The ritual of the Leprechaun trap started when she was in pre-school. Her teachers, at the exclaimed "Miss Mary's Preschool!" spent the week leading up to St. Patrick's Day making traps for the Leprechauns. The Leprechauns themselves were barely described. The traps, however, were elaborate, ranging from cardboard boxes full of double sided tape to complex Rube Goldberg contraptions made from dozens of cardboard tubes, candy bait and green-yarn snares.
They never caught any, but those pesky little f*ckers trashed the joint. Chairs inverted, green glitter everywhere. It took the entire class an hour just to put the room to rights.
It was Jen's favorite part of the school year. And she believed.
The leprechauns held sway in her life until she was 5, when we moved to the house in the woods. The backyard is 30 acres of painfully beautiful meadows and evergreens, the forest floor perpetually coated in needles.
Fairies obviously tended it carefully and with great love.
For the next few years, she went out and made fairy houses. She believed.
And then the unthinkable happened. She wanted proof. Her friend had started sending letters to the fairies that lived in her backyard. And her friend's fairies (being well maintained by her father the screenwriter) wrote back.
For weeks Jen left notes in the woods that went unanswered. My heart ached for her. She stopped letting us know that she was putting the notes out there, but I'd still run across the meticulously lettered miniature letters in the woods. Finally, I wrote a note, in my smallest hand, on paper made from pressed flowers. I wrote one word:
I mentally polished my "dad of the year" medal.
She came in from the woods, sobbing. It was ten minutes before she would talk to either of her parents -- these people who couldn't possibly understand what was going on her life. These adults so disconnected from her world.
"One word!" she sputtered. "I've given them everything, for my whole life, and they gave me one word."
Kids bounce. She was fine the next morning. She never mentioned it again. But I found no further notes concealed in the small hollows among the tree roots. By Christmas, it was clear that Santa had been exposed for the fraud her father was.
Four years her junior, my son Peter has never paid attention to the world of fairies and the leprechaun. Santa has always seemed a casual, barely understood conceit. Despite having spent his whole life at the house in the woods, he's never shown the slightest predisposition to anthropomorphic worship.
It's not that he has no sense of wonder. It's just that the trees and air hold mystery for him, Instead it's phosphor and electrons and hard plastic buttons. His imagination has, since he was old enough to speak, been captured by the world on the other side of a screen. On this side of the screen, everything is gray and comfortable. It's a world of food and people and books and toys.
On the other side, wise old men teach boys about the ways of the Force. On the other side, Batman and Indiana Jones and Spiderman lead lives of real adventure that he knows will never be like his own. It is an Other truly at remove, intermediated by machines.
Whether through casual environmental exposure, the result of a father whose fingers still burn with the loss of his daughter's belief, or through genetic predisposition, my son has no grasp, desire, or perception of the Other that surrounds us. Despite his indoctrination in our weekly sojourn to the old stone church, I get no inkling that the Other that makes my own life so interesting, and occasionally important, has affected him at all.
Instead, he understands with intimate detail the difference between a robot and a cyborg. He understands at an intuitive level the natural and organic power of the Force, and how it's vastly more interesting and useful than the mere superpowers of various Marvel heroes. And while this makes my inner geek happy, it never seems particularly important.
At 3:30pm on Mondays, my wife takes Peter to Karate class. He's very into it, and not just because he gets to hit things. It grounds him. He appreciates the discipline and focus and structure, and perhaps even a sense of belonging to something bigger than himself.
Jen stays home. She sits on a folding chair in the corner of the office, reading. There are many other, more comfortable chairs in the house, but this one is in my office, a fact that is not lost on me. This weekly 2 hour window of near-silence, where she reads, and I write, is fragile and perfect. Occasionally she'll laugh, or I'll sigh, and we'll exchange a glance that means "I LOVE YOU" in eight fully formed capital letters.
Jen stirs. "Daddy, do you have any green construction paper?"
"Tomorrow's St. Patrick's Day. We need to make a Leprechaun trap."
I stop typing for a minute. Take a sip of cold coffee.
"Oh yeah, I'd forgotten about that."
She makes hard, discrete eye contact, in a way children rarely do. Eye contact which says "listen to me, I'm serious, and I am older and wiser than you." Eye contact that grandmothers use to silence ungrateful children.