I Know That You Know (And When You Know That I Know, Still There Will Be Magic)

I love this season of innocence. Even when it’s not so jolly. This weekend we cut down our Christmas tree and I was reminded of the look on Owen’s face in a picture I took last December, a picture I now love.

I was reminded of how hard things were mid-December, last year. How un-jolly it all was, during that particular week. And nothing tragic or life-altering happened. Rather, life happened. Sickness. Deadlines. Tantrums. Rejections. And then I was reminded how Christmas, still, ended up being magical.

This week a friend and I briefly chatted over email about the difficulties that come with parenting when so much in the world seems wrong. Bigger wrongs than colds that will end. Deadlines that will result in paychecks. Tantrums that exist because we’re lucky enough to have a child. Rejections that happen because I was able to write some words on a page. But it’s hard to appreciate the beauty of the holidays when beauty is so very much lacking elsewhere. So many elsewheres.

But kids, they make it easy. Easier.

They make it harder, too, yes, but mostly easier.

This week we decorated our too-big Christmas tree (if you turn sideways you can walk from our entry into our living room). And when we were nearly done, I looked over to see Owen sitting on the bottom step of our staircase, staring at the tree with the most content smile on his face. His eyes reflected the tree lights like something out of a Hallmark special. All was right in his world. All was bright. Despite.

I know Sophie knows about Santa. She doesn’t know I know. She’s not ready. She’s guarding the knowledge tight in her fists, much like she does when she hunts for fairies. She’s unwilling to let go.

At first, this bothered me, She’s 7. I had it all figured out at 5. In one fell swoop I learned about Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. The sadness was slight, that of a soft sigh. And then I relished in knowing a secret my siblings did not. I felt grown-up.

The boys drill me about Santa constantly. “How does he get down our chimney if it’s closed up?” “How does he sneak around the hallways of apartment buildings and hotels?” “What about kids who don’t have a fireplace?” “If books say Santa goes all over the world then what about people who don’t celebrate Christmas? How is he going all around the world if many people in other parts of the world don’t celebrate Christmas?”

I half-answer. Change the subject. Wish they would just come out and ask, “Is Santa real?” And when they do I plan to answer as my parents did. “What do you think?” I’ve learned that coming to conclusions on one’s own always softens the blow.

But no one asks. Not the boys. Not Sophie. Sophie doesn’t even ask questions about the Big Man anymore. She answers the boys’ questions. She has an answer for everything. She’d scream his reality from the rooftops if she could. And so I let her. That is her realization to come to. Not mine to take. At least, I hope that’s the right thing to do.

And when they know, they all know, and they know that I know they know, I’ve learned this: I’ll still find magic. Because even with all of our life’s little wrongs and the world’s big wrongs, there’s so much magic, and innocence, during the holidays.

There’s the taste of bacon-wrapped chestnuts and buckeye candies and fancy cheeses we don’t normally buy and champagne. There are candles and white lights and colored lights and twinkly lights and just so much light. There are thoughtful gifts, homemade gifts, the gift of time spent with those we love. There are three kids singing the wrong words to Christmas songs while I play on our out-of-tune piano, rusty in my memory, missing notes. There are messes. So many big, beautiful messes. Christmas cookie-making messes. The mess of pine needles everywhere, always, no matter how often we water the tree. The mess of wrapping gifts in brown paper and decorating them with stickers and markers and glitter pens. The mess of making a quadruple recipe of Chex Mix and the mess of addressing too many Christmas cards and the mess of extra coffee cups in the morning when family comes in from out of town. And with those messes come the hugs. So many hugs. Great-grandmother hugs. Grandparent hugs. Sibling hugs. Aunt and uncle hugs. Parent hugs. Cousin hugs. Niece hugs. Husband hugs.

So during the holidays, I let in cheeriness and maybe even a little cheesiness. I let in some make-believe. I let in some sappy moments despite the realities both at home and out in the hard, beautiful, cold and light-filled world. I let myself soften while watching a little guy sit on the steps and stare with a small smile at a decorated tree. I let another little guy question me incessantly about the logistics of Santa’s big night. I let a 7-year-old think that I think she still believes.

“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.”
—Norman Vincent Pe

The View From Up High

Sophie and I went for long overdue haircuts tonight. I love our haircut nights. It’s a night out, just the two of us. I get to see my friend Nicholena. Sophie gets to inform Nicholena how I have no idea how to do her hair (picture Sophie piling all her hair onto the back of head, as in a messy bun) in the mornings before preschool, so Nicholena teaches me. Sophie is happy. I’m happy. My hair feels good again.

On the way home, we passed a carnival. On a Thursday night. On Colerain Ave.

Sophie was wide-eyed, looking at the ferris wheel while we sat at a stop light.

It was 9pm. On a school night.

I looked at her. I looked at the ferris wheel. I looked at the clock. I looked at the red light.

I could give her a bit of magic, I thought. Or we could go home.

I turned in. We parked directly behind a large trailer. The entire rather large carnival seemed open—the rides were running, the people in charge of games were yelling—but there were only a couple people milling about. I found the ticket booth.

“Is she old enough to ride the ferris wheel?” I asked. There were two older women in the booth, hair piled on top of their head, all thick makeup and bright red lipstick—I swear it was if we had walked onto a movie set. They peered over the glass. And mumbled something. After several attempts I heard “38.” Sophie had to be more than 38″ tall. I pushed Sophie up against a stick with heights marked on it. She passed. And she was thrilled.

$7.50 and six tickets later, we walked over to the ferris wheel. There was no one on it. We passed no one while walking to it. I looked at Sophie, expecting her to be nervous. She was clutching my hand, giddy with excitement. She kept looking up at it, the pure lighted beauty of it.

We got on.

A man strapped us in, put down a metal bar and took all six of our tickets. And off we went.

It was higher than I expected.

And faster than I expected.

Sophie and I held hands tight. As we neared the top and started to go down, my stomach did a flip-flop. I closed my eyes.

What had I been thinking?

While I clutched Sophie’s hand tighter, she opened her eyes and mouth wider. And squealed with delight.

We went around.

And around.

And around.

And around.

I suppose, because there was no one at this strange Thursday-night-on-the-side-of-a-road carnival the man in charge of operating the ferris wheel was giving us an extra long ride.

For 10 minutes we went around. And then he stopped us.

At the very top.

We just sat there, slowly swinging.

Back and forth. Back and forth.

Sophie was thrilled with this development. While she was reaching her free hand up above her head (I was still tightly clinging to the other one) screaming “I’m touching the skkkyyy!!!” I began to question my parenting. Who has a carnival in a deserted store parking lot on the side of the road on a Thursday night? Do carnivals like this have licenses to operate? Permits? Does someone do a safety check? How often? How is it possible that I can spend hours researching car seats and plugging electrical outlets and cutting up blueberries but then put my daughter on this?

We started moving again. “I want to let go, Mama!” Sophie said. And she let go of my hand. I turned and looked at her.

Every once in awhile I know that a moment I’m seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, will be with me always—in every tiny little detail. I felt that, knew that, when I saw her face, the ferris wheel lights backdropped against it. It was the look in her eyes, in particular. It was pure joy.

And that’s just it. As parents we worry and plan and prepare and analyze, agonize, all so we can get on the ferris wheel, hold tight and then just let go.

And so I did. I let go of her hand, and I let go of my worry, and for a small moment I let life be.

And then the operator stopped us at the top, again.

I grabbed Sophie’s hand. She looked at me. “Just because,” I said, trying to smile. “Just because.”

Because that’s just it, too. As much as we have to let go, sometimes, even when they may not want us to, we also have to hold on tight.

The next time we passed the operator I said, “Sir? Sir? Thank you sir but I think we’re done!”

Sophie looked at me. “I don’t think he heard you,” she said, as we went around again. (I’m pretty sure he did hear me by the way he was laughing as we passed him.)

The next time around he stopped the ride. We thanked him. Sophie was high on excitement, high on the thrill of her first ferris wheel ride, high on the idea that sometimes an ordinary Thursday night can become extraordinary.

I was simply thankful to be back on solid ground, on the way to our Subaru that held the well-researched car seat, on the way to the house where I cut blueberries for much longer than needed.

I was thankful for the feel of Sophie’s hand in my hand, and thankful for the moment she, we both, let go.

I was thankful for tonight’s view from up high.

“I see nothing in space as promising as the view from a Ferris wheel.” —E.B. White