Moms know they are not all-powerful — it's the first lesson we learn — but one of the gifts of motherhood is the ability to create a magical childhood for your kids. A world full of badass fairies and animals that sing and dance, where everyone eats ice cream for breakfast and laughs all day long, where you close your eyes, make a wish, and — poof! — it comes true. Since I’ve become a mom, this desire has become more profound. Alongside my bags of purple glitter skeletons and tutus lives a growing bag of hopes for my daughter. The hope that one day, she will live and thrive in a just world, a nation governed by ethical compassion, where she can pursue her dreams fearlessly, where her voice, and all voices, are heard and respected. A place where everyone has enough, and basic needs like health care, affordable housing, and education, are met for all. A world that, in short, feels as magical and out of reach as the one where you frolic with unicorns beneath the benign glow of rainbows.
I am well aware that I cannot hand such a world to my daughter. The best I can do is vote and educate and donate whatever time and sweat I have left at the end of the overfull days to nudging us one millimeter closer to such a utopia. It is hardly enough, as I know that, no matter how hard I fight, this responsibility is one I will inevitably pass on to my children. My little girl will eventually come to understand that she will have to build the magical world that I promised her might exist, could exist, one day.
Right now, my daughter is only 2. She regularly calls Peppa Pig from a broken cell phone, and just last week, she had a meltdown because we were taking a walk around “the wrong neighborhood,” and Daniel Tiger was nowhere to be found. She spends hours bossing around imaginary friends. Sometimes she pretends she is a fish, and other times she commands me to pretend that her hair is purple. This embrace of the impossible is just as I’d like it. We’re lucky; I haven’t had to actively protect her from any crippling truths, not yet. But I know one day I will. One day, she will begin to see through the flimsy falsehoods I’ve wound around her like a soft, safe cocoon. And when she does, I’ll face a moral dilemma: do I tell the truth, or do I lie?
Soon, she’ll have questions about race, guns, death and MAGA hats. She’ll bring those questions to me. I’d better have some answers.
My instinct is to shelter my daughter from ugly reality for as long as humanly possible, but deep down, I believe this instinct is a selfish one. That, in the long run, over-protecting my child from inevitable truths will only harm her, and cause further harm to the world she inhabits. While she is too young now to grasp concepts like inequality, or what it means when she sees a homeless man shivering in a garbage bag on the street, soon she won’t be too young. Soon, she’ll have questions about race, guns, death and MAGA hats. She’ll bring those questions to me. I’d better have some answers.
It’s like being at the playground and watching my baby scramble up the chain-link ladder on her own. Each time, I must curb the near-unbearable urge to hover behind her like a safety net. Of course, I did hover the first dozen times, but she started actively requesting that I stop, and with good reason. She’s never fallen. And if she does, well, that’s life. A cycle of falling down and pulling yourself back up. If she doesn’t learn how to fall, and fail, graciously now, then when? How will she build the courage and resilience necessary to fight for a juster, saner world?
That doesn’t mean I’m going to blow up the Santa myth. For I do believe that progress demands belief in myths and magic. We’ll never fight for a future we don’t believe in. I used to think the question was quantitative, how much magic, but lately, I’ve come to consider it more an issue of quality. What kind of magic do I want my daughter to believe in? What role do I want her to play in the myths we create? Naturally, I want her to be the hero, not the damsel in distress.
Perhaps then, the magic we need has nothing to do with creating bubbles and safe zones for our children. Maybe it’s not a question of doing away with myths, but simply rewriting them.
My daughter is, in many ways, a princess. Our rented apartment is far from a castle, but my child is growing up in a safe neighborhood, surrounded by love and diversity, with abundant opportunity for learning, plenty of food in the fridge, and a wealth of magic wands in the toy chest. I don’t need to paint a misleading picture of the world outside our beautiful bay windows. What I need is to give my daughter the fire and optimism she’ll want when she’s ready to run out there and work her magic to turn this crazy, upside down country right-side up.
Cover photo: KIRKWOOD, MO - NOVEMBER 06: Emily Kadel votes whilie holding her two-year-old daughter Lydia at a polling place on November 6, 2018 in Kirkwood, Missouri. Voters across the country are casting ballots in a midterm election that couuld change the ballance of both the U.S. House and Senate. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)