“Grown-ups don’t believe in anything”

This gorgeous image comes, via thegraphicsfairy.blogspot.com, from an old French dictionary.

A while back at breakfast I was recounting to my little family a dream that I’d had about Elton John–the peacock-style Elton of old, who disappears into his costumes. N knows who Elton John is from watching a DVD we have of some Muppet Show episodes, and she has often commented that Elton plays piano with his fingers too flat, since her own teacher is always reminding her to use the very tops of her fingers to strike those keys. “I guess he didn’t have a very good teacher.” Though he seems to have done all right regardless.

Anyway, my dream about Elton was that he came to me several times in his souped-up outfits, serenading me and asking to be my boyfriend. In the dream, there was no N and no N’s dad, and so I was free to accept Elton’s bejeweled hand if I so desired. But I could not get past the enormous glasses, the feathery hats, the glittering sequins and the flared pantsuits. I could not find the real Elton behind all of that, and so I said “Sorry, but no.”

And N’s response? “Mom.” A roll of the eyes. “Grown-ups don’t dream.”

Girl with fairy hovering, by N

Where she got this idea, I don’t know. But it has stuck with me. We sometimes have long talks about fairies, as she is a fan of the Rainbow Magic fairy books by someone with the dubious name Daisy Meadows. Together we have mowed through Penny the Pony Fairy and Ruby the Red Fairy and Sunny the Yellow Fairy and Crystal the Snow Fairy and Amy the Amethyst Fairy and Zoe the Skating Fairy and Samantha the Swimming Fairy. And we have even purchased–setting our sights high–Mia la fee du mardi, but the French is a little beyond us still.

As an author I sometimes wonder, how does Daisy do it?

And how much longer will she go on?

Never mind–N adores these books, and I can practically hear her wheels turning as we read about Rachel and Kirsty gasping (which they do every couple of pages), and zipping off to Fairyland, and stopping the dirty deeds of Jack Frost and the goblins, who steal the fairies’ magic. Actually I like the bad guys, bratty and pointy-nosed, always sneering and sticking out their tongues at the girls. I read their voices in a robotic but nasal way that propels me through the pages. “From this day on, Fairyland will be without colour–forever!”

Sometimes I think it’s the way children imagine the grown-up world–without colour–and they feel a little sorry for us, and a little wary of where they themselves are heading.

N sets up her own fairy houses, decorating them with tiny boxes stuffed with tulip petals for beds, and setting out drinking vessels and offerings of nuts and seeds. She used to ask, “Mom, do you believe in fairies?” But she doesn’t ask anymore, because I think she knows the answer.

It’s the same with ghosts. A while back she and her friend A wrote letters to ghosts for an entire afternoon.

“Dear Grandpa Peter. Can you watch out for me your grandoter that you never met? And can you also watch out for my friend as well?”

“Dear Stella. I live in your olde house that you youst to live in. PS Your probebly verry nice.”

“Dear Terry. I miss you terobly. I will trye to wach ouet for your gardin wehn ever I go bye it.”

Each note was slid beneath the basement door, and they stood listening to it whoosh down the stairs.

Recently N was at another friend’s place, J, and J told her how one night when she’d been lying awake in the darkness, a green hand appeared before her face, just hovering there. It was about the same size as her own hand, and it had the criss-cross pattern of ordinary skin. Alarmed, J screamed aloud until her father came rushing into the room. She told him what she’d seen–how she’d been wide awake and absolutely not dreaming–and he tried to calm her, as a parent would, and told her she was imagining things.

“But I know I saw it,” the girl confided to N. “It’s just that grown-ups don’t believe in anything.”

"When Dorothy, who was an orphan, first came to her, Aunt Em had been so startled by the child's laughter that she would scream and press her hand upon her heart whenever Dorothy's merry voice reached her ears; and she still looked at the little girl with wonder that she could find anything to laugh at. Uncle Henry never laughed." Illustration by W.W. Denslow.

I suppose our dismaying lack of belief is what keeps us out of so many children’s stories. In the fairy books N devours, Rachel and Kirsty’s parents sometimes drift blandly through the background, offering bus money or a sandwich, but they are never privy to the girls’ mysteries and great adventures. Pippi Longstocking lives parentless in Villa Villekulla with her monkey and her horse. “But who tells you when to go to bed at night?” Annika asks her. And Pippi answers “I do. The first time I say it, I say in a friendly sort of way, and if I don’t listen I say it again more sharply, and if I still don’t listen, then there’s a thrashing to be had, believe me!” Alice, swallowed up by her dream, slips down through the rabbit hole alone, into Wonderland, just as Dorothy Gale drifts up and up, leaving Uncle Henry and Auntie Em in her dust. The sun and wind had “taken the sparkle” from Aunt Em’s eyes, and Uncle Henry “did not know what joy was.” Think, too, of The Secret Garden,  a place reserved for the children of the story until they can make the adults understand its wonderful power.

And from our grown-up perspective, we watch our children taking all this in, remembering doing so ourselves, and how we looked at our own parents with wonder for all the things they did not see.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to ““Grown-ups don’t believe in anything”

  1. Caroline

    I have three young daughters, and so far I have read over seventy of the Rainbow Fairies books. Or, more accurately, I have read pretty much the same story with a different title seventy or so times. Finally even the girls got bored with them – couldn’t happen quickly enough for me. Thank goodness we are now entrenched in the Wombles, Clarice Bean, the Fairytale Detectives and Deltora Quest! Wierdly, the Wombles are proving to be particularly popular, my seven year old likes the Wombles, as nothing very dramatic happens in them and she can go off to sleep “feeling nice calm thoughts”. The Deltora Quest series is also available on audio books which is great for those busy nights – and they are great for older kids too – the twelve year old boys I teach LOVE them.

    • Seventy books! I shudder to think!! But isn’t Clarice Bean wonderful? I admit I didn’t know of the Wombles–or at least I don’t remember them from my childhood. I just looked the books up, and they do sound great. Thanks for the tips, and the light at the end of the Rainbow Magic tunnel.

  2. Jeff

    Wonderful entry and a good summation of what I’m sure many parents and children have experienced. When I think about how formulaic (and popular) those Fairy books are, it could shed some light on the popularity of Hollywood movies.
    Looking forward to the next post.

  3. In the past I’ve wondered if I could churn out a series myself, and if it would help with the mortgage. Perhaps I could call myself Lily Fields?

  4. Lenny

    It strikes me that as adults we search so much for meaning in everything, including our dreams, that we forget how to let go and simply experience things. And yet, I am consciously getting better at it the older I get. Imagine the dreams we will have when we are very old…and the things we will say out loud. Oh dear…

    Please convey to N just how beautiful her drawings are.

  5. Wise as usual, Lenny. And I will certainly pass on the compliment!

  6. Marilyn

    Oh, how wonderful imagination is. It’s really so unfortunate that as adults we can hardly remember what it is was like. I would like to have a dream about Elton too.

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