In honor of Mother’s Day, I thought I’d share a piece I wrote several years ago that appeared in our local parent’s magazine. Over a decade has passed since all this happened, and I’m happy to report no lasting trauma. Happy Mother’s Day, and enjoy!
My magic wand is eighteen inches long. A pewter mermaid-fairy perches on top of a thin stainless steel stem, hands held high above her head offering up a clear crystal marble. Knee-length hair winds around her body, and her wings – embossed with tiny pink and yellow crystal stars – fan out from her back. A miniature crystal bouquet hangs from her tail, which wraps around the stem. Sheer lavender ribbons envelop her in a bow. It is beautiful and delicate, and its surprising heaviness makes it very satisfying to wave around.
The wand was a mother’s day gift from my mother after my first child was born. “Every mother needs some magic,” she wrote on the plain white gift card in her loopy handwriting. LL just shook his head.
When I called to thank her, she said, “I hope you use it. It was really expensive.”
A really expensive wand I was supposed to use?
But one night, when Kid One was three or so, I woke up to his cries in the middle of the night. He hugged me, tightly. “Mama, I had a bad dream.” He couldn’t go back to sleep. In desperation – inspiration.
“Don’t worry sweetie,” I improvised, soothingly, I hoped. “I’ll just make you some of my special dream potion. Your Grandma used to make it to keep my nightmares away. Wait just a second.” I mixed a few drops of almond extract in a glass of water and returned, armed with concoction and wand, to tuck him back in bed.
“Here’s the potion,” I sang out. He was suspicious.
“It looks like water,” he accused.
I sniffed the glass and shrugged. “Maybe. Doesn’t smell like water, though. You want a sniff?” He nodded.
“Okay.” Happy now. “You can tuck me in now.”
I dipped the mermaid end of my wand in the glass and tapped his pillow with it. “This keeps the bad dreams off of your pillow.”
I tapped his doorway. “And this keeps the bad dreams from coming in your door.”
He looked at me and nodded. “You’d better put some around my windows, too.”
There were no bad dreams that night.
One afternoon, I overheard him telling a friend that he never got nightmares because I make a magic potion to chase away monsters in the night. That night her mother knocked on my door, “Um, Maggie. I have to ask you something. What is this potion thing she’s telling me about?” I sent her home with a spray bottle filled with water, decorated with red and gold star stickers. No more nightmares in their house, either.
Over the next couple years, my wand did more than chase away bad dreams and imaginary monsters. It sealed kisses on cuts and bruises, and was great at cooling down his favorite brown rice and lentil mixture when I left in the microwave too long. I pointed it at the tv to make the Thomas the Tank Engine video start.
But my magical piéce de resistance happened at Seacliff Beach, on one of those gorgeous fall afternoons when the sun is warm but the breeze is crisp, and the only people playing in the sand are your neighbors and their kids. I helped Kid One and a few of his friends build a sand mountain, about three feet tall and just as big around. When they weren’t looking, I stuck a baby food jar full of baking soda down in the top to make a crater. “Hey kids, come here a minute.”
They came running over. “Want to watch me turn this mountain into a volcano? I made a special potion I want to try out.” I held out my wand and poured an entire pickle jar of red food coloring-laced-white vinegar into my baking soda caldera. “Abracadabra, alakazam!” The baking soda immediately hissed, then foamed, foamed, then slowly bubbled higher and higher, oozing down the side of the volcano, a trail of red-tinged foamy “lava” that foamed and fizzed down to the water for a full ten minutes. The kids were very impressed.
At home, they started concocting their own potions from mint leaves and rosemary from the garden and gave them them free rein with food colorings and flavorings. In those weeks they discovered vinegar eats peppermint leaves, food coloring stains the carpet, and pouring Elmer’s glue over crushed apples is just disgusting.
Eventually, though, the wand landed in a kitchen drawer, the one with the Philips screwdriver and flashlight batteries and blue cow refrigerator magnets. Like little Jackie Painter, magic wands and candle wax made way for other toys. I thought that magic would eventually go the way that Santa and the tooth fairy were supposed to eventually go – it had even been a long time since I had proclaimed “Abracadabra, POOF!” just before the automatic doors opened at Safeway.
I was wrong. Another gift from my mother for Kid One by J. K. Rowling, changed all that.
The spring of his second grade year he spent every night reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone before bed. He read it during breakfast. He read it instead of doing his homework.
One day after school he found me making spaghetti sauce, Harry Potter tucked under his arm. “Mom, we need to talk,” he said seriously, with the manner of a man on mission.
“Talk,” I said, chopping garlic, trying to act nonchalant.
He leaned an elbow on the kitchen counter, crossed one leg over the other, and announced, “Mom, I think I’m old enough to start learning your magic.”
I froze. In a fraction of a second, a hundred thoughts whirled through my mind: Did I never make it clear we were just playing? I’d evidently taken this way too far. Did he tell his friends I was a witch? I instinctively understood this was the first make-or-break moment of his childhood, and I was going to blow it. There was no way out. I was going to shatter his illusions. He would never forgive me.
Looking over into those big, round, trusting innocent blue eyes, I tried to act unfazed. “I thought I already taught you all my magic.”
“But what about this?” he asked, holding out the book. I opened the front cover. Inside my mother had written, in her loopy handwriting, “To Max, so you can learn some magic like your mom. Love, Grandma.” Mom.
“My magic doesn’t work exactly like that,” I replied. “The reason my magic works is because I believe in it. If you believe in your magic, it will work too.”
He knew where this was going and was visibly disappointed. “So I can’t learn to fly?”
“No.” Pause. A thought. “But I could show you some ancient potion ingredients from the garden.” So we went outside and I taught him about using chamomile to sleep, lavender to relax, and rosemary to remember. I wish I could say we had a great time together, but he was not impressed. He wanted to levitate and I kept him down.
But maybe not. He still believes in my magic even though we don’t use wands and potions anymore. Whenever worry or trauma enters his increasingly complicated life, I can still make him feel better with a hug. The real magic, I believe, is love.
My wand is back on display these days. One day LL came home with a gift for me, a celadon ceramic dish, eighteen inches long and one inch wide. I was delighted. I threw my arms around him and gave him a kiss.
“Thank you! Oh my gosh! I can’t believe it! This is perfect!”
He was a little taken aback at my enthusiasm.
“You got me a holder for my magic wand!”
He put his arm around my shoulder and patted my knee, and without missing a beat, said “You know what the great thing about this magic wand holder is?”
I shook my head.
“When people come over for dinner, we can also use it for serving olives.”