A few years ago, a sweet friend of mine brought over a gift for my girls. It was a tiny little house, hand painted and decorated with moss and pine cones. "It's a fairy house," she told Annie and Maren, "And if you write to the fairies, they will write back to you." My girls were delighted, so delighted, in fact, that I doubt anyone saw the look of panic in my eyes.
For several weeks, the girls wrote to the fairies every night. And like clockwork, the fairies wrote back (graduate school and housework and teaching loads be damned!). Then one night the note to the fairies went unanswered. "I wonder where the fairies were last night," Maren said. There may have been a tear in her eye, and there was certainly a lot of guilt in the pit of my stomach.
Over the years, Maren has continued to write to the fairies. They write back only rarely. "I think the fairies fly somewhere south for the winter," I've told her, buying myself entire seasons of respite. The other day, I noticed that she had both written a letter to the fairies and her own response from the fairies. Whenever I see that darling fairy house, I feel dread that I'm not providing magical experiences for my kids.
I'm an avid Instagrammer, a fair-weather Facebooker. Although I have a Pinterest account, I gave up pinning things or checking my pins after a few weeks of pinning and pinning and feeling aspirational and unmotivated, which isn't a great combination. Most mornings, I scroll through Instagram, clicking the little heart on almost everything, and get out of bed feeling that all is right with the world. But this morning, my Instagram and Facebook feeds made me feel like a failure. There were no pots of Rolo gold at the end of my kids' rainbows (and for that matter, no rainbows). No trails of marshmallows leading to leprechaun traps. No green eggs, green milk, or green veggies at the breakfast table. Heck, I'd even taken heck from Annie the night before for forgetting to replenish our supply of Lucky Charms (which we eat on regular occasions, not just on St. Paddy's Day), so I couldn't even assuage my guilt by putting the box on the breakfast table. I scrounged for green hair bows and sweatshirts to add to my kids' school uniforms, and sent them off to school feeling like I hadn't done enough.
It should come as a surprise to no one that I don't put up with that Elf on a Shelf nonsense either. I have six kids, I don't need an elf to make messes. Maren has come home from her best friend's house and asked me why they're lucky enough to get an elf. "Are they more magical than us?"
We aren't Irish. I don't like corned beef (unless it's on rye) and the thought of eating boiled cabbage appeals to no one in this house. I dress my kids in green so they don't get pinched, but not out of any sense of festivity. I get that St. Patrick's Day is important to some people, but it isn't especially important to me.
I don't craft. When I was in the Primary presidency we had a firm policy against printables and doing cute things for the sake of being cute. Yet I still feel the guilt of not participating in today's holiday festivities. And as I've thought about the reasons today, I think it extends deeper than the fact that "I'm not keeping up with..." I worry that I'm not providing my kids with a sense of magic, or a feeling that our world is a lovely, numinous place.
My mom never put an elf on our shelf. Never wrote a fairy letter. Never impersonated a leprechaun. No one's mom did that kind of stuff back in the early 80s. And C.S. Lewis and Madeline L'Engle provided me with a greater sense of magic than a pot of Rolos ever could.
Ed and I have been having a discussion/argument over the last few days. I wanted to take the kids to Disneyland for Spring Break before the babies turn three and cost a hundred bucks a day.
"It will be so magical," I said.
"They won't remember it," he said.
"But it will be magical for me," I said.
He hates crowds and won't get behind the idea that a corporation can create magic. He would say that the magic we find ourselves by digging in the back yard and reading C.S. Lewis is much richer and more lasting than than what Disneyland can provide.
I'm not sure I buy his argument, but today, at least, I see his point. I don't see anything wrong with Rolos and leprechaun footprints made by parents who want to go all out and do that, but I know that I don't want to be Instaguilted into joining them (I did feel guilty enough to buy some overpriced cupcakes). I hope that despite my lack of effort, my kids will get their magic from the world around them and the world they imagine, not from me behind the scenes like the Wizard of Oz, orchestrating things.
We'll put it to the test next month when we spend our break at the Grand Canyon. Maybe we'll find that it's really the most magical place on earth, and I can start to set aside my guilt about not manufacturing magic with elves, fairies, and leprechauns.