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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Finding Fairyland

Scene: In the car on the way home from the movies at night.

"Did you ever push that red triangle button that's for emergencies?" Son asked.

"No," I replied. "I never did."

"Wow. That's lucky," he said.

"Push it now," chimed in Daughter.

"Nooo," Son replied with some scorn. "It's just for emergencies."

"Emergencies?" she asked.

"Yes," he replied definitively. And then began to explain more slowly, as if he was considering carefully and weighing his words while he spoke. "Like, if you don't have enough food, you can order some...or if you can't breathe, they will tell you what to do...or if you only have one eye, and you don't have any grown ups around to help you see..." his voice trailed off. He wasn't exactly sure what magic the people on the other end of the button could provide to remedy your lack of an eye and grown-ups.

I didn't have the heart to tell him that the hazard lights button just turns on some blinking lights so that other drivers don't hit you if you're stopped on the side of the road. It was way more enticing to think of it as a sort of magic call button that could provide everything from a hot dinner to self-resuscitation directions.

There are plenty of things about which we parents strive not to shatter our children's illusions lightly or too soon. Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy loom large on the list in our house right now. So do less magical things like the fact that I protect them from the notion that one's parents could die when one is still a little child or that people commit terrible crimes. (The other day Son asked me if anyone had ever gone to jail. He meant EVER. As in ever in the history of the world. Wide-eyed, he was trying to imagine what kind of thing would be bad enough to get you sent to jail for real. I simply told him yes, some people were in jail. He wanted to know if they were roberts -- which is how he and Daughter insist on pronouncing the word robber. I said I thought so and left it at that.)

There are small things, too, that I don't bother to correct. The notion they have that I actually do really and truly have eyes in the back of my head, for example. One day Son did something naughty in the back seat of the car and without even turning around, and I told him to stop doing whatever it was. "How did you know that's what I was doing?" he breathed, completely mystified. I tossed off, as mothers will,the declaration that "I have eyes in the back of my head," and he completely believed it. I have even heard him warning his sister in a serious voice, "DON'T," he once said, as she went for something she wasn't supposed to that was behind my back, "You'll get in trouble. Mama has eyes in the back of her head, and she'll see."

And even smaller ones -- like that there may be real fairies somewhere in the world, or that rabbit tracks in the snow on Christmas morning really are from reindeer as the children assumed. Or that a simple button in the car can be a lifeline to anything one might need in the universe.

I don't think there's anything wrong with these illusions. Logic, observation, the practicality of age will all take over and reveal the truths about these and so many other elements of their lives soon enough. And so, for the present, I feed the magic.

I do worry sometimes about how I will talk my way through the inevitable, difficult conversations about The Truth. But I think I am beginning to find my way: The Truth is that parents who love the light in their children's eyes will tell them almost anything to perpetuate it, and allowing children's imaginations free play is part of the process of helping them to fuel their own mental growth. Children need magic.

Some people may argue that I am lying to my children. In a strict sense, they are right. But in an emotional sense, I am nurturing their fancy. I am helping them learn that the world can appear magical if you look at it from the right angle. That anyone can make stories. That imagination is sustaining.

And that, I think, is a lesson worth teaching young, so that once the practicality and Truths of maturity take over, it is still possible to harness the power of "what if..." and fly away on the backs of giant, rainbow-colored butterflies to fairyland.

18 comments:

calicobebop said...

WOW! Anonymous took the words right out of my mouth! Curse the spammers!!!

I know how you feel. I have told my family that Muffin gets to be a grown-up far longer than she gets to be a child and to just let her be. Don't grow up soon little ones! Retain the magic!

MommyTime said...

I know, Calicobebop, that that Anon comment was quite a spectacular one, but for the sake of my own prudery/propriety, I had to delete it. Still, I have to tell you that YOUR comment about the Anon one cracked me up completely. Thanks for that!

LceeL said...

You are quite the 'Mom'. There are many who could take lessons from you. Truly.

Chocolate on my Cranium said...

Hurray for feeding the magic!!! Childhood should be full of imagination, fun, and fantasy. My own was full of it and I treasure it. Hopefully my children will be able to say the same.

Danielle said...

I completely agree that children should be able to imagine and create their own reality while they are young. We all loose it at some point and it is such a shame.

Suzy Voices said...

Imagination is everything at that age! If we all kept that, just think of how much more fun life would be.

Laski said...

"Children need magic."

yes . . . especially now, today, in this world we live in.

They NEED it.

A long time ago I stopped daring to dream "What if" . . .when JR was born, I was, too. I started asking again.

I want him and his baby sister to always imagine . . . to dream, to desire, to wonder. Always.

Amber said...

"But in an emotional sense, I am nurturing their fancy. I am helping them learn that the world can appear magical if you look at it from the right angle. That anyone can make stories. That imagination is sustaining."

LOVE IT. And sooooo true!

anymommy said...

I love how you look at these things, it widens my perspective and makes me think harder and longer. Your post extends my concrete thinking about giving children the physical freedom to engage in imaginative games to remembering to give them the mental freedom to believe and make up their own answers.

I've never bought the parenting idea that allowing children to believe in myths or imagined things is "lying" to them. You said it all: "I don't think there's anything wrong with these illusions. Logic, observation, the practicality of age will all take over and reveal the truths about these and so many other elements of their lives soon enough. And so, for the present, I feed the magic."

Kate Coveny Hood said...

I wonder how he envisions the eyes in the back of your head...Like Cousin It?

I love this and I wholeheartedly agree with you. I haven't had to answer many "truth" questions yet since my oldest is only four and has a lot of delays that make him far more like his three year old siblings when it comes to suspension of disbelief. But I do hear myself I wonder how he envisions the eyes in the back of your head...Like Cousin It?

I love this and I wholeheartedly agree with you. I haven't had to answer many "truth" questions yet since my oldest is only four and has a lot of delays that make him far more like his three year old siblings when it comes to suspension of disbelief. But I do hear myself referring to presents "Santa brought" in a context that would imply that I actually bought them at Target - and I have to remind myself that keeping a lie going requires a bit more vigilance...

Personally - I totally believe in fairies, so I'll go with magic every time.

All Adither said...

I struggle with this, too. It's one of the heartbreaks of parenting, isn't it?

Momisodes said...

I'm with Lou. I am definitely taking notes from you. Especially about the 'eyes in the back of the head'.
Genius.

OHmommy said...

I love seeing the light shine in my children's eyes.

Nanny Goats In Panties said...

I would hate to see this idea turn into some ugly over-reacted-upon controversial parenting issue, because when that happens, Santa Claus is finished. I love that it feeds children's imaginations, something we jaded adults often lack.

Alyssa said...

I agree I do whatever I can to help my daughter believe and stay innocent...she wants to think that the tooth fairy is going to bring her a whistle because she saw it on a show that is fine by me and hey it saves me money!

When did I become my Mom said...

That is so well put...

I am glad to be able to imagine and dream sometimes... Being an adult without a past where you were allowed to dream is probably a really hard place to be.

This Christmas I encouraged my 8yr old to believe in Santa.

Thanks for writing this post. :-)

Jaina said...

In this case, you are simply not correcting them, not outright lying. I do get that some people would still consider it lying. I find it admirable that you are striving to allow them to be children and keep their innocence for as long as possible. Keep the magic alive.

foolery said...

You mean I *don't* have eyes in the back of my head? Crap. All this time I've been soooooooo careful with hair spray.

This post was lovely, MT, as usual. Here's to my almost-9-year-old who questions the Santa story less now than when she was 4; she is clinging fiercely to the magic.

 

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