I was the stand-in mystery reader for a Kindergarten class at the school where I work. A mystery reader is someone who reads a book aloud to a class and their identity isn’t revealed until they walk into the room.
I read them a book about a penguin’s epic search for a cupcake. My first thought was that children authors have run out of things to write about. My second thought was that the kids most likely related to the protagonist; finding a cupcake is probably the most important part of a 5 year old’s day.
After the reading, the kids asked me to do magic. I did a couple of half-assed tricks, but it didn’t matter. Considering that almost everything is amazing to a 5 year old, you don’t need much magic to make a young mind twitch.
I said my farewells and started to walk out of the class. As I got near the door, I felt a tug on the back of my jacket.
It was a kid who had been in the front of the audience the whole time. His face was red, his eyes were puffy, and his hair looked like it hadn’t been cut in a year.
"Hey there," I said, smiling. "Looks like you had a rough day, huh?"
He nodded slowly.
"Thanks for having me in your class today," I began to say. "It was fun to -"
"Can you do a magic trick for my family?" he asked.
"Of course," I told him, my heart swelling. "Just come find me at dismissal when your parents are around and I’ll do something cool. What kind of trick should I do for your family?"
"Can you do anything?" he said, looking less upset.
"For you? Of course!" I told him.
You see, I can make coins disappear. I can pull them out of your ear. I can make a chosen card appear on my iPhone wallpaper. Ask me to fly and I could do that, or something close to that. Time travel is easy with some sleight of hand and a deck of cards, and I can even invoke a ghostly spirit if you and I are alone in a room together. I can make a ring float and I can pull off my thumb.
None of these things are real, of course. When I’m wearing my figurative magician hat, I’m a fantastic conjuror and an even better liar. The most important part of selling a magic act is making someone believe, just for a few minutes, that you really do have magical powers. I would’ve transformed oranges into apples if it would make this kid smile.
And then he asked for the one trick I don’t know how to do.
It’s easy to forget sometimes. Children learn so fast that we forget where they were just a few years ago. Performing magic for children every day is a gift, but magic is a different type of thing to a kindergartener. My fifth grade students enjoy being tricked. They think of creative ways to determine how I accomplished something. But for the kindergarteners, it’s real. All of it.
Magic is real. School is real. Getting left alone after school in an empty room is real. Having a father who doesn’t care for you is real. That ramen dinner is real. Shitting on the bathroom floor to cry for help is real. Structure is real and a lack of it disturbs reality.
Kids are so full of reality that it makes me sick sometimes. They should be allowed to live outside of it, especially on warm summer nights. They should have room for dreams in their bedroom. They should only be scared by the dark. Fear is a part of life, but with some kids, fear is not something to face, or to greet, or to understand on a personal level. Facing fear is what adults claim to do when they run out distractions. No, for kids, fear is that tiny little thing that they carry around in their lunchbox. The pen cap that they use as a makeshift whistle. A badge of honor and a smoke signal, all at once.
"I want you to make me, my father, my mother, and my brother live forever."
Kids today, man. Back when we were five, we were invincible.
It’s a trick I don’t know, but it’s the most familiar illusion.