There’s something about Ira. Although unarticulated, I felt it from the first time we met in the park for my interview. She, being four, ran from her mom and I as we entered grown up talk about background, needs, and scheduling. She gave me a grin as she left; it glittered like pebbles catching the light in a clear stream. It was one of those perfect early Fall days where you are still wearing flip flops and smelling growth in the air. When her mom and I finished talking, I did something uncharacteristic, something she probably just thought was good business practice for a nanny: I asked if I could go play with Ira for a while. I forget the theme of the play exactly, but we made each other laugh, and I remember flopping around energetically in the sand because my foot was being eaten by a shark.
Months later, I am now convinced she is special. Yes, she’s an only child and so she relates to adults more easily. Yes, she puts up very few active fusses when I ask for something. Yes, she thinks I’m hilarious. But, it’s more than that. I’m convinced she is closer to her roots, the Source, the beginning, than a lot of other children I’ve met. I can’t be certain she’s an Indigo child, but she’s told me over several conversations about her ladies and their grand parties in the forest, she speaks a made up language that her parents assure me is not Hindi, and when she needs to solve, strengthen, or celebrate…she SINGS, and I mean sings made up songs at the top of her lungs that raise the goosebumps on my arms. Soulful. Connected.
But Ira is growing up, or is it growing away? Maybe it is necessary but I don’t know if I could stand it if I was a mother. Every entry into play used to be welcomed, but as she gets closer to five she has started telling me, “No silly, that’s just a toy, it can’t talk.” When I returned from Portland her room had undergone major changes. The bunk beds shrank to one story–no more ladder to jump from, no more glorious perch from which to belt her songs while all the toys listened. And, most distressingly, there was a clock on the wall. “Chelsea, it’s ten o’clock!” she proclaimed with glee. And she was right, and I wouldn’t take that power or joy from her, but then Wednesday the Evil Queen showed up.
She announced gravely as I came in, holding up a doll and a plastic sheep figurine, that the Evil Queen had stolen her magic. Her face was troubled. I told her in no uncertain terms that we must get her magic back today, but all of my proposed solutions were shot down. The stolen magic was in the Evil Queen’s stomach along with the keys to the closet where we kept our saliva suits so we couldn’t go in and get it. Her henchman, the sheep, ran around manically biting all the dolls till we finally had to start flinging animals and figurines onto the bed. We climbed into the bed with our snack Cheerios and huddled together. I gave the Evil Queen a kick in the head as I left the floor.
“Nooooo, Chelsea you can’t kick her, she has your powers too.”
Now, usually I don’t argue with little kids during playtime. Play is not about getting your way, but rather creating together. But something in me gasped as she said that and I looked straight into Ira’s universe eyes: “No, she doesn’t. I have my magic, my magic is stronger and better than it has ever been.” I wanted her to know, the place she was being escorted out of was the place I was just starting to find again. And instead of pushing the point, she tilted her head to the side for a second, and we just looked at each other.
Who knows what was happening in that young mind in that moment. Maybe nothing consciously. But as I looked at her face it seemed to ask, “What is the difference between kids and grownups?” And if that was not the question, I feel she was searching something nonetheless.
We beat the Evil Queen that day after another very epic song creation. When the magic was regained and the queen left, Ira said, “Imaginary world is safe. She’s going back to the real world!” I had known our play was myth that day, was teaching, but I hadn’t realized what domain we were defending. She realizes what direction the threat comes from, and is working out the conflict the best she can. I will continue to celebrate her accomplishments, sounding out words and getting her boots on with no help, but I will also tie these stories around her waist so that, like Ariadne, she might have a way to start her journey back if she gets too far from the center.
Do we have to leave before we can really appreciate the beauty of our home? Is leaving ourselves a coming of age or a wound? I know we don’t always have a choice in the matter, but I don’t know the answers to these questions. Maybe we are finally given a chance to grieve our own leaving when we witness the layers of someone else’s goodbye.
There will come a time when the door to Ira’s Imaginary World closes, either partially or fully. There will come a time when the Evil Queen is all there is. Don’t forget the bed full of stuffed animals and Cheerios my friend. Don’t forget our singing.