This year we chose the date for our annual family trip to the Texas Renaissance Festival because Twig the Fairy would be in attendance signing books. Her series involves her being photographed in her elaborate fairy costume having various adventures with her friends, which she narrates. When making appearances in real life, she doesn’t talk, and communicates with fans through a flute, by handing them shiny stones or by handwritten notes that are 90 percent doodles anyway. It’s a sincere and lovely bit of performance art that I was excited to share with my daughter.
I get a fair amount of criticism from my atheist friends for the level of magical belief that I encourage in my daughter. We tell her fairies absolutely exist, that Santa is real and so is the tooth fairy. In fact, her tooth fairy money comes lightly sprinkled with the same kind of glitter Twig blew at my daughter before shyly handing her a stone. I hear the same thing over and over again: I’m teaching her I am a liar and that nonsense is real.
Well, all parents lie so it doesn’t overly bother me to be called a liar. I’d rather lie to her about something whimsical and happy than about how her dog isn’t going to get better and live. As for nonsense being real, people every day make the most outlandish nonsense real simply by acting on their own imaginations. Twig turns herself into a fairy and sells books that delight fans. Others turn their paranoid fantasies into brutal murders. All nonsense, all with real-world repercussions.
We do Elf on the Shelf in my house despite the fact that, yes, the concept is creepy as heck. Last year when her Paw Paw died near Thanksgiving, my wife and I decided our Elf, Jewel, would appear early as a favor from Santa. Jewel was also given special permission to be touched and hugged by Santa, and watching my daughter hold Jewel was the first smile I’d seen from her since her beloved, funny old grandfather finally succumbed to Alzheimer’s and would never again hold her.
This year our dog, Molly, died after a long fight with that dragon, cancer. Once again I watched my daughter’s heartbreak as I took our Boston terrier with me in the car for the last time and returned with an empty harness and leash. A few days later, we told her that Jewel had again been given a special assignment by Santa, and had brought her a present early. It was a small robotic dog she had her eye on for months. The small, wriggling toy became her constant companion in the days following our dog’s death.
I could frame these small kindnesses in non-magical ways, sure. I could have just given her the dog and said it was from me, but is that any better lesson? Is salving a deep, emotional wound with a cheap toy something I want to instill in her? No, I’d rather teach her that we can create our own light in the darkness if we push our imaginations just a small bit.
Life is hard and cruel and terribly unfair. What often makes it bearable is to find the places where our imaginations can mold that reality into something bearable to look at. All those people in movie theaters right now glued to the screen watching Star Wars aren’t there because they want to appreciate it as a film. They want to believe in heroes and wizards for two hours. They want their fairy tale, and even if they don’t leave the theater believing that The Force is real, they still leave with the feeling The Force and all it means gave them there in the dark.
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My daughter’s Girl Scout troop had a visit from Santa recently, and my daughter patiently informed me that he wasn’t the real Santa. I gave the whole Santa’s helper speech, which she’s familiar with from Yes, Virgina. I also explained that sometimes Santa is just a feeling. It’s the feeling that makes you want to put money in a homeless person’s hand. It’s the feeling you get when you make something for someone just because. The spirit of Christmas is real, whether it flies around in a sleigh delivering present or not. The presents get there, don’t they?
Eventually, of course, she will grow up and put aside the more literal of her beliefs. Santa will be me and the Tooth Fairy will be her mother and the fairy at the festival will just be a rather eccentric author and cosplayer. All the glitter in the world won’t heal the sick or fix practically any other problem.
On those days she’ll have only the solutions she can imagine into reality, and I intend to give her the ability to imagine a lot of practice.