When my daughter caught a loose eyelash in the palm of her hand, I told her to blow it away and make a wish. And I wondered for the space of about three seconds what she would wish for, what thing or idea had captured her imagination. A cubby house? A swimming pool? A friend to stay? No more childcare?
When I was four-and-a-half – the same age as my daughter – I had my first encounter with death, and would probably have wished my beloved budgie Robbie back to life. At age ten, I would have liked an upgrade to a talking parrot like the ones in Enid Blyton adventures. When I was 12, I would undoubtedly have wished for a horse and a Hypercolor T-shirt. At 17, I would have liked a boyfriend in time for the Adelaide Skyshow, because what could be dreamier than snuggling with someone special beneath a sky alight with fireworks?
Of course, focusing on our own wishes is a little self-indulgent in a world that has so many desperate needs, and I’m all for helping my children learn to look outward and develop compassion for others. But at the same time, I think that there is a place in childhood – in life – for dreams and imaginings.
My daughter wished for a jelly flood. She wanted nothing more or less than to be caught adrift on rivers of molten dessert.
Which got me wondering: would I be ready to embrace the jelly flood, should her wish come true? I know I wouldn’t. I’d be thinking: what is that much sugar doing to her teeth and is she going to sleep after consuming such huge quantities of artificial flavouring and is all that colouring going to stain our clothes permanently and how long does a jelly flood take to set and while it’s in liquid form will she be ok floating without a kick-board and is the gelatine in jelly still made of ground-up horse’s hooves and what is my family’s stance on consuming horse-hooves and how do you get jelly out of hair and will our insurance cover any jelly-related damage our home might suffer?
Meanwhile, my daughter is dreaming of jumping into a warm, sugary, bubblegum-bright bath. She’s lying back like a starfish and drifting on sweet, syrupy waves that sweep down streets and through backyards, scooping up all the squealing, giggling children in its path. She’s licking sticky drips from her fingertips, and then as it sets, she’s tossing fistfuls at her friends. She’s climbing wobbly jelly mountains: leaping high as a moon-walker, bouncing and tumbling across a cushiony jellied landscape.
When you’re four-and-a-half, do you worry about tooth-cavities or stains on clothes? Do you ponder whether eating all this sweet stuff now is going to interfere with your appetite at dinner-time or impact your sleeping patterns tonight? No you do not. When you’re four-and-a-half and there’s a jelly flood happening right now in your street, you flash a giant can’t-believe-this-is-happening grin at your mum and you jump right in.
I have to say that my heart was gladdened by my little girl’s wish. After all, shouldn’t childhood be a time of wonder, of possibilities not yet checked by cynicism? Shouldn’t it be about living fully every unexpected and delicious moment that life might bring? A childhood shouldn’t be cluttered with worries and concerns and complicated possible scenarios. That’s what grown-ups are for.
And yet, if I ever did find myself in the position of seeing torrents of jelly pouring down our street, I’d like to think that I still possess enough spontaneity to shout, “carpe diem!” and gleefully dive in right alongside my daughter. Though obviously not before I’d sandbagged the house, changed into dark-coloured, light-weight clothes and tossed my girl a carrot and a kick-board.