This is the scene behind my toaster at present: a shell filled with dried corn kernels, a floral toothpick-holder containing a shrivelled blossom, a cork, a scattering of rose petals, some small shells and a plastic sweetcorn. It appears that I may be some kind of hoarder-in-miniature, or perhaps that I’ve dedicated a bizarre shrine to the toaster crumb-tray. There is something far too precise about the collection to indicate that I’m simply a really untidy housewife, so cast that thought away. Each tiny item has been chosen and arranged with infinite care, as if by… well as if by very small magical people.
My daughter loves fairies. She talks constantly about her fairy friends, the language that they speak, the midnight feasts they share. She was distraught when our resident fairy family suffered severe flooding to their home in the strawberry patch thanks to some overzealous watering. Immediately, she packed up all of their worldly possessions and relocated them to a new home behind the toaster. I dare not trespass.
I’m in two minds about my daughter’s enthusiasm for small winged creatures of the magical persuasion. On the one hand, I love that her interest gives rise to lots of imaginative play: the creation of tiny enchanted worlds, funny new words, and magical potions from petals and basil leaves. On the other hand, it can be a little intense, verging on obsessional. No Mummy, you can’t throw out that (cornflake/ watermelon seed/ cup of brown sludge)! Please can I have (strawberries/ Tic Toc biscuits/ glow-sticks) for a midnight feast with my fairy friends? The fairies speak a different language, but you can’t understand it. I’m not pretending! It is real! And then there’s the situation behind my toaster.
When it came to gifts for my daughter’s fifth birthday, the question was: to fairy or not to fairy? Should we use the opportunity to try to broaden her interests a little, or should we give her what she really wanted in the form of fairy-related gifts? I admit that the very idea of seeing her eyes light up over something that she loved was an irresistible prospect. I had no concept of the power of this notion until I became a parent (though in retrospect, I suspect it was the light in my eyes that convinced my own father to let me have a pet duckling when I was her age).
So we gave her the glittery Tinker Bell doll that promised to light up and fly three metres at the pull of a string. And we gave her the fairy egg: just add water to hatch your own fairy friend. And there were gasps and squeals, and oh yes there was the light in her eyes.
After breakfast, we went outside to launch Tinker Bell. It quickly became apparent that achieving fairy lift-off was trickier than the ads had suggested, and my daughter started to become frustrated. She tugged at the cord with increasing agitation, perhaps less conscious of the direction in which the toy was pointing. Then suddenly, just as the tiny toes were poised to spring into the air, the spinning, glitter-encrusted wings twirled straight into my daughter’s nose. The sting to her face was perhaps less acute than the sense of betrayal from one of own precious fairy friends, and she immediately dissolved into tears.
Then there was the fairy egg. The images on the box promised a great deal, and deep down I suspected that the end result may not quite meet expectations. But I knew that my daughter would be enchanted by the thought of hatching her own fairy. (She was!). And it seemed like a fun idea.
We placed the egg into a jug of water and waited to see what would happen. The next morning, my little girl ran into the kitchen in a state of great anticipation to see if the egg had hatched. Indeed, the shell had peeled back just enough to reveal a bloated, yellowish face: a warrior of uncertain gender, with fierce brows and angry eyes. With a silence that filled the room, my daughter turned the fairy’s vessel so that she could no longer see its face. Then, without a word, she picked up her spoon and ate her cereal.
I’m starting to think that I needn’t worry about intervening in my daughter’s love affair. The fairies are obviously perfectly capable of destroying every last magical speck of fairy dust all on their own.