My daughter has always been magic. A preschool teacher once sent home a note saying she had spent most of playtime staring out the window looking for fairies. From the ages of two until five, she insisted she was followed around by a team of baby chickies, who in turns would get stuck in the door of the car or left behind at the grocery store. And more than once, I had to turn the car around to find them. Opening the door to let the wind and imagination in and set things all right once again.
Two years ago, she stood in the checkout aisle of Target reading the covers of Christmas themed magazines. One had a headline that bragged, “How to create Santa’s magic for your children!”
I watched my daughter silently mouth out the words of the headlines. Then, she turned to me in a cold fury. “It’s all made up?! Moms just make this all up?”
I told her we did it. It was a vast conspiracy to create magic for kids in a world that is often cold and brutal and unmagical. “I still want to believe for another two years,” she told me. I said she was more than welcome.
And she is more than welcome. Magic is the parenting tool I understand the most. Together, my kids and I create little houses for fairies in our backyard. We read books together almost every night and enter into the worlds of E. Nesbitt, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and JK Rowling. But two years is up and the magic is disappearing. The fairy that once visited her almost nightly, leaving notes, and gifts and reassurances for her during some hard days, has slowly ceased to be summoned. Santa is now a concept she tolerates for her little brother, who only seems to buy in because he feels presents are at stake.
And I’m afraid of this new world of parenting, without baby chickies, without Ella the fairy, without amulets and swords that carry the power to enact justice. The world is a stupid and brutal place without magic. This year I got bomb threats and rape threats. The president is violating the constitution and children are dying in camps on our border, on our watch. I need the fables to help make it all make sense, because, if I am honest, it doesn’t really.
I’ve been thinking a lot this year about stories. About why we tell them and why we write them. And why they are necessary. In his defense of stories, GK Chesterton wrote, “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”
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On December 6, after learning about St. Nicholas Day, my daughter put her shoe on the front porch. This is not a tradition we have and I asked her why she did it if she didn’t even believe in Santa anyway. She shrugged. “It’s okay, I just have hope.” I have a stash of reserve candy. The shoe was filled.
We need stories to see the world both as it is and how it can be better.
Last November, I stood next to a different little girl in a different state. I was writing a story about her father, who is a violent man, who led a racist rally where someone was killed. This littler girl and I stood on the shore of a lake and she told me about all the monsters and dinosaurs that lived beneath the water. She said she was afraid of them. I told her maybe they were nice, but she shook her head. They were bad, she said.
So, instead, I told her a story about a little girl who fought those monsters and won.
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