Having kids, and trying to educate them about the world, has led me to realize something about myself: I am fantastically literal. If you had asked me this years ago, I would have scoffed and told you that of course I am not literal; rather, I tend towards the sarcastic and absurd. Being literal is for chumps.
But one of the great things about children is that they have this amazing sense of wonder about the world and how it works. To be honest, I still have that. However, sometimes what I think is amazing and wonderful turns out to be rather boring and dull to a child.
For example, a few weeks ago I was in the front yard with my daughters and my six-year-old niece, Vanessa. At one point, Vanessa spotted an airplane leaving contrails in the sky, and shouted, “Look! A rocketship!” I corrected her and explained that actually it was an airplane, and the “smoke” it was leaving behind was really called a contrail. She informed me that I was wrong, and it was a rocketship, and it was going to Mars. And that is when I realized that she didn’t want a logical, literal explanation. She had created a fantastic story to explain what she saw, and that was more fun and more magical than my boring reality.
From my perspective, a steel machine weighing several thousand tons, flying six miles in the air, IS magical. Every time I fly, I am astounded and amazed at the ability of planes to suspend themselves in air. I know that the shape of the wing creates a bubble of lower pressure above, which then pulls the entire structure upwards, but it never ceases to leave me in awe. It’s like magic to me! Likewise, the fact that vortices in the air caused by the wing edges slicing through it can make the water vapor and exhaust condense into contrails is beautifully mind-boggling. I know why it works, theoretically, but seeing it action is still, for lack of a better word, magical.
I feel this way about lots of things in the world today. Knowing that rainbows are caused by tiny drops of water in the air refracting the sun’s light doesn’t ruin the beauty or wonder of them; it enhances it for me. The fact that such a simple scientific phenomenon can create such a gorgeous display is awe-inspiring. Similarly, I know that I can’t telepathically cause objects to levitate, but we can build magnetic levitation trains that speed along at hundreds of miles an hour. Is one more magical than the other? I think they are both terrifically amazing.
However, most children, do not find such mundane, ordinary things exciting or magical. They want to hear stories about fairies, or superheroes with amazing powers. So where do I draw the line between cultivating their love for fantastic stories and educating them about the “boring” truth? On that day, I realized that Vanessa thinking the airplane was a rocket made her happy, and there was no harm in going along with it, so I did. Other times, though, I try to convey my wonder at the mundane things, so they can appreciate the real world as much as I do.
Plus, this gives me an opportunity to flex my imagination, which I am ashamed to say has not had much use in the past few decades, and try to see things from their perspective. That huge gust of wind that almost blew us over – was it caused by areas of differing atmospheric pressure, or was it a wind spirit trying to warn us to stay away? A hole in a tree could be a squirrel nest, or it could be a home for a family of pixies. Mixing a little magic into the mundane brings a little more joy to all of us.