When you are only a few years into life, it's difficult to figure out what is real and what is not. How is it that exotic animals like zebras and rhinos are real while unicorns are not? Why can whales and dolphins live in the ocean but not mermaids? Magic wands. Flying horses. Fairies. Talking animals. So many of the objects of fascination in Staley's life, the things that she watches in her cartoons and reads about in books, are not real. Staley is still trying to figure this out.
Staley was disappointed at Halloween when she realized that her mermaid costume was simply a costume. She had hoped to turn into a real mermaid, and realizing that she still had feet and not just a fin was a major disappointment. But she has not let go of this dream. The other day, out of the blue, Staley informed me, "I will not be a real mermaid for a long time because I will have to be by the water where the real fairies are." And yesterday after running into one of her little friends at the grocery store, she told me, "When I am a real mermaid, I will let Kyli come to my house so she can see my fin." So when you hear that we have moved by a large body of water inhabited by fairies and that Kyli is coming over, it's quite possible that our daughter has, in fact, become a mermaid.
Flying horses are a regular part of one of the shows that Staley enjoys. With her fascination with horses, you can only imagine how exciting the prospect of a flying horse would be. A few weeks ago as we were leaving the house to run errands, Staley asked, "When we are done at the grocery store, can we get a flying horse?" Generally one to join in with Staley's imaginary play, I said, "Sure" (thinking that we'd play 'flying horse' in the basement when we got home). After stopping at a few places, we pulled into the garage. Immediately Staley told me, "We forgot to get my flying horse." I responded, "I think the flying horse is in the basement." Staley corrected me by saying, "I want to get a real flying horse." At that point, I explained to her that flying horses aren't real. They are pretend, but we could pretend to ride flying horses. And my heart broke as Staley's eyes filled with tears and she tried to hold them back. They were tears of disappointment, and I hated that I stole a little of Staley's belief that anything is possible.
Navigating this world of real and pretend is tricky. Not just for children, but for parents as well. I love Staley's imagination, but I also feel like it's part of my job as a parent to teach my children what is real and what is not. But where is the line between a child with a good imagination making up stories versus telling lies? And how do we keep the magic innocence of childhood alive without misleading our children with false information?
As Staley gets older, I struggle each year with Santa. I want Staley and Adelie to realize that Christmas is about Jesus. I want them to know that Jesus is real, and that Santa is not. We don't do gifts from Santa. We don't talk much about Santa. I don't really want to do the Santa thing. But as Staley is getting older and older, it gets trickier. Santa is part of several of the Christmas activities we enjoy. All her friends talk about Santa. I don't want her to wonder why Santa doesn't bring her presents, but I also don't want to be so truthful before she's ready that she becomes that pre-schooler who tells all her friends that Santa isn't real. The only thing I know to do is take things day by day, month by month, year by year. To make the decisions we think are best in the moment, understanding that we are going to make mistakes along the way. To raise our children by being honest with them in hopes that, as they get older, they will be honest with us. Mermaids may not be real. Flying horses may not exist. Staley and Adelie may not grow up believing in Santa. But hopefully they will still believe that anything is possible. In miracles. And in the fact that, even grounded in reality, life can be magical.