"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
November 6, 2014
How to Make Childhood Magical
by Hannah Bird

When I was a child, I lived where there were fireflies. You could see them on summer nights, and you could catch the flowers one honey drop at a time on your tongue. We had a sycamore tree. The fat dense puffballs were the perfect task for fidgety fingers on a hot day.

In summer, nights got so hot that we dragged our mattresses into the yard. We lived at the top of a hill. All our neighbors were sleeping out too except the guy across the street that watered his grass by hand all day and the elderly lady that lived behind us.

There was the kid across the street that tricked me into eating dog food. There was the kid whose mother had tattoos and let little hippie kids eat consumerist junk food and watch TV. We were a sweaty island on that hill in the middle of the city.

My grandparents lived five days away. We told time by days in the Volkswagen fastback. If you didn’t pay attention you might think it was black. But if you looked closely, it shone green in the sun. In the summer we would drive to see them, staying in roadside motels on the way. One had a swimming pool that was green and full of frogs. It was the best pool in the world.

One year, on my birthday, a box came in the mail. It was for me. My own grandmother had sent me a blue elephant with a velvety nose and a pink ribbon. I thought of that over and again. The elephant had been with grandma and then came to be with me. I named him Christopher.

At my grandparents’ farm, wonders abounded. There was a gooseberry bush behind the house that I was sure everyone but me had forgotten. They watered the lawn will flood irrigation and we played in calf deep water all morning. There were fat peonies and tiny streams of ants running to and fro.

My grandpa was a cowboy. A real one. He had string ties and cowboy boots. He had horses. He was the handsomest man in the world. On Sundays he wore the shiniest white shoes I had ever seen and sang so beautifully that I wouldn’t sing so I could listen.

He cleaned his nails with a pocket knife. I would watch breathlessly to see if he might cut his finger. But cowboys don’t do that.

He took me once to meet his friend who made a house out of a bus. Then he gave me a whole candy bar of my own. His friend gave me a whole candy bar too. I was impatient and ate them both. Then I had a sick stomach and lay on the floor of the living room and stared at the aqua walls. I felt like the richest kid in the world.

My grandmother had shelves and shelves of books. You could read anything. A girl in one of the books said, “damn.” I felt like an explorer in a secret world. Grandma liked pizza and we got to have it at her house even though Daddy didn’t. We ate grandpa’s special sour cream popcorn out of grocery bags.

There was a gooseberry bush behind Grandma’s house. For most of my childhood I thought I was the only person who knew it was there. I would hide in its shade and eat as many of the little green striped balloons as I could.

There were peonies in front of the house. They were the fanciest flower I had ever seen. In pink and bright fuchsia they were a wild world apart from my mother’s tidy sun-colored marigolds.

At night, I dreamt I could fly. I slipped sideways off my bed and into the night. I would tell my mother in the morning. She always smiled and her blue eyes sparkled. We mostly kept my flying a secret. But she knew and I knew that I could slip into the night sky and fly away to the stories that I wrote in the day time.

My mother read to us. I knew about Hobbits before I could read. I knew about magic and trolls and dark places. I knew about a little prince and his tempestuous rose. They were all possible things in a limitless world.

We had a fig tree in the back yard. Not our backyard exactly, but the branch dipped over and dropped fat sweet figs. It felt like impossible excess.

My dad would jog every morning. Sometimes he went to turtle creek and brought a turtle home to visit for the day.

We want great things for our children. We want to make a childhood that is glorious and bright with joy. But we are so bad at wanting things. In our wanting we think we must make them happen. Some things must be allowed to happen.

I don’t think anyone told my mother to make my childhood magical. I am quite sure no one told my grandparents. My parents were raising a family. My grandparents were loving their grandkids.

It was not they that made the magic for me. It was not I that made magic for my kids. It is the child who makes the magic. It is the spell of a first look that brings the wonder. We cannot make this. We have already looked and seen and understood. We do not bring with us the gift of not knowing. We are heavy with knowledge and looking at our innocent kids we want to make a world brighter than our own. We weigh ourselves down with shoulds and musts.

But they already live there. It is a world apart from crafts and decor and our best efforts. It is a place beyond store-bought traditions and wearying effort.

We cannot see things for the first time. But we can see a child see for the first time. It is not we that can make things magical for them. It is they who make things magical for us out of an abundance of joy and discovery.

And if we are wise, we will wink our own twinkling eyes when they tell us they can fly. They do not ask us to create wonder but to see it.

See it.

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About Hannah Bird

I am me. I live at my house with my husband and kids. Mostly because I have found that people get really touchy if you try to live at their house. Even after you explain that their towels are fluffier and none of the cheddar in their fridge is green.

I teach Relief Society and most of the sisters in the ward are still nice enough to come.

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