One of my favorite things about having a 5-year-old is watching her discover the world, interpret it and, for the last 3 years, try to express her understanding of it through words. The way her mind sees things is so different from the way my mind sees them, because mine has been educated to find the most “reasonable” explanation, while hers is free to explore to the furthest corners of the imagination. I listen to her, I write down the wondrous things she says, and I submerge myself in the fantastic world that she lives in.
I recently framed a print given to us by the artist Phil Cheney, a friend that my husband and I made at Burning Man in 2003. His print, “Hoobert Whoever”, has been waiting patiently under our couch all these years, until I finally got around to framing and displaying it.
Our oldest daughter, the 5-year-old, walked into the room distractedly, saw Phil’s print and stared at it for a bit before saying:
“Wow, what an exciting night he had!… Look, he’s in bed!… How can he see his dreams?”
My first impression of this print didn’t come close to the exhilaration of hers. She took one look at it and saw a whole story with lots of activity. It was as if I had been blind, and she helped me see. And I know that she was a little envious of the guy in the print, because lately she’s been fascinated with deciphering the transition from vivid dreams to wakefulness, wanting to still “see her dream” when she wakes up.
This fascination started about a year ago, one night when she woke up crying that it was too dark in her bedroom and she “couldn’t see her dream”. I opened the curtains to let the moonlight in. I was rewarded with this marvelous piece of insight:
“When a mommy opens the curtains at night time so her little girl is not afraid of the dark, the walls in the room become the curtains. Pretty magical!”
The shadow patterns on the walls of her room were indeed quite beautiful. They helped her imagine herself back in her dream, and fall asleep happy. On a different evening I told her that if she is ever scared of anything, she should start singing, and everything will be fine. Since then I occasionally hear a little melody coming from her room as she falls asleep, sometimes known, other times improvised.
My husband and I like to explain everything to our two daughters openly. We try to never “lie”, which can be challenging at times, but also a source of pride for us. And then there are subjects like Santa Claus, or fairies, or magic, which often make us wonder what is the right balance between teaching truth and allowing imagination to thrive. Luckily, our oldest daughter gave us the answer to this debate recently. During a performance of “Mary Poppins” at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, at the moment Miss Poppins (as she calls her) took out of her bag some clothes, an umbrella, a 5-foot plant, a 7-foot coat rack, and a twin bed, she looked at me seriously and said: “See, Mommy, magic does exist! Miss Poppins is magic.” I started explaining that Mary Poppins was really an actor, and the bag was rigged, but she cut me off with a scarily intelligent smile and said:
“Don’t tell me that, I’m going to know that when I’m a grown up.”