The Magic of Childhood

Illustration by Peg Maltby.

Illustration by Peg Maltby.

When I had children, I wanted them to understand magic. I wanted them to have their childhood interspersed with rhymes and symbolism and possibility.

One of my earliest memories is one of my grandmother’s holding cowslip under my chin to see if there was a yellow reflection. Apparently, if there was such a reflection, it meant I liked butter, which proved it was real magic because I did indeed like butter.

I have memories of my other grandmother drawing me fairies. She could draw fairies standing on toadstools that were as beautiful and elegant as anything Peg Maltby had drawn and they made me happy. When my daughter was born I asked her to draw her a fairy, and she did. I have it framed for her to give to her daughter one day.

I made fairy gardens with my girl and hid presents in the trees and would be surprised when a letter from Blossom Fairy had been delivered. We would blow on dandelions to see what time it was in fairyland and catch fairies as they blew past us in the wind.

My son was easily worried so his magic came in symbols and rhymes. He loved it when I would draw on his back repeating:

X marks the spot

With a dot dot dot

A line line line

And a question mark

A wiggle wiggle here

A wiggle wiggle there


Egg cracking

Cool breeze

Warm squeeze

Now you have the shiverees.

He still loves and hates it equally.

My daughter and I would find toadstools in a ring in the garden and sing - Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring, Fairies dancing in a ring.

I would tell her there had been a fairy market that night and she would look for evidence, finding it eventually with elaborate stories about what they bought and sold at the market.

I drew faces on boiled eggs and taught my son how to knit. I knitted both of their teddies cardigans, which they still have and would set up rituals for when they were home from school, sick in bed.

My daughter would get an Archie or Betty and Veronica comic and my son would get some football cards. They both liked baths and then clean sheets and then toasted sandwiches in bed or on the sofa watching television.

I had special “medicine” for the days they were trying to get a day off just because they wanted to be at home with me. The medicine were Smarties, which I gave out with the serious instruction that the red ones were the most potent and they couldn’t take more than two or they would fly to the moon.

They knew that on Friday’s friends would come over and they would be included at the table, learning how to be social and how to hold conversations.

They believed in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy and the power of believing. But above all, I wanted them to believe in themselves. That they can achieve so much and help others and that is where the real magic is in life.

I taught them to roll down hills and make daisy chains, and press flowers and how important a dress up box is for creating your perfect look. I knew all the nursery rhymes, all the silly chanting songs when skipping, how to play elastics and hopscotch rules and the fun of drawing on the footpath with chalk. I taught my kids how to use the hula hoop, which they were both miles above scratch, and how you must always say hello to a single Magpie and enquire after Mrs Magpie, or else it’s bad luck. I knew superstitions about the superstitions, from holding your thumbs in your fingers when you passed a graveyard so your parents don’t die young, to lifting your feet when the car drives over train tracks so you don’t die young.

We made doll hospitals, and cubby houses out of blankets and nests made of pillows. We made up spells and created incantations and hid talismans in the garden on nights when the moon was full. Reading Danny the Champion of the World aloud to them both, and sobbing through Charlotte Web.

I spent much of my childhood using magical thinking to escape, and I was fortunate to channel this into my work as a writer. But I wanted my children to experience magical thinking as a starting off point. What could be possible?

Now my children are creators. Music, theatre, writing, art, acting, singing. It is something that I wanted them to know they could rely on, and when I look at my years of hands on parenting, this was the what I enjoyed the most. It was truly magical and something I hope they remember, and know that the magic of childhood is seeing everything as a mystery ready to be unravelled.

I do not doubt for a moment my work as a writer is fuelled by this magic, something I try to bring into every book I write but my children are the ones who were truly rewarded by this magic and now, as they move into adulthood, I see that this was probably the best thing I could have ever done for them because believing in magic means they believe in themselves and above all, the idea of possibility within their own life.