December 23, 2011

Childhood Magic—Why Does it Have to End?

Photo: BigStock

“I don’t like it when grown-ups kill animals and take their skin and fur to make things. When I grow up I’m going to make people stop doing that. I’m going to talk to the president about it.”

Ava spoke her thought out loud with the casualty of discussing her favorite toy. She was leaning against the front door patiently waiting for the rest us to put on our jackets when her words stopped me mid-step. Amidst the chaos, her voice struck my core like a vibrating guitar string. Immediately a tightness rose to my throat. Looking at my 6-year old daughter I saw old-soul eyes, like she already lived a thousand years. Who told her this? What inspired such depth and activism at such a tender age? All these thoughts were sprinting through my mind as I tried to express my pride. Swallowing hard I said, “Well good for you Av-” My husband interrupted me with an effort to start a Save the Animals revolution. “And I’ll help you Ava, we’ll do it together!” He said. “No daddy, only I can do this.”

Her self-assurance was spoken with such conviction and grace, something most adults would envy. But it was her belief in endless possibilities that was most desirable. It was one of those “teaching moments” except this time it was the child giving the lesson.

In the car, on our way to see Santa, our discussion picked up right where it left off (before Ava interrupted with her very mature and unexpected comment). “Santa will want to know what you girls want, have you decided what you’re going to tell him?” Pete asked in his very adorable daddy voice. Julia spent a few minutes thinking but quickly came up short. She finally settled on another baby doll. Ava narrowed her choice down to “anything animal.”

Still buzzing from Ava’s self-righteousness, I was half listening to the holiday cheer spread throughout the car. Overcome by the magic of childhood, I turned to face the window and noticed my reflection. My smile surprised me, unaware that I was wearing my happiness on my face. Inhaling deeply, I settled into my chair and closed my eyes. My mind slowed and rested on the unique, and unassuming ways kids demonstrate the essence of living. By simply observing them we are blessed with a miraculous opportunity to see life lived openly and instinctively.

Kids: they dance before they learn there is anything that isn’t music. ~ William Stafford

I was twelve years old when I felt childhood innocence slipping away. In the darkness of my bedroom closet, I sat clutching my doll against the beating of my thumping heart. On the heels of adolescence, I was clinging to childhood, not ready to make the transition. I choked at the thought as the tears rolled down. Trading Raggedy Anne for Bon Jovi wasn’t the real problem, rather it was letting go of what Raggedy Anne represented that pulled my heartstrings: carefree playfulness, wishing on stars, believing in miracles, limitless potential and endless possibilities—all slipping through the hands of time.

Like most kids, I relished in my limitless imagination, building a reality without borders until society gave me all the straightforward reasons to tuck my wild ideas aside. “Qualifications” or “credentials” had yet to enter my consciousness. After all, aren’t these just man-made restrictions—a demanding way to keep passionate newcomers with grand ideas constrained to the margins? Passion, faith and belief fuel dreams to fruition. Holding on to these innate instincts, without allowing social norms, qualifications, or self-doubt to stand in our way of dreaming is real magic. By continuing to harness our imaginative energy we build a world that includes joy and possibility while fostering exciting dreams with a curious drive to chase them.

The continued belief that anything is possible is what creates opportunity.

At twelve, my young mind was convinced that only in childhood are we allowed to dream so I did what was expected and tucked my fantasy world aside, secretly hoping that one day we’d meet again. It wasn’t a smooth transition—I was a closet doll lover for months before I finally put away the Barbie Van. But soon lipstick shades and boy bands trumped My Little Pony. It was years later when I discovered that, despite what I’d been told, blowing dandelion seeds into the air or throwing pennies into a fountain are timeless. It’s never too late to whisper our secret desires into the ears of the universe and wait for signs that we’ve been heard.

And that is something both my daughters will always be encouraged to do.

So the next time you see a shooting star, or find yourself in front of a birthday cake filled with blazing candles, give yourself a gift. Go back to the magical realm you knew so well as a child, close your eyes, open your mind, lead with your heart, and make a wish.


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