This story begins last week, at a cottage by the lake where we spent seven days sans cell phone, computer, and television in the company of children. At twilight one evening, more desirous of finishing a second chilled glass of Chablis than of playing one more round of soccer or hide and seek, I pointed out a gnarled tree to 5 year old Jesse and deemed it, (as mothers are wont to do after the first glass,) a "Magic Tree."
"If you collect 100 acorns and lay them at the base of the tree, it will grant your wish." I tell him, settling into the wooden swing, relaxing as he ran across the yard squirrel-like and began to make his pile.
Much later, I leaned in closely behind him to hear him whisper his desire into the textured bark. I expected to hear him ask for a toy or game, to express his yearning for an object or item that could be easily purchased, or sought after and obtained on eBay.
"I wish I could fly." His back turned towards me, lips pressed into the tree, his shoulders hunched in concentration, he wished and wished and wished.
"Doesn't happen right away," the wine told him, "Tree magic is very slow magic. We'll just have to wait and see what happens. In the meantime, why don't you fly on upstairs put yourself in pjs, and put yourself to bed?" A bold wish on my part, unsubstantiated by acorns, and met with as much immediate success as his own.
I thought the wish was forgotten-blown out to sea by days spent swimming in the lake or riding bikes. Before bed we spoke of picking strawberries and making swords from driftwood; there was no mention of flight other than to remark upon the birds that sang a morning greeting.
Then last night, our first full night back in New York, Jesse had a long conversation with Kip about rocket boots and jet backpacks. Anxious to get to all that TiVo had captured in our absence, Kip did nothing to dispel the talk of engines and boosters. Jesse fell asleep believing that his father would make all that was necessary for him to fly in the morning; that from duct tape and cardboard boxes his father could make flight a reality.
The first thing Jesse did upon awakening was call me into his room and begin to discuss his plans for flight. It could have been Christmas morning for all the enthusiasm he brought to his description of what would be built that day, and all the flying he would do. I nodded, sipped my tea, noted the sheen on my boy's upper lip, the wide pupils full of excitement, the anticipation visible in every limb. I left him sitting on his bed, talking excitedly about what the day held for him, and went to my husband to tell him this was entirely his fault and ask him what he planned to do about it.
Kip went in and tried to explain that he could not make a flying suit from materials readily available at Home Depot. And then the crying began.
I went in and tried to explain that rockets were fire-based, and that rocket fuel was dangerous, and you had to be at least 14 to fly, and that there were rules about this sort of thing. His mouth open, face wet, Jesse looks at me and says "yes, but I made that wish on the Magic Tree and YOU said it would come true. Were you just pretending? Were you? Were you?" I was ashamed at the look of utter betrayal that crossed his face as he said this, and in an instant knew the days of seeing fairies in the corner of the woods would soon be ending. I want my child to believe in magic forever. But in the end, magic can disappoint. Mommies can disappoint. And the crying continued.
Annie comes to the door and asks "What's wrong wif my bwother? Why you crying Jesse?" and she reaches out a tiny hand to comfort him, which he kicks away in anger and rolls over to face the wall. " I want to f-f-f-f-fly...." He keeps wailing. Annie finds this ridiculous. Just yesterday she wanted to be a guinea pig-but she got over it.
We try other tactics. We leave him to himself and tell him to come out of his room when he gets a hold of himself. He cries another 20 minutes. I tell him to be grateful for the fact that he can walk-tell him there are children who can't run, can't swim, can't skip. He thinks about this for all of three minutes before returning to his sobbing. He wants a hug but he does not want a hug, he is hungry but he does not want breakfast, he tells me his heart has broken and he will never draw another picture for me.
Kip leaves, because this morning he will be bringing Chirpie to the vet to put down. She has begun to pee everywhere, most notably on the children's beds, and at roughly 140 human years, it is time for her to go gently into that good night.
Last night we discussed what to tell the children. I suggest we invent the most perfect farm. "We'll leave a note for the kids" I tell Kip, "From Chirpie's mother. It will say that she came to pick her up, and that they are going to live on a farm and eat tuna out of the can every day." Kip suggests telling the children the truth. I look at him like he is crazy.
I realized as I bought my morning tea, 38 minutes late for work, having left Jesse still sobbing at the elevator door; (" I will NOT have a good day.") that I need to let the shadows touch my children. That they need to know that trees do not grant wishes, that 5 year old boys can't fly, that Daddies can't fix everything, that Mommies make up stories, that sometimes the things we love and think will be around forever must die. I know in my heart that to provide them with the strength and armor they will need in life that I must show them truths in all their messiness. But I wish it weren't so. And so I continue to gather acorns.