The Leprechaun Trap

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:

"BELIEVE"

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?"

"Hmm?"

"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.

"For Peter."

Comments

Nice read as usual Julian.

A genuine question though, as a non-parent to the parents on the board. Does it serve your children to indulge their fantasies? I'm sure it is wonderful to encourage their innocence and joy, but doesn't that have consequences when the cold, hard realities of the 21st century kick them in the back of the head?

I love each and every one of you're stories Rabbit. They're one of the few things on hte site I expose my Fiancee to because they transcend the Gamers with Jobs motiff and become about People with Lives.

Good story, really enjoyed the tale.

And Leprechauns are notorious difficult to trick into traps.

Excellent, thought-provoking stuff (as usual). I have (in my meagre 5 years of being a parent), not had to deal with this stuff yet directly. My kids are happy still believing that the world is a bit more magical than it really is.

I did, briefly, consider not doing the Father Christmas thing. I see it as like a gateway drug to the worst aspects of religion. To believing things that aren't there on someone's say so, to viewing the requirement for proof and evidence as being small-minded rather than being the principal method of seeing through the lies we are surrounded with. Needless to say I couldn't rob my children of that magic (not that my wife would have allowed me to do it anyway). My kids have excellent imaginations, and my 5-year old has very detailed pretend situations for his lego models and people to be involved in. It's important to me that I never lie to my children, and the concept has always bothered me.

I'll have the tooth fairy to deal with soon. Dunno what I'll do there.

MrDeVil909 wrote:
Does it serve your children to indulge their fantasies? I'm sure it is wonderful to encourage their innocence and joy, but doesn't that have consequences when the cold, hard realities of the 21st century kick them in the back of the head?

You've hit on one of the most contentious issues in parenting. I stand behind my decision to "indulge" my daughter for those precious years. I know my memories as a child of similar things are still very dear to me, and while I also remember the first Christmas I didn't believe, I also remember with deep longing a few holidays before that where the belief was powerful and wonderful.

This morning, for what it's worth, the kids came downstairs to find the house completely trashed, green die in all the toilets, the milk green and glitter everywhere. My daughter roused my son from bed, and for half an hour, they explored the house, laughing their heads off and exploding with delight.

I don't really know if either one of them believed. But it was a *good* half hour, the kind *I* will remember.

Let the children believe. There's time enough for disillusionment when they get older. I'm too old and cynical to believe in much any more, but for the brief time that children have to be innocent, give them their fairies and leprechauns.

Wonderful story Rabbit.

If you manage to get any leprechauns this year, I'm paying a premium price. Working on a new plan re: the recession and the skyrocketing price of gold.

There is something sad when your kids stop making Leprechaun traps and elaborate plans for seeing Santa and the Tooth Fairy. My youngest told me a couple of weeks ago that he's on to me about the whole Santa thing; I almost teared up because of the loss of innocence and a willingness to "BELIEVE". So fragile and so fleeting. Now he lives mostly in the "real" world with the rest of us, a much drabber and less magical place.

Edit (too damn quick on the Post button):

MrDeVil909 wrote:
A genuine question though, as a non-parent to the parents on the board. Does it serve your children to indulge their fantasies? I'm sure it is wonderful to encourage their innocence and joy, but doesn't that have consequences when the cold, hard realities of the 21st century kick them in the back of the head?

You have the entire rest of your life to be cynical - I think it's extremely important for my kids to have a sense of joy and wonder about it all. That sort of thing stays with you even when the cold realities of the real world kick in. Dreams are important and the ability to dream is what makes it possible.

An addition to a similar issue: My son is extremely similar to me in personality. He's very sweet-natured, takes things personally, and is very hurt and confused when his classmates behave like, well, children and act in a generally despicable way to each other without really thinking about it. I want to save him the lessons about interacting with people at school that I had to learn the hard way, (the major facets of which are not trusting people who haven't demonstrated they are capable of fidelity, expecting the worst of everyone, and expecting the universe to be staggeringly unfair most of the time). But I don't want him to lose his innocence. Do I wait for him to be hurt and then give him the lessons? I can't think of any alternative.

Nightmare wrote:
MrDeVil909 wrote:
A genuine question though, as a non-parent to the parents on the board. Does it serve your children to indulge their fantasies? I'm sure it is wonderful to encourage their innocence and joy, but doesn't that have consequences when the cold, hard realities of the 21st century kick them in the back of the head?

You have the entire rest of your life to be cynical - I think it's extremely important for my kids to have a sense of joy and wonder about it all. That sort of thing stays with you even when the cold realities of the real world kick in. Dreams are important and the ability to dream is what makes it possible.

But then the question is: what if they find magic in 'more realistic' pursuits? What if they find magic in astronomy? Or biology? Or archeology? Does it have to be Leprechauns, Fairies and Santa Clauses?

Case in point, Julian's son finds magic in androids and cyborgs. Something that may stay with him for life and may translate into a realistic life path that has meaning, drive and destination. I'm not arguing that it is a better way. Just exploring if it could be.

P.S. Rabbit, your articles, as always, make me want children of my own even more.

DudleySmith wrote:
An addition to a similar issue: My son is extremely similar to me in personality. He's very sweet-natured, takes things personally, and is very hurt and confused when his classmates behave like, well, children and act in a generally despicable way to each other without really thinking about it. I want to save him the lessons about interacting with people at school that I had to learn the hard way, (the major facets of which are not trusting people who haven't demonstrated they are capable of fidelity, expecting the worst of everyone, and expecting the universe to be staggeringly unfair most of the time). But I don't want him to lose his innocence. Do I wait for him to be hurt and then give him the lessons? I can't think of any alternative.

I had a tough time in school for a while, and I've come to believe that sometimes, being hurt is the lesson. And that there isn't anything that my parents could have done to spare me that pain. And that I'm a better person for having felt it.

DudleySmith wrote:
Do I wait for him to be hurt and then give him the lessons? I can't think of any alternative.

It may sound cruel, but some of these lessons are best learned on one's own. Some of those pains are what defines us as characters. It is the forge in which we are formed. You can be there to help out and guide, but let him fight his own battles.

Damn this dusty office of mine.

DudleySmith wrote:
An addition to a similar issue: My son is extremely similar to me in personality. He's very sweet-natured, takes things personally, and is very hurt and confused when his classmates behave like, well, children and act in a generally despicable way to each other without really thinking about it. I want to save him the lessons about interacting with people at school that I had to learn the hard way, (the major facets of which are not trusting people who haven't demonstrated they are capable of fidelity, expecting the worst of everyone, and expecting the universe to be staggeringly unfair most of the time). But I don't want him to lose his innocence. Do I wait for him to be hurt and then give him the lessons? I can't think of any alternative.

Sweet mother! How old is your boy?

I'm pretty you can't teach a child "trust no one without explicit reason to", "expect the worst of everyone" and "the universe is an unfair place" without pretty severely f*cking him up vis-a-vis any sort of innocence (and, you know, relationships with other human beings).

In fact, those are the kinds of "lessons" that one really should learn for oneself if it's appropriate. It's not, for everyone; those aren't the default rules for human interaction, and teaching a child that they are will only ensure that he comports himself along those lines. (That's not necessarily a good thing.)

Beautiful, rabbit. Really enjoyed this one.

Rabbit - As always a good read.

Sadly the Leprechauns didn't make it to the city. However Santa still does and we still here the bell ring in the house. I think as a parent you need to indulge your children's innocence as long as reasonably possible.

When it begins to cause social interaction issues you need to be careful and potentially back off, for fear of causing them a lot more pain at the hands of other children who can really be brutal to one another. My kids are not at that age yet so I can smile at the joyous innocence, but I am mindful of their school environment and will step in with additional information for them if things really start to get rough.

Thanks, Rabbit. Imagination is the currency of childhood, and I strongly believe that it is a parent's responsibility to not devalue what can so easily be lost. Life is full of reality; the ability to go to a place that is somewhere deeper than just "suspension of disbelief" is very hard to hold on to as we become older.

Three cheers for the child-like imagination!

This one was really good.
Its inherently the lego question, buy a castle and help, of buy a small set and let them make it and destroy it in 5 seconds.

Man that's some straight up Norman Rockwell type stuff there. Makes me jealous

Poor Old Lu wrote:
Thanks, Rabbit. Imagination is the currency of childhood, and I strongly believe that it is a parent's responsibility to not devalue what can so easily be lost.

Wow. I wish I'd written that.

boogle wrote:
This one was really good.
Its inherently the lego question, buy a castle and help, of buy a small set and let them make it and destroy it in 5 seconds.

I love legos for the sole reason that if I buy a set with 400 pieces and 350 of those are lost we still have 50 good legos that can be used for creating something. We have several lego sets that are completely unrelated but we find ways to make things using both sets all the time. The other day Sage took some legos from a Star Wars ship and a Knight's Castle prison wagon and made a new spaceship that reminded me of a Reaver ship because of the barbs on the front of the ship. The wheels from the wagon also make pretty good propellers for biplanes.

So I say buy them both, lose half the pieces, and then make something completely new from what's left.

mudbunny wrote:
Damn this dusty office of mine.

Yeah. We really should call health inspection.

Chumpy_McChump wrote:
DudleySmith wrote:
An addition to a similar issue: My son is extremely similar to me in personality. He's very sweet-natured, takes things personally, and is very hurt and confused when his classmates behave like, well, children and act in a generally despicable way to each other without really thinking about it. I want to save him the lessons about interacting with people at school that I had to learn the hard way, (the major facets of which are not trusting people who haven't demonstrated they are capable of fidelity, expecting the worst of everyone, and expecting the universe to be staggeringly unfair most of the time). But I don't want him to lose his innocence. Do I wait for him to be hurt and then give him the lessons? I can't think of any alternative.

Sweet mother! How old is your boy?

I'm pretty you can't teach a child "trust no one without explicit reason to", "expect the worst of everyone" and "the universe is an unfair place" without pretty severely f*cking him up vis-a-vis any sort of innocence (and, you know, relationships with other human beings).

In fact, those are the kinds of "lessons" that one really should learn for oneself if it's appropriate. It's not, for everyone; those aren't the default rules for human interaction, and teaching a child that they are will only ensure that he comports himself along those lines. (That's not necessarily a good thing.)

Amen. You can't teach kids not to take chances with people either. In fact, when getting hurt, they should know there ARE decent people out there, and its wrong (and in a way, disrespectful) to assume everyone will always screw you over. It's a fine line between healthy caution and mysoginy(sp?).

Chumpy_McChump wrote:
DudleySmith wrote:
An addition to a similar issue: My son is extremely similar to me in personality. He's very sweet-natured, takes things personally, and is very hurt and confused when his classmates behave like, well, children and act in a generally despicable way to each other without really thinking about it. I want to save him the lessons about interacting with people at school that I had to learn the hard way, (the major facets of which are not trusting people who haven't demonstrated they are capable of fidelity, expecting the worst of everyone, and expecting the universe to be staggeringly unfair most of the time). But I don't want him to lose his innocence. Do I wait for him to be hurt and then give him the lessons? I can't think of any alternative.

Sweet mother! How old is your boy?

I'm pretty you can't teach a child "trust no one without explicit reason to", "expect the worst of everyone" and "the universe is an unfair place" without pretty severely f*cking him up vis-a-vis any sort of innocence (and, you know, relationships with other human beings).

In fact, those are the kinds of "lessons" that one really should learn for oneself if it's appropriate. It's not, for everyone; those aren't the default rules for human interaction, and teaching a child that they are will only ensure that he comports himself along those lines. (That's not necessarily a good thing.)

I don't think that's quite what Dudley meant but that may be so. Sadly, even at a very young age some kids are just mean little jerks. In addition kids are all different. Our oldest son doesn't seem to be bothered by other kids saying mean things or being mean. He just goes about his business. I think our second son is going to have difficulty with that when he gets to kindergarten. His confidence level is lower and he gives up much more quickly. I believe he'll be more affected by other kids words. We're working on his confidence (it's getting better) and trying to let him do as much as he can for himself.

I think the best way to deal with other kids is just to make sure your kids feel safe and to give them self confidence. If they have a good self esteem then other kids being jerks is going to have less of an effect (as will peer pressure in general).

Poor Old Lu wrote:
Thanks, Rabbit. Imagination is the currency of childhood, and I strongly believe that it is a parent's responsibility to not devalue what can so easily be lost. Life is full of reality; the ability to go to a place that is somewhere deeper than just "suspension of disbelief" is very hard to hold on to as we become older.

Three cheers for the child-like imagination!

Three cheers for Poor Old Lu! I agree with this 100%. I also wish my parents had done things like fill the toilets with green dye and dumped glitter everywhere - that's so cool!

At 33, I still have a good deal of that belief in the Other. I'm not a crazy lady running around town with a tinfoil hat on, but I was never willing to give up all of that belief either. My child-like imagination is still pretty healthy and active and given that world can be a crappy place sometimes, it's a nice retreat when I need it.

Great article Rabbit and good for you for keeping the joy of their belief intact.

It was so disappointing to grow up and learn there was no such thing as magic, dragons and such. But I wouldn't think for a minute of robbing this from a kid when he is growing. Sometimes I wonder if this is why I'm so into fantasy and science fiction so much. It's like my last hold on having any kind of connection to my childhood and thinking the world was so magical.

On the flip side I remember something the little girl said in the miniseries Taken.

"People say that when we grow up, we kick at everything we've been told - we rebel against the world our parents have worked so hard to bring us into, that part of growing up is kicking at the ties that bind. But I don't think that's why we kick at all. I think we kick when we find out that our parents don't know much more about the world than we do... they don't have all the answers. We rebel when we find out that they've been lying to us all along. That there isn't any Santa Claus at all."

That quote just always struck me and the article reminded me of it.

I was in a hurry when i started to glean through the first paragraphs, and concluded I wasn't going to read it since I had to catch the bus in two minutes. I read a little bit, then discovered that I had read the entire thing and missed my bus. That's as good a compliment as any I suppose. Great work Julian!

MrDeVil909 wrote:
Nice read as usual Julian.

A genuine question though, as a non-parent to the parents on the board. Does it serve your children to indulge their fantasies? I'm sure it is wonderful to encourage their innocence and joy, but doesn't that have consequences when the cold, hard realities of the 21st century kick them in the back of the head?

I guess I have a lot to say on this issue, but instead of dumping all of that here, I'll leave it at this:

I grew up with a hyperactive imagination that my parent's (read: Mom) indulged. It has, to this day, made me a very creative person, particularly as it relates to gaming (as a GM in RPGs, as a designer, and as a player). Yet, I am member of the Skeptic's society, many brand me a hard-line pragmatist and often downright cynic, and I believe Science is the best possible approach to understanding the world. There are few people who see the "cold, hard realities of the 21st century" at face value more than I; but I can't say I was ever corrupted, mislead or otherwise hurt by having my imagination propped up by a loving parent.

The real issue is when that naivete and innocence is taken advantage of to indoctrinate a child into something or worse...

Great article, Rabbit.

When I was little, I had a plastic sea turtle that I kept in a large mixing bowl filled with water. I fed it a dash of salt every night before bed. I'm happy that my parents allowed me to do that and even encouraged it by reminding me to feed my turtle. I don't feel that my imagination being indulged had any sort of deleterious effect on me, and I look forward to doing the same thing with my child. I'm willing to give up a mixing bowl and some salty water to make him happy.

Thanks for the article, Rabbit. I just hope that when i have kids one day i can be as good a parent as you and Bill Harris sound.... My dad was pretty 'absent' during my childhood so i don't have any stories like these to tell.

rabbit wrote:
...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.

Good for him. It sounds as though he is on the path to Einstein's form of religion, in which he professed an awe and reverence for the universe and its countless marvels, none of which need the tacky, tedious artificiality of church-led beliefs. If he learns, despite his "indoctrination", that the proper position for a man is not on his knees, but rather his head held high as he explore the mysteries of existence, then I think he'll have a perpetual sense of wonder than will never be in danger of disillusionment. (careful: that wasn't an attack on religious beliefs in general, but rather what I perceive as the rigid, artificial framework of organised belief)

With respect, I'd suggest that both yourself and your daughter share a similarity in the way in which your minds work, whereas your son sounds rather more analytical. That you evidently don't discourage his own pursuits and way of thinking, despite your own predilections, is, I believe, infinitely to your credit. Wonder, much like freedom, cannot be imposed. We each discover it in our own way, and the best gift a parent can give to a child is the nurturing environment in which that wonder can grow without being attacked.

I'm firmly in the camp that imagination, wonder, and innocence should be cultivated and guarded wherever possible. I doubt that most people would disagree with that sentiment. The difficulty, and the source of most of the argument, is the point at which to start letting some of the darker realities be recognised, in order to equip a youthful person with the tools and context with which to face such unpleasantries.

For myself, I find the idea that wonder and "reality" are opposing forces to be a false-dichotomy. Show a child a space-launch, a picture from Hubble, and a video of astronauts bouncing around on the moon with the Earth half silhouetted behind them. Let them gaze through a microscope at the marvelous life-forms we cannot ordinarily see. Explain the "golden ratio", and then show them a nautilus shell. Explain that wars happen and why some people choose to go to war, and then show them those who work for peace. Take them to an air-show, and let them view one of the most beautiful and graceful intersections of human skill, physics, and engineering. Have a pilot describe to them the perfect freedom of flight. Take them to the local fire department, who are almost invariably delighted to show children the things they do. Meeting those who have dedicated their lives to the welfare of others is a fine thing. Let them grow a plant in a pot, run around with friendly dogs, and look at the stars at night. Explain how sound travels through the air, use a pool of water to show how the waves make marvelous patterns, let them sing, and then take them to see a full choral performance.

I reject as false the idea that innocent childhood beliefs in purely imaginary things, leading to a disillusionment, is an inevitable path. If, whilst chasing fairies and leprechauns at the bottom on the garden, a child is also shown the wonders of growing things and the insects that tend them, then those marvellous things shall remain when the fantasies inevitably fall away. The world and universe in which we live is filled with such mystery, magnificence, and splendour that it brings tears to the eyes of those who stop long enough to observe. These things give foundation and context, destroying the power and terror of the dark things in the world.

I've met a lot of bitter people, and a lot of happy ones. In my experience, the difference is almost always whether they've retained imagination and a joy in the mysteries around them.