Ordinary Magic

Our adventures have changed.

We visit this pond often. It’s our secret hiding place, often deserted save for the creatures who call it home. There are foxes and snakes and bunnies and fish, and the last time we came, we chased a frog nearly half a mile down the path ahead before packing up to head home, breathless in defeat.

No princes today, I’d said.

And now, it’s different.

Our adventures used to be work. It was about survival – We have got to get out of this house! – and it was about preparation – Don’t forget the snacks! – and it was about boundaries – Careful now; you’re too close to the dock’s edge!

Now, it’s a little bit about magic.

She’s older, yes. She’s 4 now, a tiny being of empowerment. I sometimes watch her play from afar and she seems to stand up straighter, her long legs stretching toward new heights. She carries herself differently. Firm, independent, self-sufficient.

She needn’t be rescued.

No princes today.

Ordinary magic.

She leads, I follow. She shows me fish and turtles. We name them. She tells me of their predators, I ask questions.

She knows all of the answers.

I ask if she wants to play hide and seek with me. Over there, by the trees?

No thanks, she says, I’m a koala right now.

I watch. She climbs.
I sit. She climbs higher.

It is a marvelous thing to witness a child growing into her own summer.

In this rich season of in-between, of 4 and 40, of child and sage, there is a temptation to measure my progress as a parent. To pause for a benchmark. Have we given her enough responsibility? Too much? Have we stifled her childhood wonder? Have we provided enough structure? Do we enforce too many rules? Are we modeling the right things? Is this normal? Is this?

Is she where she should be?

Who can know?

She is both frog and prince.
As are we.

She has skinned her arm, the koala. The tree bark has given her a rash, could I kiss it?

A hundred times, I think.

Progress can be as slippery as the frogs we attempt to catch. Most things cannot be measured objectively, certainly not in the way of magic.

Still, we try. We assign vessels of time in which we attempt to pour excellence. Now is the perfect age for reading, we say. Hurry, teach them an instrument before it’s too late, we say.

But here, in our secret woods, the trees do not keep time.

She is tired, the koala. Her limbs are sore, could I carry her?

A hundred times, I think.

And we walk. We take on the adventure that promises to melt yesterday into today, that everything will be enough, that it needn’t be measured. That it might be too late for some things, too early for others. That it matters not.

She wants to come back another day, the koala. Perhaps climb a different tree? Could I take her?

A hundred times, I think.

We watch. They climb.
We sit. They climb higher.

Are they where they should be?

A hundred times, yes.

Ordinary magic.



This is an essay written for Old Navy, one of my favorite clothing brands to adventure in! Whether your littles are heading back to school or you’re in need of your own denim refresh, here’s what we’re wearing (and loving!):

T-Strap Oxfords for Toddler ($11) 
Patch Pocket Chambray Romper for Toddler ($13)
Floppy Straw Sun Hat for Toddler ($10)
Culotte Overalls for Women ($40)
Relaxed Racerback Scoop Neck Tee for Women ($9)
T-Strap Clogs for Women ($35)

  • This perfectly captures the magic of summer and bigger kids. My 3 can all clean their rooms and get ready by themselves now and we’ve actually done less adventuring this summer, content to stick close to home and just be. I’m so sad it’s ending in 9 days…. sniff – yet at the same time I’m excited to get a couple of hours of alone time back in a day (introverts raise their hands). Us mothers feel so many things all at the same time, don’t we?

  • I was quizzed on the way to preschool this morning about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – who is red, Mom? Me: Raphael? Him: That’s right! (“oh, x-mark, Mom” when I was wrong). These littles are so amazing, so full of independence and still the need for carrying and kissing and hugs and please-pull-up-the-blanketing. I’m often torn between encouraging the independence and clinging to my baby boy.

  • This resonates quite deeply with me during these summer days. You could have been writing this about Ivy my daughter. She is 4 and it’s utter magic. I wrestle with the feelings I don’t want this to change every day….and I was the mother who couldn’t wait for her to grow up. Thanks for the reminder to drink it in and enjoy and follow the magic.

  • Thank you for this essay, Erin. I’m deep in the season of ‘terrible’ (but oh so wonderful) twos, so there’s great comfort in hearing that these boundary-testing times won’t stifle the magic that these kiddos have within. That the ‘no-no-nos’ (from both of us!) will soon turn into ‘yes-yes-yeses’. And that the fear of forgetting the snacks (heaven forbid) will fade and lighten into another memory that we look back and laugh at.
    Your pond looks like a glorious spot. And perfect for an adventurous koala :)

    • Oh yes, Lucy – you are so right! It goes fast but it doesn’t — I know you know. :) Big hugs your way.

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