When I was a kid, I sat under the pear tree in our front yard and pretended to be Laura Ingalls Wilder in Little House on the Prairie. I loved those books; I read every one. I still remember how Laura’s dad tapped a tree for molasses and that they once lived in a hollowed out hillside with a dirt floor. To an eight-year-old girl in suburbia, that was downright magical. Growing up, somewhere along the way, I lost that feeling, that magic. I didn’t even realize it was gone.
Dane’s grown enough to start shedding his baby-ness, although thankfully it’s happening gradually, like shadows from the trees in the morning. He’s still our wee guy, but he’s big enough to start leading expeditions outside our circle. He tromps to the neighbor’s yard and calls “DA DOG! DA DOG!” or tries to cross the street on his own, to wave to the bus or study the fire hydrant. He chooses his toys, his books, what he wants to eat. He reaches up for my hand without bothering to check if it’s there, so certain is he in the absoluteness of his world. It makes my heart stop, that certainty, his opinions, and the somehow grown-up–childness of it. It’s his magic. He’s starting to make his own.
I can’t remember when I lost my magic. I do remember being terrified of monsters at night, and then realizing, sometime between early childhood and puberty (and definitely sometime after watching Nightmare on Elm Street Parts 1 to 13), that if magic were really real I could imagine a protective sphere around my bed that would keep out all those monsters. After all, if monsters existed, why couldn’t my own magic sphere of awesomeness? And even though the idea itself was an excellent use of childhood magic (if I do say so myself), it was also treading the borderland between childhood and adult logic. From that point on, it became less awesome to drop a little fairy dust onto my feet and leap around the bed as a flying monkey, and more interesting to follow our neighbor boy home from school.
Sometimes, when I watch Dane, when I’m really, really lucky, I get that old lightning bug in a jar magic kind of feeling. That’s one of the side benefits of having kids, I guess. All the possibilities of childhood come roaring back. It’s the glint in his eye or the way sunlight catches his hair and sparkles, and it makes me squint and tilt my head until I can almost see through him. He’s a mirage, that baby, and in him I see the place I miss so much and didn’t even know was gone. The place where anything can happen.
It’s too simple to say that I feel lucky to have even a second of that back now. Our emotions as parents are so complex that there really aren’t words to express them; trying to do so is like throwing a pebble off a waterfall. The only word I can think of that begins to touch how I feel is believe. He makes me believe again. And that’s worth more than all the words I know and most of the ones I don’t.
p.s. I borrowed the title of this post from an excellent book of short stories by my old friend and teacher Dave Shaw. Show him a little love, y’all.