I’m convinced I had the best childhood in the history of all childhoods. But then again, chances are that you believe you had the best childhood too. I guess one of the reasons we all feel this way is because it was the time in all of our lives when things were simplest and in our innocence, we were allowed to believe in the unbelievable, the unexplainable, and feel that the world was a truly magical place. For the most part, we followed our parents’ direction and didn’t have to make hard decisions for ourselves; that was our parents’ job. And we always trusted our parents to make the right decision because they always knew best. And because we didn’t have to make these decisions ourselves we had plenty of time instead to imagine magical creatures, time traveling, and alternate universes. We were able to believe in whatever we wanted-whether it be the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, or the Boogey Man. And with all these unbelievable characters alive in our minds, the world was a much more mysterious yet exciting place, with discovery waiting around every corner.
As a kid, the main reason I found such a thrill in these fantastical ideas was because anything was possible; there were no limits. Believing in these ideas was an escape from the real world that I already saw could be harsh and cruel. I witnessed my mom struggle with mental illness; watched my grandparents try to pick up the slack; and even before my dad got sick, saw him fighting against the world just to make a living. I saw growing up as something awful. It seemed like all the grown-ups were unhappy.
And so I believed in the unbelievable with all of my heart. I wrote letters to Santa Claus begging for him to take me with him on his sleigh every Christmas Eve. I left out carrots for the Easter bunny. And once the leaves changed in the fall I pretended I could fly on a broomstick on every gusty day. Looking back, maybe I loved Christmas and Easter so much because to me, it meant that someone out there in the world besides my family loved me enough to bring me a gift and would always be there to take care of me. In a strange way, I could rely on Santa and the Easter bunny in ways that I worried I couldn’t rely on my family. These characters were consistent; my family on the other hand, wasn’t always that way. And even though my belief in these things was a little strong, I was lucky that my family encouraged my imagination and let live in my fantasies instead of telling me the truth and stifling my creativity.
During the times of the year when I didn’t feel magic in my own reality (like when Christmas was finally over), I escaped to the worlds within books and movies. When I entered these worlds, I left my own behind and forgot about anything that was worrying or bothering me, if only for an hour or so.
One of the first books that ever transported me to another world was the Harry Potter series. One weekend when I was about nine years old, I visited one of my cousins on my dad’s side of the family. A few of my other cousins came as well and we all snuggled up in the TV room and watched Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I had the book at home but had never picked it up. I was amazed. The movie showed a world so much more extravagant than anything I had ever imagined and it was everything I wanted and more. When I returned to my mom’s house that Sunday, I immediately picked the book up and devoured it in days. I found the book to be even better than the movie. I could bring Harry’s world, which was so different from my own, with me anywhere I went and escape at any moment. I loved how quickly he could make things happen with just a wave of his wand and how I knew exactly who the good guys and bad guys were. No matter how complicated the story became, it was still much easier to understand than my own life where no one was purely a good guy or purely a bad guy (as I’ve mentioned in previous posts). I loved transporting myself into a world where I knew that at the end, the good guy would always win-something I wasn’t so sure of in real life. I knew that no matter what outrageous situation Harry found himself in, he’d always find a way out and that somehow, they would solve the problem in a few hundred pages and that Harry would survive his most dangerous battle at the end of the book because, well, it was a series. J.K. Rowling couldn’t exactly kill off the main character and still have a story, after all.
Another story that took me to another world was the movie, “The Wizard of Oz”. I saw so much of myself in Dorothy as she left her old world behind to enter this new, much more exciting-and colorful-world of Oz. She was doing exactly what I had been doing with my books-except it was her reality-or so she thought. Even though the movie gave me a completely irrational fear of tornadoes (considering I live in New York) I always hoped that if I ever did get picked up by one, I’d be taken to Oz as well.
The whole idea of “The Wizard of Oz” however, is that this world is only in her dreams. In the end, Dorothy wakes up and realizes that “there’s no place like home”. And I think I’ve learned this too. No matter how much I may want to escape my reality at times, there is nothing quite like the life I’m living. Sure, there are no fat men in red suits sliding down my chimney to bring me presents every December but the truth is even better: the people I love are the ones to bring those gifts. It is no longer a stranger I believe in, but my own family. Sure, Harry’s world is amazing and filled with magic wands and spells but there are magical things in my own life, even if I just have to look a little harder to find them. And maybe Oz is filled with people in extravagant costumes and personalities but I can find people in my own life that share just these qualities.
I will always love the escape of a good book or movie, but must always remember to look at my own life and realize that even though it’s not magical in the same way as I imagined as a little girl, it is truly magical. And that’s because it’s real.