When summer thunderstorms shook my childhood home, my mother quelled fears by saying it was God bowling. I spent years watching the darkened skies, imagining oily lanes, pristine white pins, and the sacred scent of stale cigarettes. Bowling alleys are an intriguing place to envision the omnipotent, but this was the magic of childhood. Possibilities are eternally believable and skepticism is an uninvited guest. Now I find myself with the roles reversed. Parenthood and the loss of innocence have granted my wife and I the task of raising our own children. With loving attentiveness we carefully tend to these duties the best that we can.
This, however, is no simple charge. There is unseen weight in protecting the privilege of a magical childhood. It is an intense role we parents play as gatekeepers between the unforgiving world and a child, shielding the sacred bubble that fosters a child’s imagination. There is a careful balance that must be struck and vigilantly maintained. Some manage this undertaking well and it is reflected in their children. It is to those that were successful that we look for inspiration.
For example, in college, I had a friend who claimed she could control the wind. As a child she would raise her arms on windy days, and lower them when the gusts subsided. The swirling leaves and swaying treetops were helpless against her every whim. Sometimes I think about her when the wind blows. I want to believe she truly had this power. With jealousy, I long for her authority over the elements.
In our house, we are visited by elves. They leave us small gifts, tokens of their gratitude for sharing our home, but we never catch a glimpse of them. One may find a new toy, book, or treat mixed in with other belongings. It is always a surprise, and the guests leave no clues. Our oldest loves these unseen friends and the left behind treasures. He accepts their existence with no sense of doubt. He sincerely believes and occasionally asks if they’ll be back soon. With envy, I crave his willingness to accept the absurd.
Recently I was speaking with him: “If your teeth are extra clean the Tooth Fairy leaves you more money,” he said. I failed to believe him. His friends from school had given him this information, and his faith was genuine. He assured me of his claim’s validity and has brushed his teeth more thoroughly than ever before. The pain in his eyes when he discovered only the usual fare upon losing his next tooth nearly broke my heart. With unfaltering devotion, I want to believe as he believes.
The truth is that it can be a struggle to maintain the façade required to uphold these charades. My well-cultivated skepticism does not always bend before his bright-eyed enthusiasm for life. This is fine though, for I would not wish it to be any other way. I could not bear to see his dreams and childhood reality shattered before my eyes. I fear the day that my child grows up. I tremble at the thought of watching his innocence evaporate under the fevered heat of reality, perishing under the harsh burn of a not-so-magical adult world.
Inevitably, that time will come though. When it does, I dream of releasing into the world a young man that perfectly resembles my ideals and emphasizes the magic that still exists in the world. With optimism, I imagine unveiling a dazzling light capable of melting away the thorns and spears of our world. With hope, I will continue to foster his imagination as a gardener tends to his crops, and with great joy, I will always share in his sparkling versions of reality.
I want his childhood to last forever, but deep down I know that is not an option.
I wish to keep him all to myself, and the world be damned.
With child-like delusion, I contemplate the impossible.