The Magic of Childhood


I can't remember Miguel at eight. I know it was 2009 and I could easily pull up pictures to help me remember what he looked like but that wouldn't help me remember who he was then. I don't remember what he liked to do or the music that he sang along to or what made him laugh or the books he read over and over again. The details have been lost in the years since then.

I think about this now because Zeca is eight and I find myself searching for some sort of measuring stick. I ask myself what kids her age do but obviously the tick marks and numbers have worn off my ruler some time ago.

She wants to read graphic novels. She needs to be reminded to change her socks and brush her teeth. She wants to show us dance routines when we want her to put on her coat.

I want her to read more challenging books, to be independent, to stop dancing and do what I ask.

I am starting to realize that I have always expected her to be older than she is and I'm starting to see that she just wants and needs to be eight.

She often tells me that it's hard to be the youngest and it's hard for me to hear because the fog of my own guilt moves into the spaces between us. I think of the unfinished baby book in a box in the closet. I think of the hand me down skates and cleats. I think of the fact that I don't feel as playful at this age as I did when Miguel was her age. Sometimes, her words make it through and I listen. Sometimes, I can't hear her and tell her all the great things about being the baby. I disappoint us both in those moments.

Zeca got a set of magic cups for Christmas from her Aunt and Uncle. She spent this morning watching the DVD and learning tricks with cups and balls. She came down to the living room in the suit jacket she wore to our wedding, her wooden wand tucked into an inside pocket. She laid out her cups and balls and showed us the tricks she was learning. Her hands are small and she can't always hide the little red ball completely and I smile when I see it and she laughs and tells me she's practicing.

Later, she invited Miguel into her room to show him her tricks. I heard her begin, "I have here two ordinary cups. Look into the bottom and you'll see they have no holes..." I lost track of the conversation but then heard Miguel say, "Zeca, I can see the ball! You should do it this way..." and then "Zeca! Let me show you! You should put the wand up your sleeve..." and then crying and a door slamming.

I found Miguel sitting on his bed and I explained that she'd been working on those tricks all day, "Why couldn't you just watch? Why do you have to point out all of her mistakes?" He said, "I was just trying to make it better. She didn't have to cry."

"Can you please just let her be eight?"

Maybe that's too much to ask of someone who is just 12 when I am inconsistent myself.

When you are the youngest, the illusions are stripped away sooner and the magic of childhood disappears. There is something about the image of her in her little black suit jacket, looking so earnest that makes me want to do better. I want to believe that ordinary cups can slide through each other, that a red ball can appear from thin air. I want to believe in the magic of a wand tapped three times. But more than anything, I want to believe in the magic of eight. I want it for her.