Last night, in the stretch of heightened creativity that always seems to follow dinner, my daughter announced that she wanted to make a potion. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of any activity that leaves you with stained Ikea cups, dribbles of gritty mud, and a thick sludge which has to be quietly disposed of in a manner that neither clogs up the sink nor alerts portion-maker to the fact if its disposal. I managed to put her off until morning and then again until after lunch. But once her little brother had gone down for his nap, I could defer the inevitable no longer.
First my daughter dripped blue and green food colouring into a jug and watched the emerald cloud billow through the water. She mixed this well and then added the following from our garden: four out of six delicate purple and gold Johnny Jump Ups, one Kaffir Lime leaf, a pinch of small cream-coloured blossoms, a scoop of dirt and a smattering of pebbles. This mottled concoction was stirred both clockwise and anti-clockwise for a good ten to fifteen minutes until the desired readiness was achieved. My daughter informed me that the potion was for the fairies (of course!). Apparently they like to drink it as cups of tea.
My mind went back to the occasion when, as a Year 1 teacher, I was alerted to the fact that three of my boys had concocted a potent potion in the schoolyard from dirt, leaves and – ahem – wee wee. The culprits were duly brought in for questioning, and beneath their expressions of sheepish repentance, I detected a faint but unmistakable glimmer of pure and defiant glee. I could just about hear their six-year-old brains ticking over, shame we got caught, but what an awesome potion we made! What was the potion for? Why to catch the baddies of course. Further questioning revealed a few glaring holes in their scheme, but really, full marks for effort. It was all I could do to keep a straight face and restrain myself from high-fiving them. (Actually, it was pretty easy to keep myself from high-fiving them, given the activity in which they had just been engaged). Of course, I directed a thorough clean-up and disposal of the potion, along with the threat of harsher penalties should said crime ever be repeated. But I think they could tell that I wasn’t particularly cross or even disappointed in their behaviour.
Once in a while, my teacher-self or my parent-self catches for the briefest moment, the exact feeling of being a kid again: the glorious sense of thrill and daring and wonder and joy that billows up through your whole body like that cloud of dye through the water. As an adult, I’m not a big fan of potion-making, but for whatever reason, it seems to be an activity imbued with magical possibilities for many kids. So every now and then, I resolve to grit my teeth and tell my daughter to go for it. However, I do draw the line at the addition of any bodily fluids to potions. That’s a family rule on which I’m not prepared to budge.