Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Magic Years

Meeting Santa, in awe! 
Make believe, with Gran E, at Toledo Botonical Gardens.

What do I want for Christmas?  
“Why did God make us?’’ That’s our four-year-old Philip asking his mom, my granddaughter Julia, a profound question.  He asks lots of questions, all the time, but this one, the biggest question of all, stumps his mom for a second.   “Uhm, so we can take care of all of the animals and water and plants,” she says.   He nods. That makes sense, he seems to concur.

He asks his Gran E, my daughter Elissa, the same question.  “So I would have someone special to love forever,” she answers.  He smiles at the thought; that makes sense too.

He didn’t ask me but I would probably have said something philosophical, like “So we can discover the world and ourselves and who we are and what we want to be.”  That would have no doubt left him with more questions! 

The pre-school years: full of discovery, adventure, questions, imagination, drama, awe.  The Magic Years: that's what Selma Fraiberg, in her classic book of that title, called this remarkable developmental stage. There are tons of such books on the subject now, as I discovered through a Google search, but The Magic Years remains as relevant today as when it was published in 1959. I remember it on one of my reading lists at Wheaton! Fraiberg describes a world of both wonder and fear, a world of magic and monsters, a world most of us have forgotten even though it shapes our vision of self and others for a lifetime. 

I love these years and remember wishing, when my kids were that young, that the magic could continue into adulthood, at least the love of discovery, imagination, exploring.  Perhaps I let them linger too long in those magic years.  I don't know.

I used to think that the schools knocked it out of kids.  Their natural-born curiosity. Send them to school, and imagination flies out the window.  But most child development experts say it’s a natural evolution from a magic world to a more rational, logical world.  The schools are doing their job.

Okay, so the “magic” part can’t go on forever, but what about the “natural curiosity” part?  The sense of adventure and discovery?   Maybe I’m too unrealistic, romantic even, still processing my own unconscious “magic” years, which Fraiberg, in true Freudian spirit, believed all humans do unto death.    

But magical thinking would bring my brother back. It would color the world in peace and harmony.  It would keep us traveling on the winding road to adventure and discovery.  It would make our wishes real, our dreams come true.

Philip watching his favorite program with his cousin Kyle.
Well, maybe. The realistic part of my brain is taking over.  Magic doesn't exist.   For some questions there are no answers.  For some hopes, no hope.

But the magic years are real enough.  And so for now, we're enjoying our family’s four-year-old whirlwind of activity and imagination, his sense of wonder.  The way he loves life. "Is there a Santa Claus?"  Sure there’s a Santa Claus, and sure he brings presents, with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer leading the sleigh through the white and drifting snow . Anything’s possible at four. What precious, wonder-filled years.     
Philip loves the program "Peep and the Whole Wide World," which he watches on the computer. Here he is at his Nana's house (holiday lights reflected around him), with his "peep" friends. I think there are two angry birds and two peaceful pigs, but they all seem lovable and  hugable to me, like Philip.

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