“Do you believe in fairies? Say quick that you believe. If you believe, clap your hands!”
– James Matthew Barrie
Peter Pan exists. Or at least the concept of Peter and Never Never Land certainly does. My children – and I am thinking MOST children – live in such an extraordinary reality. In their world, magic is real, imagination overrules reason and anything is a possibility.
Let’s think about it. Children are born with no idea why a light turns on, or why rain falls from the sky. “Tabula rasa” (blank tablet), right? As parents, what we say is truth. We tell them why and they except the explanation without question (or at least until they turn 4 and then all bets are off and consider everything questioned). What an enormous responsibility we bear. I mean, I could tell them a light turns on because there are fairies behind the switch making it work and that would be absolutely acceptable. But each day I venture out with my children, the truth unveils itself a little more to them. The earth is round, 25c is a quarter, that road takes us to Daddy’s office, birds eat bugs not pizza like us… you know the drill. Everyday something new is stored in their processors and filed away, pieces start to fall in place and the mysteries that surround them slowly make a bit more sense.
Still, as children, the world is filled with an endless number of unknowns. We ensure a comfortable predictability about their lives by providing routine. If they are thirsty, my bag always has a cold cup of milk at the ready. When they are tired, a bed (loaded their favorite stuffed animals, blankets, flashlights, books, and water cups) is ready for them. And what magic we possess – if my child falls, my kiss on their boo-boo actually makes the hurt go away. They trust that with Mommy or Daddy at the helm, everything will just magically fall into place and they will be taken care of. Without that routine, there is the unknown. Because at this young age, they aren’t exactly SURE there aren’t fairies working that light switch or even real ogres in the woods in our backyard. They can only take our word for it. Honestly, is an ogre stepping out of those woods out back any less expected than a rabbit? Not until we see that rabbit on a daily basis. We tell them the truth but routine tells them the truth also. They come to expect the rabbit over an ogre because mommy says they aren’t real… and, unlike the bunny, they have yet to really see one.
And yet we mess with these poor kids, don’t we? Santa Claus? The Easter Bunny? The Tooth Fairy? We think its fun to share the magic of holidays that we once experienced, right? And my 4 year old absolutely LOVES Christmas and Easter. Every year, he is giddy with the possibility of presents and candy magically left out for him. He believes in this stuff whole-heartedly because I told him to. But I also have to assure him that Santa never comes into his room and he only comes when he is sound asleep. My 4 year old isn’t scared anymore. And why? Over these past couple years, and after experiencing the routine of the holiday, Santa hasn’t bothered him. So he’s cool. The Easter Bunny is too. In their lives magic happens, enough said.
But if the Easter Bunny is real and Santa is real and new concepts such as tornados, alligators in the water, and car accidents are also real… how to do I convince my son tonight that there are not scary monsters in the closet? There never have been monsters before so their shaky logic tells them they should be ok. But if something new and seemingly impossible is introduced to their world everyday, who’s to say that monster doesn’t just appear out of their closet tonight?
Now let me venture further into this philosophical haze a bit. Really, what we are discussing here is the value of empirical evidence. As adults, we say that what we experience with our senses is the truth. And confidently repeating that experience routinely will satisfy our child and they will accept it as truth also. Mommy puts gas in the car and she says that’s what makes it go. If I eat my spaghetti and meatballs, I won’t be hungry. Put this jacket on and I won’t get cold. While children accept empirical evidence as proof of their world, that kind of proof is not always enough. There is always a possibility of something more because everyday something more is shown to them. My children don’t judge their world based on only what they sense empirically and THAT is why there are, in fact, monsters in my son’s closet. Who’s to say there aren’t? Just because we have never seen one, doesn’t mean it’s not real. My son has thought it and that’s enough. His fear is real, his faith that it is there is real, so it’s as good as there. A lesson can be learned here. Are we so afraid of the unknown, are we so locked into our social norms, that we limit ourselves to believing strictly what we can physically sense? I think so.
Here’s the bottom line: for a 4 year old child, magic exists. Reality (an empirical one) and Never Never land are only slightly discernable. And that very fine line is based purely on what “grown ups” say. That doesn’t give our real world all that much credit but they seem to buy into it – for the most part. And this world of theirs is amazing – magic exists and it will only exist for a few more years. Let’s celebrate the possibility in their minds that we no longer possess. There is NO WAY Peter Pan would exist to us anymore, right? While our children would take him at face value, we would smugly find those cables and CGI effects so fast the magic would be gone in mere seconds. So let’s just calm down and open ourselves up to it – we are parents, we can do it, our kids think that we can do anything. And I’ll be honest, I have double checked those closets in my sons’ room for his peace of mind as much as mine. Sure, have a good laugh at me and tell me to get on the next boat out of Never Never land ASAP. Well, maybe I don’t want to, maybe my kids have it right and anything at all is really possible. And if I were you? You might want to check your own closets tonight, you really never know.
“I concluded that I might take as a general rule the principle that all things which we very clearly and obviously conceive are true: only observing, however, that there is some difficulty in rightly determining the objects which we distinctly conceive.”