A few weeks ago, my husband and I went to see a magic show. It was a combination of five different acts; our favorite was the illusionist who could guess your birthday, the celebrity you were thinking of, or your career, just by looking at you. The classic, sleight-of-hand magician who doubled as the evening’s emcee was funny in addition to his tricks. But there was one act who seemed woefully out of date. He looked exactly like Colonel Sanders and did everything with an unnecessary flourish. He paused constantly, as though waiting for the audience to erupt in rapturous applause. His tricks were stale and a bit poorly executed—at one point, he pretended to saw a man in half, and then set the man upright on the “stump” of the body he had left. I rolled my eyes and leaned over to Jon.
“Seriously? That guy’s clearly got his knees tucked up into his shirt!” I whispered. Jon simply shrugged, but then, he’s always liked magic better than I have. Or, more accurately, he’s willing to suspend disbelief, to be pulled into the moment, and enjoy the performance. I’m scanning for the hidden wires, the cards tucked in a sleeve, the legs pulled up into an overly-large shirt. There’s no such thing as magic, I want to argue.
Maybe it’s just about showmanship and the ability to sell a lie.
My children are seven and three, which are ideal years for mom-adoration. They still think I can do anything. I make grilled cheeses that aren’t too crunchy and are always cut into triangles and host birthday parties to their exact specifications, no matter how obscure the theme. While they sleep, I sew up holes in stuffed animals that have been loved a little too hard and present them “good as new” come morning. These are small things that require very little actual skill on my part, but my children don’t know that yet.
I keep waiting for the spell to break, for the skepticism to kick in. For them to be less like their father, who delights in being awed, and more like me, who only feels comfortable with what I understand. They see me as the maker of magic, but I feel like I’m fumbling my way through an act I’ve never rehearsed. Can the audience see the wires? How long until they’re not impressed with my tricks? Am I selling this act of motherhood?
Last week, I made chocolate chip cookies—not the homemade kind; they were just the slice-and-bake version. It was rainy and cold and tempers were flaring from being cooped up all day. The cookies were really as much for me as they were for the kids, but when my son, Nathan, saw them cooling on the counter, his whole face lit up.
“Are you taking those somewhere Mom?”
“Nope, they’re just for us.”
“Seriously? Wow. You’re the best mom ever.”
Best mom ever? For making slice-and-bake cookies on a Thursday afternoon?
Then, from down the hall, I heard, “Ellie, Ellie, guess what. Mom made cookies! That we get to eat! For no reason!”
“What? That is MAGIC!”
I chuckled as I moved the cookies to a plate, but I had to admit Ellie was onto something with her jubilant exclamation. The atmosphere in our house had changed palpably. Where there was squabbling just minutes before, there were now whispered plans of how to convince mom to let them have a taste before dinner. It wasn’t a grand gesture, but it didn’t need to be. It shifted our perspectives, and that was enough.
Maybe there’s more than one way to measure magic.
We started reading the Harry Potter series with Nathan a few months ago. Jon and I have been fans since the books first came out, and we’d been waiting impatiently until the day we could start reading them with our son. We were thrilled that Nathan took to the story immediately, and he quickly challenged us by asking thoughtful questions.
What happened to make Voldemort so evil?
Do you think if Voldemort had more friends he wouldn’t be such a bad guy?
How did Dumbledore get to be so smart?
Why is Voldemort afraid of Dumbledore?
And then he asked the one I’d been waiting for since we began the series.
“Mom, is magic real?”
I hesitated, hoping I wasn’t about to ruin the rest of the story thoroughly for him.
“No, buddy.” I finally said. “It isn’t.” Nathan nodded, looking a little disappointed but trying to hide it, as if he wanted me to think I’d given him the answer he anticipated.
Four and a half books into the series, we took a family trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando. Nathan would talk of nothing else in the days leading up to it, and Jon shared his excitement. They listed the spells they would cast and the sights they would see, and, while I partially shared their enthusiasm, I was a little worried.
Did Nathan understand it wasn’t real?
Finally the big day arrived, and by 9 a.m., we were walking quickly through the just-waking amusement park. We rounded a brick wall and found ourselves in Diagon Alley, the street in J.K. Rowling’s London that’s packed with wizarding shops. I looked at Nathan. His mouth formed a small O; his jaw had literally dropped. He looked around with wide, wonder-filled eyes. A smile broke across his face as he read the names of the shops and looked into the display windows of the ones nearest him.
“This. Is. The. Coolest. Thing. Ever.” he breathed in staccato.
We spent the next 12 hours immersed in a world that doesn’t really exist. We waved wands that made lights turn on and toys dance. We walked through Hogwarts, where the portraits talked, and survived a dementor attack on the train from London to Hogsmeade. We ate too many sweets, bought too many souvenirs, and rode roller coasters until the park closed for the night. I lost count of the number of times I heard Nathan say wow, and at three different points he told me it was the best day of his life.
It was one of my best, too. Watching Nathan that day taught me that the secret to magic is not always about blurring the line between what’s real and what’s not. Sometimes it’s making a choice to see the wonder. To get lost in a moment or be so fully immersed in an experience that it alters you. The way we see something is so often colored by our perspective; not just our experiences and vantage point, but our willingness to look in the first place.
Maybe making magic has nothing to do with lies or showmanship or even suspending disbelief; perhaps magic is about perspective. Where I see sandwiches made, toys patched, and birthdays celebrated, my children see me weaving wonder into their days. And it’s not because I’ve tricked them or put on a particularly good show; it’s because their vantage point is one of love, trust, and faith in their mother.
When I asked Jon why he likes magic so much, he shrugged and said, “I dunno … it’s just … magical.”
Magic is magical. We just have to choose to look for it.
Photo by Lottie Caiella.