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Mom Talk: The Case For Small Magic

Written by Erin Feher

Photography by Photo: Courtesy of Erin Feher

Today’s Mom Talk comes courtesy of MOTHER’s very own Executive Editor, Erin Feher. You can read more about Erin here, here, and here.

Our pillows still smell like tent. You know, that earthy, mildewy scent that seeps deep into fabric, hair, skin—even books, I’ve discovered—despite numerous washings. For me, the lingering odor is tolerable, if slightly gross. For my daughter, it makes her smile so wide I see her baby canines, tiny and animal-like next to two outsized grown-up teeth crowding the front of her mouth. “I love that smell,” she says. She’s 6, an age when the outside world begins to tempt with achingly cool things that have nothing to do with her parents, like cloyingly catchy hip-hop/country mash-ups and playground games of two truths and a lie. But as quickly as those mysteries began to reveal themselves, they were gone. Schools closed two weeks ago today, and the experience of seeing friends up close, let alone whispering to them under the playstructure, has been wiped out of existence. So, I dug the ancient two-person tent out of the storage unit, set it up in our petit San Francisco backyard, and we hauled all the blankets, pillows, stuffies, flashlights, favorite books, and a spray bottle of essential oils (because, boy, did that tent stink) into our little home for the night.

Long before I had kids, I liked to imagine the type of mother I’d be. I would continue to play my inappropriate music at inappropriate volumes and we would all dance wildly. I would roller skate with them in the living room, and camp out in the backyard on whim. I would be a cool mom, a fun mom, a mom that made magic for them on a regular basis. Flash forward to real mom life: Did I really want my daughter hearing all those Lil’ Kim lyrics? We have a no-shoe policy in the house—roller skates are pretty filthy, plus, those new floors weren’t cheap. For sure, we will totally sleep in the backyard one day, but can we postpone until I’ve paid back the sleep debt that six years of parenting two young kids has cost me? Don’t get me wrong, I consider myself to be a damn good mother, but like nearly every adult and parent on earth, I have STUFF TO DO. Lots of it. So, I make sure to schedule in generous doses of fun: visits to the best museums, trips to beautiful places, and really impressive birthday parties.

But now, like those tête-à-têtes under the play structure, all that scheduled fun is cancelled. So is my commute, my PTA meetings, my after-work events, and my nights out with friends. So, while we are obviously busy with other things—I am working full-time from home, my husband is brainstorming ways to save his small business, our kids are now our sole responsibility 24/7, and we are, you know, trying to survive and stay healthy in a world rocked by a global pandemic—I have to admit, the days feel longer, like there are minutes, even hours, that weren’t there before. We know we are the lucky ones: housed, healthy, and not, as of yet, flirting with financial ruin. So, the other morning I snagged my daughter’s markers and I wrote out three invitations in a flowery, multi-colored script. I sealed them in envelopes and left them on my daughter’s desk, who, upon discovering them, delivered them promptly to their intended recipients as I knew she would. At noon sharp, she, her 2-year-old brother, and their dad were to arrive in the backyard for a tea party, fancy dress required. The invitations were signed by Mrs. Sugarbottom. I had no grand plans besides making tea and sandwiches—maybe cutting them diagonally to spice things up. But as my daughter hopped around excitedly, wondering aloud (and quite sincerely) who on earth this Mrs. Sugarbottom was, I began to feel slightly intoxicated by the small magic taking place. The magic it’s so easy to forget as a grown-up—that even during a global pandemic, when we are ordered to stay in our homes and interact with no one, that a perfect stranger with a saccharine name could sweep in and throw a dreamy tea party in our backyard. So, I asked my husband to take the kids for a quick walk around the block just before noon. I pulled out all the party supplies and cake trays and pink napkins from the back of the cupboard. I laid out half a dozen boldly patterned blankets, and dumped a giant bag of citrus (a gift from a friend with fecund trees) on the lawn—dozens of lemons, oranges, and grapefruits, spilling across the grass creating a veritable ball pit of fruit. And I dressed up—a wig snatched from the dress-up box, every flowing, colorful, patterned piece in my wardrobe, bright orange lipstick, a floppy hat, and oversized shades. I didn’t expect to fool anyone, I was just going with it (and admittedly going a little loopy after two weeks of lockdown). When the kids finally arrived in the backyard, dressed to the nines in party dresses and suits that otherwise had no imaginable use right now, they squealed with glee. And when I walked down the steps carrying a cake stand filled with apple-and-Nutella sandwiches and squawking in my most obnoxious faux-British accent…they had absolutely no idea who I was. It was a damn good tea party. But it was watching how easily my kids slipped into a world so detached from reality, so unconcerned with all the things that we are worried they are dreadfully concerned about, that I became reaquainted with the power of small magic.

I realized that for the next few weeks, probably months, I am one half of my children’s entire world. And unlike our grown-up world that requires just and sane leadership, a steady paycheck, six-months worth of toilet paper, and Zoom Pro accounts, theirs requires very little to keep spinning happily. So, I have made a habit out of doing the little things, of making the small magic when I can, and not putting it off to another time. Of sleeping on the ground outside next to my daughter on a Sunday night (we just cut a deal I could go back in after she fell asleep and watch Westworld with her dad, returning to the tent immediately afterwards), and laying snuggled up next to each other the next morning, making up stories and planning epic April Fools’ Day pranks. Of making chocolate-chip pumpkin bread in our pajamas and eating it, still hot, for breakfast. Of full-blown pillow fights before bed and breaking for a dance party, volume all the way up, in the middle of dinner.

I know, the reality is that it’s a shitty time—downright terrifying for many people. But if we are forced to remain in our own little spheres for the time being, we can at least toss the glitter where we want and make it sparkle now and then. When Roberto Benigni was criticized for making a movie rife with physical comedy about the Holocaust, one in which he played a father who creates a game out of life at a Nazi concentration camp to keep his young son blissfully unaware of the horrors around him, he said, “to laugh and to cry comes from the same point of the soul, no?”

My hope is that when my kids think back on this time, they’ll remember not the fear, not the sickness, not the selfish and shortsighted government, but the time we slept in the backyard, danced to music with dirty words in it, ate cake for breakfast, and had a strange British woman over for tea.

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  1. Allix says...

    I love this post so much. Thank you!

  2. Barb May says...

    Sounds like scads of fun .maybe we can invite her to Willoughby this summed

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