I woke this morning with the sun warming my room. My awareness surfaces slowly most mornings, reaching out tentatively to explore first my pillow and my arms for the presence of a little head or body lying there, then reaching out across my bed, where at least one of my two youngest usually are. I do a mental catalogue of my family — the day of the week, whether my husband is at work or sleeping in his room downstairs, whether my eldest children are at school, at a friend’s house, or still in their beds. Whether there are friends who’ve slept over. Whether my babysitter is coming today.
I roll over, opening myself to sounds. I’m deaf in one ear, and I sleep on the other — so the sounds I hear are muffled in the morning. I turn and let in the sounds of the morning. At first, I’m just hearing rather than listening; little voices, bits of words, and slowly, I let the words in through the fog of sleepiness. “I wish …. period.” “I wish … period.” I smile and open my eyes.
“We’re wishing on this marble, mommy. It’s your turn!” I take the marble and think about the wish that will make my children happiest.
“I wish I didn’t have to sleep but could still be healthy so I had lots more energy to wake up in the morning and play with you.”
“Now you have to say, ‘period,'” my Alice told me. She’s 5 and learning about sentence structure.
“Period,” I said. She scoots under the covers with me, chatters a moment, and becomes quiet. Her face loses its animation; I watch her climbing into the back of her mind, brooding. “What’s up?”
“I just keep waiting and my wishes just haven’t come true.” I sigh and see her lips tighten. My Alice is a very emotional whelp, and I have to be fast when these moods strike or else be prepared to rock her for an hour or more as she runs through the sad memories of her life — the cat we lost several years ago, the pet rats, my aunt, who died years before she was born, and the time at the playground when she was 2 that someone was unkind to her in the sandbox. My mind is still a little lost in the sleep fog, but I cast about for ideas, and my mind’s eye falls on a 2014 article a friend just shared with me.
“Conscientious people are optimists in the sense that they believe their efforts will pay off, but, more important, they act in ways to make that expectation come true,” writes Tavris.
“Have I ever told you about the two different kinds of wishes?” I ask my daughter. I want to high five myself. Her eyes dart to mine and the downturned mouth relaxes. I’ve got her.
“Well,” I say, scrambling to form the story, “There are actually three kinds, I think.
“The first kind is an imaginary wish. Those are wishes that come true when you write them in stories or think about them in your imagination or make them into pictures. Like ….. if you wished for …. a [not flock not flock what the hell do you call a group of unicorns if I din’t keep talking I’m going to lose her] field of unicorns in our back yard. I can wish for a field of unicorns as hard as I want, but the only way to make a field of unicorns happen is to use my imagination to pretend. Or … if you wished to have a mermaid tail and live underwater, or for the guinea pigs to start speaking English.”
“Or, like, to fly on a dragon?” she asked me.
“Yes. You can make that come true in a story. You could go somewhere that people pretend SO MUCH that they create a pretend place — like ….. Legoland. Or sugary-land.”
My three year old jumps in. “That’s America,” he says. Huh??? “You said America is a pretty sugary land,” he tells me. Oh. Yeah. I did say that. OK.
Alice starts to gather her sorrow back up. “But sugary land doesn’t exist.” (Sugary land is their favorite wish.) I try to explain about the Candyland section in the Times Square Toys R Us, about candy stores, about …. but I’m losing her. OK. Moving on.
“Well, there’s a second kind of wish. Do you want to hear about that?” She does. “So, the second kind of wish is a BIG wish that maybe even seems impossible. A wish like, ‘I want to be the star of the ballet show.’ Or, ‘I wish I could climb the tallest tree in the world.’ THOSE kinds of wishes are especially interesting wishes. They’re wishes that seem impossible, but sometimes, if you work very hard and plan carefully, you can make them come true. Like … I wished I could take my kids to Yellowstone, and it seemed impossible. But I worked hard to make a plan and earn money, and now we are all going this summer. Or …. going to England together was pretty magical. So, for example, going to a world where everything turned into Lego might be a magical wish …. BUT. One way to make your wish come true would be to make a plan to go to Legoland. If you wanted to see a dinosaur, you couldn’t see a REAL living dinosaur, but you could plan to see crocodiles or go to a museum to see bones or dinosaur statues.”
“What’s the other kind of wish?” she asks me.
“Ah. That kind of wish is the kind that’s easiest to make come true. Wishes like, ‘I wish my mom would buy me chocolates at the store.’ It’s not something that happens a lot … but you could talk to your mom and see how to make a plan for that. Or, ‘I wish I could play at the playground with my friend.'”
I’ve won. Mischief returns to her face. “Or ….. like …. I wish I could bake a cake with my mommy?” Yup, kid. Like that.
“It wasn’t on my list for today, but I’ll see how much I can get done at work today and maybe we can work that out.”
Because — wishes come true in a lot of different ways. Usually, it has nothing to do with a marble, a dragon scale, a star. Those things are magic in the way they spawn our ideas; the way they fuel our imaginations; they way the inspire our stories. But the best ways to wish — or so I’d like my children to believe — is with your hands and feet.
Wishing for world peace? Put your boots on the ground — or your bare toes in the grass — and do something to reduce violence and sorrow. Wishing for equality? Talk to your kids about racism and other isms and what changes your family can make in your community. Wishing to travel? Find the way it fits your life, whether it’s a road trip or a bus ride with a tent in your bag or whether you can find a way to make a bigger trip work. Wishing for more time with your kids? Bake the cake, even if it means you compromise your inner sense of awesomeness by buying a box mix. Want a field of magical unicorns? Break open the sculpey and start kneading.
Of course, magical thinking is a natural and normal stage of child development, and there is no compelling science that suggests debunking their enthusiasm for wishes and magic is necessary. However, magical thinking is more than just “I believe in unicorns and Spiderman!” It’s also the process by which children can assign blame to themselves for negative event, such as, “I ate too much chocolate and then my cat got hit by a car, so it’s my fault.” Today, my daughter showed me that magical thinking is becoming a burden for her, and so I handed her a new kind of magic — the magic of making things happen.
What did you wish for today? Which kind of wish is it?
For more reading:Carol Tavris: The Negative Side of Positive Psychology
- The Science of Peace: When Einstein Met Ghandi
- United Nations: Let’s Fight Racism
- A very brief definition of magical thinking
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