When Good Fairies Go Bad

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.

The view behind my toaster.

The view behind my toaster.

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.

Tinker Bell: Winged Assassin.

Tinker Bell: Winged Assassin.

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.

What we were promised.

What we were promised.

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.

What we got.

What we got.

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.

Best Wishes

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.

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The Playdate

“This is the mum pig,” said The Cousin. “She was already married but she got divorced. She has babies.” The Cousin is two years older and likes to get things organised. “And here are the people. I’ll be the mum and you can be the dad.”

“I want to be the mum,” said Lily.

“Ok, you can be the mum,” said The Cousin. “But she’s unconscious ‘cause she’s going to have a baby. So she can’t really do anything. The dad is more fun ‘cause he can go on the swing and down the slide and all that.”

“Ok, I’ll be the dad,” said Lily.


Later they did some painting and it was a bit tricky. The Cousin needed a tissue to wipe up a drop that went out the lines.

“I don’t need a tissue because I’m a bit more careful than The Cousin,” said Lily.

“Lily, you might need a tissue sometime,” said The Cousin. “I’m not saying that you will, but you might.”

“I think you’re both doing a really great job!” I said encouragingly.

“Look Aunty Clare, Lily and I are both best at something!” declared The Cousin. “Lily is best at squeezing out the colours, and I’m best at making it look pretty!”

The Mummy

“Mummy, let’s pretend I’m the mummy and you’re the little girl,” says Lily. “Daddy can be the big brother and Elijah can be the baby.” They are full of picnic food, sprawled on a rug on top of a hill at Botanic Gardens.

The mummy and the little girl go exploring. “Little Girl, we’re going to Magic Garden now,” says the mummy. They crawl through a tangle of branches into a dark space created by the low canopy of an old pine tree, the needles a soft carpet beneath their feet. Beer bottles, cigarette butts and empty chip packets litter the ground and crude splashes of paint adorn the tree trunk. They exclaim over the gorgeous, rich colours: magenta, violet, jade! Then they wiggle their way between branches and emerge out the other side of the tree. They are met with a sign, “Warning! Do Not Enter: Wasp Nest.” The little girl is grateful that the garden’s magic must have frozen the wings of the wasps for a time.

Next they visit a beautiful flower garden. The mummy admires the pink pom poms, their layers of tiny petals as delicate as tissue paper. The little girl likes the yellow globes with thin radiating petals, which look like a child’s crayon suns.

“Where shall we go next, Mummy?” asks the little girl.

“We can go wherever you want do whatever you want!” declares the mummy.

“Let’s go across the bridge!” suggests the little girl. “Can I swim in the creek, Mummy?”

“No you can’t! You don’t have your bathers on!” says the mummy.

They visit the lake, its lilies in full bloom, leaves as big as umbrellas. The sun is biting their shoulders as they seek out a bench in the shade to watch a pair of ducks. “Little Girl, would you like an iceblock to cool you down?” says the mummy.

“Hmmm… I’m not sure about that, Mummy.”

“You can have an iceblock, Little Girl. It will cool you down.”

“Did you bring any money, Mummy?’

“You can check your purse, Little Girl. You probably have some money in it.”

It turns out the big brother has some money, so there are paddlepops all round. The little girl has chocolate. The big brother has banana. And the mummy? She has rainbow, of course.