Happy birthday, Toby: Living in a world of pure imagination

Toby 8 years old

It is Toby’s eighth birthday today. And while the two-year gap between him and Isaac is becoming less significant with every passing year, the differences between the pair are becoming increasingly obvious over time.

Over the years, the most obvious way of showing how different the boys are has been watching what happens when you give them a Lego set. Isaac organises his work-space and then methodically follows the instructions. Toby, on the other hand, dives straight in and follow a set of directions that exists only in his head.

I have in the past referred to Isaac and Toby as the engineer and the architect. One builds amazing structures to a precise design; the other creates the design itself. If you’ve seen The Lego Movie, Isaac is Emmet, the construction worker who plays by the rules, and Toby is one of the Master Builders. (Probably Batman. He broods like Batman.)

The contrast between Isaac and Toby shows itself in other ways too. Over the past year, we’ve moved from child-friendly card and board games to more advanced ones which require more strategic thinking. Now both boys are essentially adult-level players who regularly win games on merit. Isaac’s thought processes are highly logical – but therefore to a certain extent predictable. Toby’s speciality is to not only devise a risky, left-field strategy but to then make it work effectively. He’s by far the most creative member of the family, with a flair for the unpredictable. (And the artistic temperament to go with it.)

You see that flair in his writing too. Both boys love to write. But where Isaac draws on things he has experienced or seen, Toby’s stories come from a well-spring rooted deep in his imagination. Isaac might one day be a great journalist or feature writer, entertaining readers with clever insights and turns of phrase. Toby is more likely to be the next J K Rowling, constructing intricate fantasy worlds of his own. He certainly has the means to be a more creative writer than I will ever be.

For all his capacity for imaginary adventures, Toby remains a conservative child. He is suspicious of new things. He will dig his heels in when invited to step outside of his comfort zone. And he is completely at home in his own world but often less so in the real one. He knows what he likes and he likes what he knows.

Toby is one of the most binary people I know. He veers between flashes of genius and moments of utter uselessness. He’s either bored, silent and grumpy or, when the conversation turns to one of his favourite topics, he comes to life and can talk for hours. He’ll happily think but is more reluctant to do.

Yes, he’s an introvert. Like his father.

There’s nothing wrong with being an introvert, of course. Albert Einstein was an introvert. So are Steven Spielberg, Bill Gates, Michael Jordan and Barack Obama. Each of the above has a tendency towards thoughtful introspection. But let them find their sweet spot and the genius behind the quiet demeanour shines through.

You sit up and take notice more when someone shouts who normally whispers. That’s Toby for you. There are times when I find myself wishing he was more consistently engaged and outgoing. But then that wouldn’t be Toby, just as it isn’t me. Why would I want him to be someone he isn’t when he could instead be the best version of himself he could possibly be?

Happy birthday, Toby. I honestly have no idea which flight of fancy you will embark on next – but I can’t wait to find out what it is. I love that you are so comfortable living in your own little world of imagination – but I love it even more when you open up and share that world with us.




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