A short summary of Eleanor’s sixth birthday:
Eleanor loves the idea of fairies. If you had asked me to list things I thought I might be good about being a Dad seven years ago I would never have said: “my daughter will, for a short time, believe that fairies actually exist.” It happens to be quite wonderful, and I will miss it when it goes. Adults believe in such boring or silly things like the stock market, or sin. Children might believe in silly things but at least they are quite beautiful, and magical things.
We hired a fairy for Eleanor’s party. Her name is Fairy Trina. Eleanor has been dying to have Fairy Trina come to her party for months; ever since she saw her at first one, and then another friend’s party. A few days before Eleanor’s party one of those friends suggested that perhaps Fairy Trina wasn’t a real fairy. When I heard about this I was furious. Yes, that’s right, I was furious that a six-year-old girl had suggested to another six-year-old girl that a forty something year old woman who came to parties wasn’t actually a real fairy. I should say I was sad and furious. I was sad and furious because it could be my daughter’s first step down the road away from believing in things like fairies and towards believing in things like the stock market.
But then at the party what do you think happened when the fairy came?
They were entranced by her, and perhaps the most entranced was the little girl who had said that Fairy Trina might not be real. After the first story I found that little girl outside with Eleanor looking for fairies in the plants at the bottom of our garden.
Which was a lovely thing to see.
I have spent the days around Eleanor’s birthday helping to organise an event at school to promote understanding of Asia. On the day of the party I met a young woman who was a Hare Krishna. She was a lovely person. Quiet and warm. I listened to her talk to the students about the soul and the body, about the eternal, and bliss. I met a Buddhist monk and spent two hours with a Muslim Cleric. Each one talked about what they believed. They were ardent in their belief. Some of the things they said were beautiful. Even the rather sombre, humourless Cleric had a story about all the wonder of creation being like the footprints of God on sand.
But there were also challenging ideas. Both the Muslim and the Krishna spoke out against evolution, and the students struggled with this. They struggled for two reasons. Firstly, because they believe in a scientific and not a religious explanation of how we got here, and secondly, because they didn’t know how to explain why they had this belief or how to defend it because, basically, they are very young. But this in itself is a good thing to learn: that people can have quite radically different beliefs about very fundamental things and we can live together despite this.
On the way home afterwards on the bus an elderly Maori woman related the trials of her day to me: going to Income Support to claim a Gold Card but being told she needed a birth certificate. She was heading home. “Will you go back today?” I asked. She shook her head. “I have to get the meat in the fridge”, she pointed at a plastic shopping bag at her feet. I told her about my daughters having chicken pox. She told me that best thing to do was give them lots of cuddles. I got off at the shops and started walking home. A man with a ragged beard and swimming eyes was marching down the street with his jersey tucked into the top of his high-waisted pants. He was chanting “f&%k off, f&%k off” as he marched, and as he did so he gave the fingers to everyone he walked past. I smiled. “Why not?” I thought. I saw two women ahead of me on the footpath looking back and laughing with each other too.
I’m glad Eleanor believes in fairies. I hope that when this gets pushed aside she believes in other magical and beautiful things. I hope she is wise enough at the end of her life to recommend cuddles as the cure for chicken pox, and to take what she can from the beliefs of others: enough to understand the beauty of the world and the people in it.
I’m sure you will, my dear.
Happy Birthday, Eleanor.