberglow at 5:33 AM on September 24, 2004

Response by poster: I had one more email, again from another anonymous MeFite:

I have been to therapy and tested, I do not have any mental health
issues. Ahem :)

I have seen ghosts, spirits, auras and other assorted things of that
sort since I was a small child. I'm 29, now and it is just within the
past few years that I have realized that I am really seeing these
things, there may not be a logical explanation for them but, they are

My parents thought I was losing it when I was about your daughter's age
as I would tell them about seeing Grandma (whom I'm named after and who
had been dead for 2 years by then.) They didn't believe me until I
described the dress she had been buried in, in detail. Now, I did not
see her in her casket nor attend her funeral. She was buried in a brand
new dress that had never been in her home.

Then, they started to believe me.

Okay, what I can tell you is to reassure your daughter, whatever she is
seeing is not there to hurt her. She may be seeing energy (was the
building something else before it was the school cafeteria) or a
Let her know, gently, to not share this information with others. Most
people can not wrap their mind around there being things like this, as
very few people can see spirits or things like that.

I know see this as a gift. As she gets older, if people don't force her
to think this is wrong or evil, she'll be able to see even more and will
come to accept it as a wonderful part of the universe that most people
are not privy to.

posted by putzface_dickman at 6:00 AM on September 24, 2004 [1 favorite]

p_d - let us know how you handle this! Obviously there is a current of interest here, and I'm sure we'd all love to know how it works out. What did you decide to tell her, imagine with her, think about with her?
posted by fionab at 6:46 AM on September 24, 2004

never underestimate the power of large collections of human minds to delude themselves into thinking they're seeing spirits (and the like).
posted by angry modem at 7:13 AM on September 24, 2004 [1 favorite]

putzface, I find this all fascinating, your daughter strikes me as being, regardless of the casue of all this, a special little person, and I think it's cool how you and Mrs putzface are concerned and taking care of her. I hope it's not too personal, but I'd love a follow up on all this when it "resolves." I'll be wondering. Thanks, and best of luck.
posted by Shane at 7:24 AM on September 24, 2004

I'm coming in late on this one too and again I have to commend you with how you are dealing with this.

One thing that hasn't been said is that children are more succeptable to seeing and sensing the paranormal as they are more open and innocent. I've not seen any ghosts but have sensed certain energies that can't be explained, although I have also been in situations where imagination can feed the experience.

Yes it could be put down to a medical problem but find it unlikely, and there is more of a chance that is just her childhood imagination. However, I do believe that possibly the 'swirlie' is down to some kind of energy she is sensing and has put a visual aspect to it. I agree with those who say that you should ask her what she thinks it is, because if she is sensitive to these kinds of things then it is likely she will know if it is good (and hopefully not bad). Again, it is a good idea to introduce the idea that the unknown is not always bad and that as parents you do not know everything.

Good luck with the assurance of your daughter and like everyone else have found this a very interesting story.
posted by floanna at 10:51 AM on September 24, 2004 [1 favorite]

Just have to say that I found this whole thread very interesting to read, if only to see all the various ways people react to stories like this one--the hardcore rationalists who frown and say "your daughter should definitely see a doctor", the open-minded ones who say "your daughter has a gift", the "let's humor your daughter and concentrate on her psychological response to her imagination" ones, and so on.

If anything, the variety in response types here only reinforces that your daughter should not tell other people, including her friends, about what she sees. Kids tend to pick on any deviation from the norm--the fat kid, the poor kid, the klutzy kid, the kid with a stutter, etc.--and can be cruel. Being the kid who sees things (whether or not the things actually exist isn't the point) isn't likely to go over real well on the playground. Continue to give your daughter lots of support and love, but teach her how to keep her gift hidden--whether that gift turns out to be supernatural, physical, or just an over-active imagination--for her own safety.
posted by Asparagirl at 12:19 PM on September 24, 2004 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all. I'll try to put an update here on Monday.
posted by putzface_dickman at 12:51 PM on September 24, 2004

I saw things until I hit puberty. I'm dying to know how this is working out. UPDATE!
posted by padraigin at 3:22 PM on September 24, 2004

Response by poster: I received another email on Friday. I'm editting this one for just a bit to maintain anonymity.

I'm really happy that you and her mother are open-minded to what your
daughter is seeing. I saw a lot of strange things when I was a child,
and my parents were really supportive. I've seen things my whole life, but I've stopped seeing them as often as an adult. I've never
been depressed, or had migraines, or been medicated. I had 20/20 vision
as a child, and no one ever though to give me a catscan. so I don't
think there was any medical reason for what I've seen.
I saw a lot of shadowy things when I was younger, and a couple of things
I think were ghosts. the house I lived in as a kid had a shadowy man, in
a hat with a cane. my mother and my sister had seen him too. he never
bothered anyone, he just lived there too. most of the women in my family
admit to seeing things, and that most of those things are just doing
their own thing, and don't want to be bothered. I have seen a ball of
light that was swirly. it was mostly white, and in my first apartment's
kitchen (I was 18, & not on drugs). I had a friend who was wiccan, and I
thought something was living in my closet. I thought it was harmless,
but it was freaking me out a bit. so we sat in the kitchen late one
night, and thought about it, trying to get a sense of it. after awhile
we both noticed the ball of light over the stove. we froze, staring.
just then one of my roomate's friends came running through the kitchen
on the way to the bathroom, and it shot across the room through the wall
towards my room, as he ran through the kitchen to the bathroom, which
was next to my room. my friend and I stared at each other. the guy came
out of the bathroom, and stopped in the kitchen. he looked a little
pale, and asked what the hell he had just run through - he thought he'd
seen something out of the corner of his eye, and heard sort of a woosh
as it passed him. I decided to just ignore the thing in my closet, and
apologized for upsetting it. that's mostly the end of that story, and
why I'm all for letting things be and not bothering them. I'll
understand if you think that's a crazy story, or want to disregard it.
I agree with the people who say to explain to your daughter that she
shouldn't necessarily tell people what she is seeing - a lot of people
who don't see it won't understand, and out of jealousy or spite can be
pretty mean. by third grade I had found a couple of friends who could
see things too, and we would try to figure out what we had seen, and
work through it to understand it better, and keep each other from
getting too scared.
which brings me to the next part - I'd consider admitting that you
aren't sure what she's seen. I think that there is a lot out there that
science can't explain yet. And there is a lot of energy out there, and
maybe what she is seeing is a form of energy. If you've explained where
lightening comes from, this can kind of tie it together (I've heard that
ball lightening can be pretty other-worldly to see, but it has a
scientific explanation).
so maybe what she's seeing in the cafeteria is a swirling bit of energy.
I disagree with the idea that it's something there for or because of
her, that could end up scaring her badly in the future if she sees
something really weird. plus, if it was something / someone watching
over someone in the cafeteria, it could be watching over someone else,
and she just might be lucky enough that she can see it. the person it's
watching might not even know it's there (and, could be very frightened
to learn it's there, which falls back in with thinking twice before
mentioning it to anyone). I'd also caution against her talking to it or
poking it, it seems pretty harmless up there in the corner.
Talk to her about what she thinks it is, and what she feels from it - is
it cold or warm, friendly or lonely, or deep? If it is really scary to
her, maybe she could look at it and say in her head "stay there!".
something that helped me be less afraid when I was really young was
thinking of a safe place. maybe if your daughter has a favorite lake or
park nearby you could go there, and she could choose a small stone to
take to school in her backpack, and if she feels really unsure about the
swirl on the ceiling, she could slip the stone into her pocket, and if
she was scared in the cafeteria she'd have something she could hold in
her hand, and would remind her of her safe place, and of you and her
mother, and happy things, and she'd feel safe and loved. it doesn't need
to be a stone, it could be a bead, or anything small that she can
discreatly hold if she needs to. after a while, I'm sure she won't need
it, she'll be able to quickly think of the safe place, and be less scared.
I wish I could still see things as easily as your daughter. I would
encourage it if I were you, and make sure she knows she can always tell
you what she thinks she's seen. and I love the idea of the
skitter-scatters like from my neighbor totoro. I'd say try to keep her
from watching poltergeist for a few years too. I really liked what Shane
and Blue Stone had to say in the thread, and I hope this helps.

posted by putzface_dickman at 11:35 AM on September 27, 2004 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I've got 25 minutes until a meeting, so I'll try and do this up nicely, but it might take me two goes.

The update I've promised.

Thursday night after supper I told Lily that I had talked to some people online about the thing she was seeing in the cafeteria. We sat together in the kitchen on the stools in front of the computer. I shared with her many of the stories you all shared here. Blue Stone's stories made her smile - "That's like a Totoro." melissa may's Shadows were familiar; Lily's skitter-scatters. Sandmen, Iris, nightwalkers, not like her visitors but like in ways she can see. She'd seen my grandfather -whose house we now live in- so that was familiar too. Hughbot's angel came close to the mark on what she was seeing. It was at first tough and then intriguing to her to consider spherical angels. fionab's link to zebra jasper came closest in appearance.

She liked these stories. Was cheered to here them and felt lucky in her gifts, as many people here told her she should.

I know these were important to her because she repeated them all to mom on a late night walk in our downtown Saturday night. "Mom, guess what. One of daddy's friends saw... and another one..."

I took the issues of self reliance, seperation from parents, and fear of the unknown very seriously and I thank all who pointed them out here. Certainly important issues in this case, and really what most good children's literature is about. Lily is an exceptional reader - in that she has a good feel for the shape and texture of stories. At age four she pointed out that books and movies always seemed to have an exciting and scary part near the end, but just before you found out how it was all going to end up. She was just five when she first asked why so many stories where about orphans, or kids whose parents aren't around when something important happens. So I decided to return to this second question by Sunday. We'd have some text to cover before then though.

Each Saturday we eat breakfast together and listen to a book. It's usually Harry Potter, but Lemony Snickett and Roald Dahl sometimes take the stage. By coincidence, this week was the Third years facing the Boggert in the staff room in the Prisoner of Azkaban. Facing your worst fears. Being on your own. Self reliance in the face of danger. Even facing questions about your ability to do so from people you trust and respect. We listened a little longer than usual.

Saturday while her brother slept Lily and I sat closely on the couch and read "Batgirl: Year One" I guess it's a whole series of comics packaged as a graphic novel. I don't really buy comics, so I don't know what you call it, but it's $20 worth of comic book. So this smart pretty and tough redhead (Just like Lily) knows her own value, knows her worth and abilities and is insistent that she will make the best use of what she's been given. Her dad wants to stop her, the JSA won't take her, the FBI and GCPD say she's too short. Batman gives her the cold shoulder. But through persistance, seeking out help and friends, being brave and learning from her own fears, self doubts, and mistakes she finds her place and a family of sorts that supports her.

That evening we watch Jimmy Neutron. Parents abducted by aliens. Kids to the rescue. She says, "Look what kids can do." When the fleet of amusement ride spaceships take off.

Saturday ends with a late night walk downtown. Its a minor effort in nearly weekly "family adventures."

Let simmer 24 hours.

Sunday afternoon we sit together in the oversized red chair. I ask her to tell me again why the kids in stories are always orphans or seperated from their parents. She doesn't have a sure answer this time but we tease it out of the stories from Saturday. Who makes the decisions if you're with a parent and your doing something new in scary? What if we're not there? Are there times when you've got to do things on your own? What happens in the stories where kids have to do thing on there own? Who can help you if we're not around? Who's the smart tough redhead you always can count on? Who else? Who helps Harry Potter? Who helps Klaus and Violet? Batgirl? What do you do until you find friends like those?

We know we can count on you to be your best you. These stories are this way because the most important thing for you to know is that you can learn to count on yourself and your friends, once you find them, to work toward being the best you and making the right choices, and finding the way through any tough thing. (this takes a bit longer to tease out but it sums up to this.)

Then I get really good hugs. And maybe a tear. And certainly a great smile. Thanks all.
posted by putzface_dickman at 1:04 PM on September 27, 2004 [20 favorites]

Response by poster: Friday before school Mama, Lily, and little brother made an unauthorized entrance into the cafeteria and scouted for visual disturbances. A black and white swirled rubber ball, abandoned many years past was found lodged in the ceiling trusses in the approximate location of the swirling object.
posted by putzface_dickman at 1:08 PM on September 27, 2004 [23 favorites]

You are one of the best parents i've seen in a while. : >

I'm envious that my folks weren't as cool as you, and thrilled that there was an explanation (concrete even) for what she was seeing. You truly rock! And she's some kid. : >
posted by amberglow at 5:31 PM on September 27, 2004


btw: my granddaughter's name is Lily :)

Your Lily sounds like she has a good head on her shoulders, and she obviously gets it from her parents!
posted by kamylyon at 9:16 PM on September 27, 2004

Response by poster: I want to point out that I don't parent alone. My wife is awesome. My smart, kind, and funny, good-dancing children I owe to her genetically and through her nurturing insistence that children don't deserve condescension or domineering but care and support. They are great because she has made great effort. We've been lucky, or blessed, depending on your denomination.
posted by putzface_dickman at 8:52 AM on September 28, 2004

Response by poster: And... Comments about yin-yang, mandalas, the magus, health, et al. will be addressed in upcoming weeks, but not here.
posted by putzface_dickman at 9:00 AM on September 28, 2004

Thanks for the update. What great thread.
posted by mwhybark at 9:44 AM on September 28, 2004

That is beautiful. Oh, how we love to think and think and think about something, but hey sometimes it pays to just GO LOOK AT IT. I love it. Thanks for the update. Neat stories.
posted by rainbaby at 10:42 AM on September 28, 2004

posted by sciurus at 10:50 AM on September 28, 2004

Glad to see everything worked out for you. :)
posted by shepd at 11:56 AM on September 28, 2004

How much do you think it would cost (bribe) to get the janitor to take the ball down? You could get a little cage for it and give to your daughter. That way, if anyone messes with her, she can sic the Swirlie on'em!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 12:24 PM on September 28, 2004 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the updates, p_d! (Hi, Lilly!)

[This is good]
can we say this in an AxeMe thread?
posted by Fezboy! at 1:19 PM on September 28, 2004

Have been checking back regularly and had to relay the story to my work colleague when I saw the explanation for the swirlie. It made me smile that it was something so innocent after all. I'm sure everyone here would like to add Lily as a honorary member of AskMe - I know I would :D I like robocop's idea about getting the ball down for Lily to keep too :D
posted by floanna at 1:41 PM on September 28, 2004 [1 favorite]

I agree with all: Whotta cool thread and what cool 'rents you are! Cheers for the update!
posted by Shane at 2:40 PM on September 28, 2004

Thanks for the update. Lily sounds like a dreamy joy of a child. And I'll join the chorus of kudos on your parenting skills.

I'm glad we could become "Daddy's friends" for you on this thread.
posted by melissa may at 3:06 PM on September 28, 2004

Excellent :-)
posted by Tarrama at 10:34 PM on September 28, 2004

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