The Magic of Childhood
Keeping the Spirit Alive

By Rick Epstein

Originally appeared in December 2011

The best thing about being a parent is associating with little people who believe in magic. The worst thing about being a parent is wising them up. Day after day we straighten out funny misconceptions and cute mispronunciations, relentlessly transforming kids into useful citizens.

When my daughter Marie was 5, we were in the backyard looking up at the sky. She asked, Where would clouds take you?

I replied, Nowhere. Theyre like fog; if you sat on one, youd fall right through.

Oh, she said, disappointed. Years later, her little sister Wendy asked me the same question. But that time I countered, Where do YOU think theyd take you?

To Dreamland. You could visit your dreams there, she said. Better!

Wouldnt it be wonderful to put off correction for as long as possible? If I had it to do over again, Id keep a running list of each foolish notion in a notebook and then finally one evening Id say, Marie, we need to talk.

Sitting on her bed, Id open the notebook. First of all, there is no such word as samoo. I know weve been using it ever since you first said it at age two, but the word is sandwich. Likewise, jamoos are pajamas to the rest of the English-speaking world.

Oh, shed say.

Moving down the list, Id say, Now, about your teachers: They dont live at the school and they dont serve you free of charge like your parents do. They may enjoy their work, but they do it for money. Also, the moon does not really follow us when we drive at night. Thats an optical illusion. Think about it: How could it simultaneously follow every car? And you know that picture we have in the living room of the dogs playing poker? Well, it isnt a photograph taken in heaven like youd thought. Its just a painting by an obscure genius. Which reminds me: I was only joking when I told you that dogs are really bad boys who have been transformed as punishment. Also, fairies, unicorns and leprechauns are all made up.

But Ive seen them on TV. Theres even a leprechaun who does cereal commercials, Marie would protest, her face pale and eyes wide.

That leprechaun is a cartoon. Somebody drew him, Id say. Dinosaurs are real, but they are all dead.

No! shed gasp. As a tear runs down her cheek, shed ask, Why are you telling me all this tonight?

Well dear, I really didnt want to tell you ever, so I put it off for as long as possible. I wanted you to have a magical childhood. But youll be starting high school tomorrow morning, and when you go to your first football game youll see the school mascot.

Tuffy the Terrier? shed ask, Ive already seen him. He came to the middle school once. He walks on his hind legs and is almost as smart as a person.

He IS a person  in a costume, Id say. I wanted you to know that so you wouldnt embarrass yourself. And since wed be talking anyhow, I figured its time to tell you everything else.

This is a lot to take in, shed say sadly.

Yes, Id say, But the important things havent changed. Your mom and I still love you, and so do your sisters  although they are just humans and not enchanted beasts.

Marie would ask suddenly, Hey! What about Santa Claus?

Oh, hes real, but seldom seen. He sends out representatives in red suits to ask kids what they want. They use cellphones to report back to him at the North Pole so he can coordinate toy production with his elves. And dont let any upperclassmen tell you different, alright?

OK, Dad. And thanks.

Rick is an author and columnist who always seeks the truth  for inspiration.

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