This piece was written originally two Christmases ago. I apologize to the handful of readers who have read this before. But I did say in my first piece on Of Vice And Zen that some of my old work would make its way onto this blog. Now it has a real title and a fun picture! As I sat down to write this week’s publication, I realized that I didn’t have everything just the way I wanted it. Unlike my underwear and socks that will be put away days after I finished doing laundry, I want my writing to be completed wholly. In addition, I took my daughter to the doctor today (nothing serious), and experienced a moment that reminded me of this piece. She took control of the appointment, talking to the doctor in her own words. A helpless child was not standing in the room with me. I was in the company of a growing woman. It was a breath-taking and humbling moment. So, without further ado (I’ve always wanted to have a reason to say that)…
“How does that train not wake up his parents?”
This is heavy stuff. A question posed to me by my nine year old daughter while we decorate the Christmas tree and watch The Polar Express. This question inevitably leads to awkward answers we parents have to carefully supply to maintain the illusion of magic. Answers that often only lead to more questions and more awkward answers. Which then lead to more questions. I think I handled it like a pro. Vague, calculated responses that made me think a future in politics could be lucrative, assuming I actually knew anything about current events outside of my newsfeed. Don’t get me wrong; I would unfortunately rock any discussion concerning the status of the Kardashians or wildly inappropriate memes, but I’m not sure that knowledge would effectively run a country.
Regardless, I digress. What this random question triggered in me was a line of thought that brought a sadness. I came to the realization that this might be the last year this beautiful young lady believes in Santa. The rumors have already begun in her class. They revolve around rational thoughts leading to suspicions that their parents might very well be horrible liars who have manipulated them into being good (at least for the last couple months) by threatening the disappointment and passive aggressive wrath of a bearded fat man who spends an absorbent amount of time playing with toys and tiny slave workers.
Sadly, once the myth of Santa falters, soon follows the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the understanding that spinach can make one strong like Popeye, and the acceptance that Dad really did make that quarter disappear behind the ear. There goes the magic. I thought about this with immense disappointment. The passing from being a child of wonder to a person of skepticism. But is that really the case? Not necessarily.
I smiled while I watched her put the last few ornaments on the tree. She has so many more moments of magic ahead of her. Are these moments about mythical people or creatures? No. But they will be no less powerful. They require an amazing recipe of hope, faith, joy, and unbridled belief in something bigger and far more mysterious in the world. I’ll touch on some of them. Feel free to add to the list your own magical moments post-fairy tale apocalypse.
- Although she’s already begun on a beginner level, she will discover her ability to cook, I mean really cook, her own dinner. Just a first step in becoming her own person who does not need to rely on Dad or Mom to provide sustenance. Small step? Perhaps, but there will come a moment when that kitchen will cease to be a bunch of cabinets and instead will have evolved into a playground of self-importance. How the magic will shine when I first taste one of the worst breakfasts I’ve ever had while smiling and nodding. Maybe I’ll go all out and do the whole circular belly rub to really drill the point home.
- As a father, I try to avoid thoughts of boys being in her life. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, I suspect that she is beginning to realize that boys do not, in fact, have cooties. And someday, far before I’m ready, she’s going to find her first crush. The boy she draws hearts for. She’ll put his name inside that heart along with her own and a mathematical symbol. I would prefer the symbol be subtraction, but I don’t believe I’ve attended enough church in my life for that particular prayer to come true. That time, that first crush, is nothing short of magical. You and I, we each had one. Who was yours?
- The first real friends-date with no parents. Often, this is a time for a movie. She and her girlfriends will go to whatever awful movie is all the hype in the theater at the time. I like to think I raised her better and that she’d force them to appreciate Star Wars: Episode Nine, but those little teens are persuasive. However, the movie itself is pointless. This date is not about watching a movie. It is about freedom from those pesky parents. She will feel like a trusted and independent member of society. She need not know that Dad will probably be a block away with binoculars.
- If she’s anything like her father, she will explore the boundaries of the English language. I’m not referring to those words with multiple syllables. No. Those four letter words that often require random asterisks in written form so my grandmother doesn’t have a stroke while simultaneously shaking her head and planning an extra visit to church to pray for her grandson’s eternal soul. Those words have power. Using those words for the first time is to control the universe. Friends may ogle in surprise. Strangers who overhear them will look away in disgust (especially if they’re wonderful ladies like my grandmother). Parents will immediately become war-time torturers and interrogators at their mention. “I’ll take the soap out of your mouth as soon as you tell me who taught you that word!” Certainly, she won’t have learned it from Dad. Those words are nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and even entire sentences if used properly. Make me proud, baby girl, as soon you turn eighty and I’m gone.
- I will hold her arm as she walks stoically down an aisle surrounded by friends and family. She will look up and see the man she loves take a breath and wipe away a tear while he gazes at her. They will both say some things before he hugs her tightly. There will be no kissing at my daughter’s wedding. That day, that moment will make her believe in fairy tales again.
- A doctor or nurse will someday place a child on her chest. This child will have been conceived in a way that my church-going grandmother will understand better than me, as my daughter will have never so much as kissed her husband. But that child, that new life, will be a greater present than any given by ole Kris Kringle. Faith, joy, fear, hope, love. These are the center of magic.
- My daughter will decorate a tree with that child, much older now. She will talk about Santa and write his name on gift tags after the child goes to sleep. She will bake cookies and put them out on the coffee table to be eaten by herself (throwing them away would be both a waste and a dangerous breach of security should the child check the garbage in the morning). Diet be damned. Most importantly, she will again know the wonder of the mythical man who brought her so much joy in her youth, this time from a different viewpoint.
Yes, I left certain moments out. I did this for two reasons. First, as I said, you should fill in your own. Secondly, some moments are not meant for a father to recognize due to his daughter’s lack of anything resembling romance, and the fact that all men in her life will be eunuchs.
I don’t know much, but I know this: I will hold onto the childhood magic as long as I can. However, when it goes, I won’t be sad. Look at this life, baby girl. Look closely. Pick a card. Any card.