We were sitting in my living room while the girls sprinted around the house. My mom leaned over to me and whispered, “We took care of the Easter Bunny.” My stomach dropped, I’d completely forgotten. The next sensation was embarrassment, had they handled Easter because they saw that I wasn’t? I searched her face. The “we” tickled at me, confusing me. She hadn’t been out alone with Papa to do a shop. The look on her face was foreign, a little bit of guilt, maybe excitement, and something else, a kind of sympathetic pain, maybe.
“Briar,” she said it so softly.
The familiar sound rocked me. Briar.
I mouthed the word back to her. Briar.
“We were driving along and she said, ‘Grandma, maybe we could Easter shop. Every year my parents work super hard and they put things, like treats, in plastic eggs. They fill up baskets, or sometimes special bags, for us. Instead maybe this year I could work with you and we could do it so they could take a rest,” my mom trailed off before saying, “I wasn’t sure if she was trying to test me or if she really knew, but then it seemed as if she just knew.”
I felt sick. Sean has always teased me about how very meticulous I am to remove price tags, hide shopping bags, and disguise my writing. Each of these mysteries of childhood—the tooth fairy, Easter bunny, Santa, they have always felt like armor to me. Armor that on the inside is petal soft, the feel of it against my girls a soft cushion, while the outside is harder, a shield between them and all that time will eventually bring.
I thought that by keeping belief alive, I could extend their time in—well, I don’t know in what. I suppose it’s the way I look back on my childhood and feel a certain appreciation for those years when the highs came so unabashedly, squeals of delight at a snowfall or dizzying butterflies on the days leading up to Christmas. It’s been my job to stave off the pressure for them to grow up too fast.
“I just want to let them have as long a childhood as I can,” I’ve mumbled it to Sean a thousand times, sometimes through tears, other times in victory after pulling off some amazing activity.
I looked at my mom. My eyes stung a bit. “Briar, huh, I just can’t believe that she knew.” She nodded, something new in her face this time, I think it was pride. Her first, my first, a shared milestone unexpectedly revealed before her eyes. I worried that it was the beginning of the end.
“Well, so that’s it. Ok, wow. Thank you,” I said, the words tumbling out softly.
Briar zipped by. She’d been sick earlier in the week and her movements had gone from tentative to a blur. She grinned at us as she plucked an apple slice from a bowl on the counter and then disappeared again. I couldn’t help but smile. It doesn’t matter how many times I hear it, the magic of parenting for me is in my ability to absolutely not believe the warnings and complaints of parents ahead of me.
We had nine pastel and jewel colored years of fanciful baskets at bedsides and velvet stockings on the mantle. Briar has been my own special holiday, a firstborn that has felt like Christmas Eve and the Fourth of July. This passage, though it startled me and felt at first like a failure on my part, is simply a new magic, more spring than autumn.
Sunday morning after driving my parents to the airport, I worked quietly in the garage to package the different things that Briar had picked out for the baskets. I added, perhaps in an attempt to sprinkle a bit of fairy dust, a small charm to each basket. My coffee tasted particularly sweet a few hours later as Briar gamely galloped in the backyard as her sisters chirped and exclaimed over the eggs peeking out of trees.
Because in the end, there is always something to believe in or someone’s belief to help keep alive, don’t you think?