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Jewish World Review
Nov 30, 2011
/ 4 Kislev, 5772
Do You Believe In Magic?
Parents throwing birthday parties for young children have always enjoyed a range of entertainment options. Clowns are, of course, a traditional favorite, and guaranteed to give children of all ages an unforgettable experience, even if it's only by making frequent appearances in their subsequent nightmares.
A more contemporary idea is to rent a karaoke machine. This is the perfect solution for parents who, in planning their child's party, find themselves thinking, "You know what's missing from our lives - the opportunity to hear more children screaming out songs by Miley Cyrus."
But perhaps the most popular children's party entertainment option is the magician. This is also the most baffling. Because, and please correct me if I'm wrong, to a child the whole world is pretty much one nonstop magic show. You flick a switch and the lights come on. Magic! You get strapped into a carseat and suddenly you're stuck. Magic! You leave your Halloween candy on the kitchen table and in the morning all the Milky Ways are gone, with only wrappers left behind in the garbage can and Daddy's fingerprints smeared in chocolate on the countertop. Magic!
The other problem with exposing children to magic is that they may start believing that it's real - and that they can perform magic tricks themselves. At a recent party my five-year-old son watched a magician produce a rabbit from an apparently empty box. When my nine-year-old daughter said she would love to get a pet bunny but mean old Dad would never allow it, her brother wasn't concerned. "I'll just use magic to get us a bunny," he said, dismissively. Later, he seemed genuinely disappointed when his homemade magic wand not only failed to produce a bunny, but also proved ineffective in turning me into a frog.
But magic represents just one of many ways we intentionally mislead our children about the world around them. Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy are two obvious examples. But there are plenty of others, many of which draw me into conversations like this:
Son: Daddy, is there really such a thing as pirates?
Me: Well, yes, but not like the pirates you know. They don't have hooks for hands or walk around with parrots on--
Son: But do they sail in ships and steal treasure?
Me: Sure, in a manner of speaking, but it's still not the same as--
Son: But do they wear ragged clothes and terrorize the high seas?
Me: Yeah, they do, but... hey, isn't Spongebob on?
Thankfully, disappointment at learning that magic isn't "real" quickly passes as soon as the child realizes, "Wait a minute! I can learn to do magic tricks and fool grownups the same way they fooled me!" Parents will know a child has entered the "magic" phase from telltale signs such as discovering an entire pitchers' worth of milk spilled on the carpet or that the cat can no longer be coaxed out from under the sofa.
For other kids, however, it's not just a phase. Instead, an early exposure to magic launches these children - mostly boys - on to a lifelong love of the conjurer's arts. Not only does magic promote creativity and hand-eye coordination, but it also keeps nerdy boys occupied during the teen years when the other boys are busy dating.In truth, most adults enjoy magic, even as we grow older and, presumably, wiser. Still, magic is only interesting if you retain a shred of the belief that maybe, just maybe, it's real. "Why, if this guy in a cape can make his assistant disappear," we think, "then perhaps there's hope for my plan to get rid of my boss…"
That's why magicians are wise not to reveal the secrets behind their tricks. Not only because it preserves an air of mystery, but also because when you find out how a trick is really done, it's always a little disappointing. "Oh, there's a hidden panel. That makes sense. Ah well, I guess I'll have to put up with my boss after all."
In truth, the childhood "loss of innocence" is, essentially, the process of discovering how much of the world isn't really magical - that presents aren't brought on Christmas Eve by a jolly old elf from the North Pole, that there's no mystical creature who pays cash for discarded baby teeth, and that maybe Rex wasn't sent to a farm upstate to play with other dogs when he got old.
But just because children will inevitably lose much of their sense of childhood wonder, they don't have to lose it all. The world is still a pretty magical place, even if pirates today wield Uzis instead of cutlasses and don't say, "Shiver Me Timbers." So the next time my five-year-old son tries to perform some magic and then asks me, "Daddy, is that real?" I'll know just what to say:
JWR contributor Malcolm Fleschner is a humor columnist for The DC Examiner. Let him know what you think by clicking here.
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08/07/08: My newfound sense of self (promotion)
06/24/08: Getting the brand back together
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© 2006, Malcolm Fleschner