Keeping the Magic Alive
The best thing about being a parent is associating with nutty little people who believe in magic. The worst thing about being a parent is wising them up. Day after day we straighten out funny misconceptions and cute mispronunciations, relentlessly transforming kids into useful citizens who will hold jobs and pay their bills. I guess that’s good.
When my daughter Marie was 5, we were in the backyard looking up at the sky. She asked, “Where would clouds take you?”
I replied, “Nowhere. They’re like fog; if you sat on one, you’d fall right through.”
“Oh,” she said, disappointed.I felt like I’d reached up and yanked her out of the sky. Years later, her little sister Wendy asked me the same question. But that time I countered, “Where do you think they’d take you?”
“To Dreamland. You could visit your dreams there,” she said. Mmmm, better.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to put off orientation and correction for as long as possible? If I had it to do over again, I’d keep a running list of each foolish notion in a notebook and then one evening I’d say, “Marie, we need to talk.”
Sitting on her bed, I’d open the notebook. “First of all, there is no such word as ‘samoo.’ I know we’ve been using it ever since you first said it at age 2, but the word is ‘sandwich.’ Likewise, ‘jamoos’ are ‘pajamas’ to the rest of the English-speaking world.”
“Oh,” she’d say.
Moving down the list, I’d say, “Now, about your teachers. They don’t live at the school and they don’t serve you free of charge like your parents do. They may enjoy their work, but they do it for money. Also, the moon does not really follow us when we drive at night. That’s an optical illusion. Think about it. How could it simultaneously follow every car? And you know that picture we have in the living room of the dogs playing poker? Well, it isn’t a photograph taken in heaven like you thought. It’s just a painting by an obscure genius. Which reminds me. I was only joking when I told you that dogs are really bad boys who have been transformed as punishment. About flying: There is no secret of arm-flapping or telekinesis that will make you fly. People just can’t do it. Also, unicorns and leprechauns are made up.”
“But I’ve seen them on TV. There’s even a leprechaun who does cereal commercials,” Marie would protest, her face pale and eyes wide.
“That leprechaun is a cartoon. Somebody drew him,” I’d say. “There’s more: Dinosaurs are real, but they are all dead.”
“No!” she’d gasp. A tear would run down her cheek and she’d ask, “Why are you telling me all this tonight?”
“Well dear, I really didn’t want to tell you ever, so I put it off for as long as possible. I wanted you to have a magical childhood. But you’ll be starting high school tomorrow morning, and when you go to your first football game you’ll see the school mascot.”
“Tuffy the Terrier?” she’d ask. “I’ve already seen him. He came to the middle school once. He walks on his hind legs and is almost as smart as a person.”
“He is a person — in a costume,” I’d say. “I wanted you to know so you wouldn’t embarrass yourself. And since we’d be talking anyhow, I figured it was time to tell you everything else.”
“This is a lot to take in,” she’d say sadly.
“Yes,” I’d say, “but the important things haven’t changed. Your mom and I still love you, and so do your sisters — although they are just humans and not enchanted beasts.”
Marie would ask suddenly, “Hey! What about Santa Claus?”
“Oh, he’s real, but seldom seen. He sends representatives in red suits to ask kids what they want. They use high-powered cell phones to report back to him at the North Pole so he can coordinate toy production with his elves. And don’t let any upperclassmen tell you different, all right?”
“OK, Dad. And thanks.”
Do I sound inconsistent? I’m sorry, but it’s never the right time to blow the whistle on Santa.
Rick Epstein can be reached at RickEpstein@yahoo.com.