I just finished another final exam. Another step taken on this long road to my master’s degree. A few days ago, and for this same class, I concocted a 20 page research paper that was targeted at graduate students who currently teach others to write. I’m not there yet. Soon, but not yet.

After the exam, I went outside to sit on the porch. A ritual I engage in when I need to clear my mind, or even to think more. On the way out the door, one of my daughters was talking about how she wanted to do something she saw on TV. I think someone jumped up and grabbed onto the legs of a huge bird flying by. It was, to my mind, something from a fantasy movie.

Instead of clearing my mind and decompressing after the final exam, I pondered what my daughter said. I thought it was funny how my kids live innocently between the world of fantasy and reality. I thought back to the fantastic feat she described as I departed, and my thoughts would have been, “I may not be able to hang on to the birds feet.” Or, “If I did see a bird that size, my first thought would not be to jump at it … I’d probably shoot it or run.”

My daughter, Sydney, from whose comment these ideas came, has ADHD. She has a wild, vivid, beautiful, and frustrating imagination. She is my most free-spirited child, and I would never medicate her or change her personality. No matter how challenging she can be. Sometimes, she and I sit down to write stories together and they usually have unicorns, bank robbers, and flowers in them. It’s a way I discovered to allow her to get her thoughts out because she was struggling to write them in her journal. Her hands couldn’t write as fast as her mind came up with ideas. Enter, stage right, my typing skills.

While helping her to write these stories, I noticed that her mind was a distracted mix of fantasy and reality. For example, in her world where a unicorn name Lyra exists, it’s absolutely necessary to eat carrots. She also ensures that at some point her mother gets a gift, usually flowers. The protagonist in her stories is Sydney Bean, a warrior princess with a unicorn sidekick. Together, they thwart the plans of criminals who are, so far, limited to the world of reality, meaning they can’t fly or run on rainbows. They can probably eat carrots, though it’s never come up.

I’m no psychologist, but I am one who is blessed with many kids. That means I get to observe them, study them, and write about them from time to time. I’ve noticed a wonderful disconnect between their perceptions of reality and the infinite possibility of fantasy. For instance, when the first Frozen movie came out years ago, my kids begged and pleaded to go ice skating. We lived in El Paso, Texas at the time, and I wasn’t sure how to make that happen. Happily, there was a year-round skating rink in the middle of the Chihuahuan desert. I also learned that El Paso has a hockey team.

Anyway, I arranged for us to go ice skating one afternoon. On the drive there, I listened as three of my daughters talked about which “tricks” or “moves” they were going to do first. The general consensus was on the jumping spin or the one-legged whirly-do. (These terms are not technical, merely the verbiage they used.) Keep in mind, none of them had ever been ice skating, or even roller skating. But somehow, in their minds, they believed in their untested ability to do these tricks, and they were beliefs totally separated from reality.

I spent the next two hours scooping them up off the ice, leading them back to the side bar, and wiping their tears before they froze to their little cheeks. I’d done much skating growing up, and they were amazed that I bounced all over the rink, like a ping-pong ball coming to their aid.

They were silent walking back to the car, holding their hot chocolate with both hands nestled close to their bodies. This despite the 94 degree heat from the desert sun. They were silent most of the way home, except for one astute observation: “We need to practice more,” observed my oldest daughter.

I am fascinated by the relentless belief in fantasy that my kids have. It highlights a paradox I face as a father. I want them to never lose that passion for life and the belief that anything is possible; but reality sometimes pulls them down, that inescapable ball and chain. I will never lie to them, but I want that wonder and delight to remain in their hearts forever.

It made me wonder of myself: when did I stop living a life of fantasy? When did I surrender to reality? When did the pain I have transition from growing pains to inhibition?

“Those are all questions for which I have no answer,” I declared, as I lifted myself out of the patio chair. My back straightened with a crack as I stepped towards the door.

(Featured pic courtesy of David Mark via Pixabay.com)