Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Magic Cup

I’m in support of anything that creates magic and joy in childhood. I don’t have any hang-ups about Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. I could even get into the oft talked about gnomes at Luke’s Waldorf preschool. My parents always upheld the traditional childhood myths for my siblings and me during our childhood, and I have no traumatic memories of discovering the truth and feeling betrayed. I think that they answered any of our questions with, “I wonder, “ and “hmm.” They let us believe and half-believe as long as we wanted to, and must have finally admitted the truth when we clearly knew ourselves. I don’t even remember learning that Santa Claus wasn’t real.

In addition to Santa Claus filling stockings, St. Nicholas filling shoes, the Easter Bunny hiding treats, and when it is time, I’m sure, the Tooth Fairy exchanging teeth for money, in our house, Daddy can pull money out of ears. Luke has always played this game with Craig, and I was never totally clear on whether or not Luke believed that Craig was truly performing this amazing feat. Nevertheless, this has been a fun game in our house for many years.

The other night, as usual, Craig was playing with the boys after dinner while I did the dishes. I began to hear a lot of excited noises coming from the boys’ room, but ignored it. I enter the room after dinner only when necessary. But soon, Luke came racing out of the bedroom, face red with excitement.

“Mom!” he yelled. “We have a MAGIC CUP! It gives us things! Come and see!”

So I was off to the bedroom. Clearly this was more exciting than the ear trick.

“Remember,” I heard Craig saying as I entered the room, “The magic cup can only give us things that are already in the house.”

“Yes, we know!” replied Luke and Henry.

“Okay,” said Craig, holding a plastic cup adorned with aliens. “Magic cup, magic cup, give us a prize,” he began in a singsong voice. The kids began chanting with him.

“Magic cup, magic cup, give us a BIG surprise!” they all intoned. Then, as Craig tossed the empty cup into the air, the kids chanted a high-pitched “ahhhhhhhhhhh!” with rapt smiles looking up into the air.

This part was a bit uncomfortable to witness. Craig made it part of the trick so that he could slip a toy under the cup while the boys were busy looking up, but they were on their knees, looking up and chanting. It seemed like a bizarre religious ritual, especially when I looked into their flushed, spellbound faces. It seemed to me that I was witnessing a Pentecostal, consumerist, magical rite.

I would like to say that I stopped this somehow, or that I walked from the room. But when the magic cup gave Luke a piece of candy and Henry started crying, I went to the candy stash—Craig couldn’t leave the room easily—and got a treat for Henry, which I then snuck into Craig’s pocket.

That night, in bed, the magic cup was all Luke and Henry could talk of.

“Maybe the magic cup will give us some toys tomorrow! Toys we don’t already have!” Luke said.

“But Luke, remember? The magic cup can only give us things we already have in the house.” I responded.

“But the cup is magic! I’ll bet it will give us some new toys tomorrow if we say the words really loudly,” said Luke.

“Hmm,” I responded, “I wonder.” Then I let it drop.

But during our prayer before they boys went to sleep, Luke added, “Thank you, God, for giving us our very own magic cup that will probably give us some new toys tomorrow.”

After the boys were asleep, I mentioned to Craig that I was feeling a bit uneasy about this whole thing. “After all,” I said, “You are totally manipulating their emotions.”

“Oh come on!” said Craig, “It is just a game. They are having fun. It is like Santa Claus.”

“Yes, maybe, but Santa Claus is a cultural tradition,” I retorted. “WE didn’t invent him as a completely random lie.”

Craig shrugged, and so I dropped it.

* * * * *

The next morning, the magic cup was the first thing on their minds. Since Daddy was still asleep when Luke left for school, the boys had to wait until Craig got home from work to play with the magic cup again. But all afternoon, they mused on what fun might await them when Daddy returned. Of course I tried to encourage them to think realistically, but there was no reasoning with them. I finally began to ignore them, as I was becoming too uneasy. And besides, I thought, Craig started this, let him work it out.

But I smelled disaster in the air.

When Craig arrived home, the boys greeted him with shouts of excitement. He told them to wait for him in the bedroom. As Craig puttered around fixing himself a drink, putting away his coat and shoes, I whispered my concerns.

“I don’t think this is a good idea. They are too excited. They think they are going to get new toys,” I protested.

Again, Craig brushed my concerns away and headed into the bedroom.

As I was washing the lettuce, I heard increasingly loud shrieks.

“You didn’t talk loudly enough to the cup! You need to talk louder!” Luke ordered, his pitch growing increasingly high with every word.

A few minutes later I heard crying.

Craig came out of the room to tell me what was going on. Apparently, Luke was convinced that the magic cup could be more magical if Craig only performed the ritual correctly.

“You see!” I hissed at him. As Luke’s cries and screams issued from the room, my own blood pressure seemed to rise. “This is where your lies and emotional manipulation have gotten you!”

Craig was trapped between a screaming child at one end of the house and a seething wife at the other. He had nowhere to go, and so he admitted defeat, heading off to tell Luke the truth.

A few minutes later, an angry and tearful Luke came out for dinner with the rest of us. Craig had apologized and had told Luke the truth.

A few minutes into dinner, Luke asked, “So, all those times when you pretended to pull money out of my ear? You were just fooling me?” Craig admitted that this was true.

“So how did you do it?” Luke asked. As Craig explained, I began to realize that if Luke asked about Santa Claus right now, we would have to admit the truth. The conversation that Luke and Craig were having was quite lovely, actually, and they talked a bit about how you can’t just ask God for whatever you want and have it granted.

But a bit of Luke’s innocence disappeared that night, and I certainly wasn’t ready to leave Santa Claus behind. Thankfully, Luke was distracted, and the conversation ended there.

Every day, a bit of the magic of my kids’ childhood slips away, and the growth and understanding that takes its place is amazing to witness. But I hope I can keep a little of this magic tucked away for them, in a cup, in a wish, in their hearts.


Anonymous said...

Oh ,man, too funny. I wish I had a magic cup. I was laughing out loud here in the computer lab at school. I am glad I was not there to witness the revelation of the truth of the magic cup, however. How did Henry react?
(still can't remember my blogger password)

Lynn said...

The tooth fairy lives in our house. He/(she?) came for the first time last month. Apparently there is no tooth fairy in Scotland, however. Andrew's father told him "The Tooth Fairy is American" and couldn't fly across the ocean. That must have saved them at least $5. Most stereotypes have a basis in fact.

Molly Sabourin said...

Brilliant, Ser. What a beautifully layered story! I love the part about the magic cup only being able to produce a prize that you already owned. keep your stories coming!

Nancy said...

Ser- this is gorgeously written. And I think children like Luke and Emily do lose their innocence sooner than some. I have kept Emily going on tooth fairy by pointedly telling her if she stops believing the tooth fairy won't leave presents (I *love* being the tooth fairy). But she had a very interesting conversation with me in the car recently where she wondered aloud about the fact that the dollhouse furniture Santa brought fit remarkably well with the dollhouse Gram and Papa made. "Hmmmm...." I can tell Emily is tempted to lump God in with all the rest of them. I'll be interested to hear if this spreads, or if Luke lets well enough alone for now.

Magic is often created out of love. The cup wasn't really magic, but Craig's love for them made it that way. This particular truth carries over for Santa, Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, and even Great Pumpkin. Sometimes our love for them is so big that we mythologize it, and somehow I think that's appropriate in the long run.

so yung said...

Even though Luke knows how the magic cup and ear-money works,I bet he's going to let a better part of himself believe for a long while. Some kids are geared towards fantasy, fairy-tales, and "believing", and I think, from what I've seen, Luke is geared that way too.

Regarding the loss of wonder and magic - maybe it can be stronger because we've been touched by life's cynicism? I'm thinking of the saints, other holy people, and other people of goodwill who express extraoridinary love consistently throughout their lives whether through adversity or not. Ah, now there's some real magic. How do they it?

That said, I loved this story. I laughed out loud. The longer two-part blog was so satifying Ser. Please produce at least one of these a day. Thank you.

so yung said...

Ser, I love your stories and visiting this blog is a true highpoint for my day. If I'm feeling a bit down, I just pop over to your world for a bit. I love your family and seeing them through your eyes.

marji said...

Ser, I can just hear Luke's voice and rush of words. I felt captivated by the story, even with a few hints of where it might be heading. I participate in magical thinking all the time with many verifiable results. Crossing fingers, timing of opening the mailbox, lucky bracelets ... I can't believe you never noticed! Me & Luke, we've got it going.

Nancy said...

Just had to comment again - there is a Mothering article this month - just arrived yesterday - about a child's loss of innocence with fairies. You did the job much better in my opinion!

Anonymous said...

Sometimes if I am on a walk or somewhere where there is something particularly beautiful and enchanting (a small stream in the mountains with ferns and wild roses all overgrown around a pool,) I still can imagine fairies living there. We need magic in this life. I think it is a wonderful gift to give your children. Love, Mom

alaskapeter said...

Another home run, Ser. Thank you! One of my favorite quotes along these lines is from Einstein who wrote (or said?) "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science." I think we all need to find more mystery, wonder, and, yes, magic in our world.

Give the boys a kiss for me! I miss you guys!

alaskapeter said...

Another blog I enjoy reading, "Crunchy Con" by Rod Dreher, recently had a post that reminded me of you, Ser. It was entitled "Moms who build cathedrals" and was comparing stay-at-home mothers to the ancient cathedral builders who, although no one now knows their names, built incredible things because of their faith, love and duty towards God. You should check it out at

Keep building your cathedrals!


Jenny said...


I'm with Molly--brilliant (and all your fans here). I'm laughing out loud but also very moved. You are the world's next Catherine Newman with your ability to be funny and poignant at the same time without ever being sappy.

I especially loved the lines about the pentacostal ritual and the "screaming child on one side of the house and the seething wife on the other." How many husbands must know this reality all too well!