The Age of Magic

Eleven is usually one of those ages that no one really notices. It’s not the first double digit, it’s not the last year before teenager, and it’s not thirteen (omg), which of course launches children into an entirely new category. So eleven typically kind of slides by…

Unless you happen to be a (huge) Harry Potter fan.

Because if you are, then you know that eleven is the age at which witches and wizards receive their owls inviting them to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Eleven is the age at which everything changes, where the chosen ones are weeded out from the muggles, where new horizons are tantalizingly around the corner.

Eleven is magical.

As I’ve said before, one of the most marvelous and astonishing things about sharing the Harry Potter series with Ella (and now Annie) has been that they see the story from Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s perspective.

By the time I met Harry, Ron, and Hermione, I was already an adult myself. It was fascinating to watch them grow, but I did so with an emotional distance – they were kids, and although I was extremely drawn in by the power of [the] storytelling, I never once imagined what it was like to BE eleven. Ella, on the other hand, is viewing the stories through the eyes of a child, almost as a peer. She doesn’t just envision the Gryffindor common room (as I did); she envisions herself IN the Gryffindor common room.

And so I suppose it should come as no surprise that, as she approached her eleventh birthday, Ella hoped she would receive an owl. She never told me so explicitly – she realizes that the books are fiction, obviously – but it was clear that, somewhere in the back of her mind, she was entertaining the possibility that maybe somehow, in some parallel universe we have yet to tell her about, there really is a Hogwarts and she really is a witch, and, well… Wouldn’t that be amazing?

It would. It would be amazing. And I have no doubt that, should such a place exist, Ella would be qualified for admission (if only due to sheer adoration and willpower).

Alas. If there is such a parallel universe, it has yet to make itself known to us. Or maybe we really are just muggles. Whatever the case, Nick and I knew that there would be no owl arriving at the house this past Friday when Ella turned eleven. We’d already celebrated with a Harry Potter party, which was one of our gifts to her (I really will write more about it soon, I promise), but I still wanted her magical birthday to be special…

So, the dining room became the Great Hall – kinda.
Hogwarts house banners and colors, “floating” candles, and a balloon owl (it was the best I could do) — but with an actual letter from a super cool Etsy shop.

It looked pretty neat all lit up.

A bunch of gifts, from all different family members, were Harry-themed. Ella loved each and every one. Even our Elf on the Shelf, Hermey, got into the action.
He was waiting for her – amongst her HP collection – in her bedroom that morning.

Naturally, not every part of Ella’s birthday was about Harry. Annie contributed several additions that, really, were more than a little awesome. First up was a set of three shirts, one for each of the days surrounding Ella’s birthday.

The first:
If you look reeeeally closely, you might see the “Can’t wait!” written in neon yellow on the side…

Next up:
“TODAY IS MY B-DAY!” on the front… 
and, “I’m 1 year more AWESOME!” on the back.
(Photos “darkened” so the text was more visible.)

And finally:
“Yesterday was my birthday” with – my favorite – “Waiting for next year!” in orange on the side. HA.

Ella was tremendously tickled and wore them proudly. Then, there was also Annie’s card to Ella, the middle of which looks like this and might be one of the greatest things of all time:
In perfectly disconnected beginner cursive, the heart-meltingly sweet: “I couldn’t ask for a better sister…”
And beneath it, in print, the heart-stoppingly hilarious: “Well, I guess I could, but I think mom’s a little to[o] old now.” Maybe 40 is older than I’d thought…

Unfortunately, Ella’s birthday fell on a weekday so she couldn’t choose how to spend her day. She did, however, revel in her Great Hall, open presents in the afternoon, wander the mall with Nick (her birthday request; so help me, she is already pining to WANDER THE MALL), eat a dinner of her choosing (loaded baked potatoes and wedge salads), and for dessert – knowing she’s not particularly fond of cake – we surprised her with one of her favorites: cannolis.

Or, more specifically, cannoli “dippers” from Wegmans — a cup with cannoli pastry chips at the bottom and a container of filling at the top. Ella was in heaven (as always, Wegmans is my spirit animal and saved the day).

When the night was nearly at an end, Nick and I called the girls into the living room to give them their final, joint birthday present. In a recent conversation with both girls, they told us that, of all the people in the world, the one they’d most want to meet was J.K. Rowling – they so admire her, they think she’s amazing, there’s no one cooler – but if they couldn’t meet her, at least they’d like her autograph. Nick and I told them such things are impossible; authors don’t do that.

So, yes, we lied to the children. Point blank.

Then I scoured the internet researching such a possibility. After learning far more than I ever wanted to know about autograph authenticating, reputable dealers, pricing, etc., I happened upon an Ebay auction of a signed copy of Quidditch Through The Ages. Long story short, the stars aligned and a few days later, I was – literally – chasing after our mail carrier to pick up the book.

I cried when I opened it.

After calling the girls into the living room and informing them we had one last gift, we made them wash their hands and promise not to spit or cough or in any other way defile the item they were about to receive… and then handed over the book. At first, they were perplexed (“Oh, wow. A paperback copy of a book we already have… How neat… Oh? It’s the UK version? That’s… cool?”). Then, they figured it out and, well…

It was, in the vernacular of the Brits, brilliant.

Although we may be muggles, this book feels positively magical. So does having our E-Bean for a daughter. She is a tween for sure – with everything that you would imagine comes along with such a moniker – and we are just smitten with her. As she grows older, she grows more into and sure of herself, more empathetic, more sensitive, more intuitive and insightful, wittier, kinder, bolder, and oh so much fun. She is positively slaying the French Horn and remains a joy to watch come alive in the pool.

In short, she is incredible.

Happiest eleventh birthday, Eleanor Elizabeth. Although your owl may have been poppable and your Great Hall “floating” candles may have been suspended by fishing wire, our love for your is oh so real. You are magic to us and we will stay with you – to quote Harry’s mom, Lily, Until the very end.

We adore you. Always.

Do you believe in magic?

Every year, we visit the same Santa Claus. I don’t just mean the same place or the same general “Santa,” but actually the very same human being. We discovered him a good many years back when we went to get our Christmas tree at a local nursery and stumbled upon a Christmas Open House they were hosting.

2009. OH, FOR CUTE.

The great part of this is that “our” Santa actually remembers the girls, which makes them feel pretty fantastic. (It doesn’t hurt that Santa hands out little goodie bags filled with candy, a coloring book, and these awesome glasses that “react” to bright lights and make it seem as though snowflakes or gingerbread men are dancing around the bulbs of your Christmas tree. Side note: wearing these glasses while driving is not advised.) The best part of this – or so I thought – is that Ella and Annie believe, to their core, that this is THE Santa Claus, so they feel like they’re in on a secret and basically the coolest, luckiest girls on the planet.

(They will tell you, point-blank, that the other Santas – the ones at the mall or on TV at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade – are merely helpers, perhaps associated with The Big Guy himself, or perhaps just actors dressing the part. This doesn’t bother them or make Santa less real; they understand that one man can only be in one place at a time, duh, so there simply have to be understudies and stunt doubles.)

This belief began because “our” Santa has a real beard, unlike the Santas they’d met previously. It was cemented because they’ve seen photo evidence of Santa delivering presents to our house on Christmas Eve and (coincidentally) The Real Mr. Claus looks remarkably like the Santa at our local nursery. xmas day5I will fully accept responsibility, and declare myself guilty, for this deception because Annie and Ella’s belief in Santa – their desire for him to be real – is so strong and deep, I am willing to do almost anything to protect it; this is a ruse that I am absolutely willing to perpetuate. But as for the photo Santa resembling “our” Santa? MAMA GOT LUCKY THERE, FOLKS.
If you want to be creepy magical like me, check out this website.

When we arrived at the Christmas Open House on Saturday, our sole purpose was to see Santa; we’d already gotten our tree last week, so we only planned to stay for a few minutes, chat with St. Nick, grab the goodies, and leave. The moment we approached him at his bench, his face brightened and his smile beckoned them over.

“My gosh, how the two of you have grown!”

santa2 2014

He invited them to sit beside him and they made a little small talk, during which Santa mentioned that “your elf has been filling me in – he says that you’ve been pretty good this year!” Ella snuck a glance my way, one that showed me she was thinking what I was: How the heck does Santa know for sure that we have an elf (on the shelf)? We do, but wouldn’t that kind of blow his cover if we didn’t?

Naturally, Jolly Old St. Nicholas asked the girls what they’d like for Christmas. Annie listed her three items (the agreed upon appropriate number) and then Ella had her turn, telling him she’d like “an electronic writing thing” (actually a Boogie Board; Santa said he’d talk to the elves about it), a bracelet maker, and an American Girl doll. He laughed at that one, asking her, “Didn’t you get one of those last year?” She laughed back and agreed that she had – to which he replied, “But you can never have too many of those, can you? You need another to keep the first one company!” – and then she shot me The Look again.

Because, yes, she had received an American Girl doll last year, but it seemed unlikely that “Santa” would have remembered such a thing 365 days, and countless visitors, later. It seemed especially unlikely because Ella had never mentioned it to Santa at all; Nick and I had given her that doll last Christmas.

Soon enough, their visit was over, hugs were had, goodie bags were doled out, and the girls were by my side again, with both of them immediately saying, “How did Santa know we got American Girl dolls last year??” To which I replied, very honestly, “I have no idea.”

They were silent for a moment, thinking, when they both looked up at the same time and said, “Then he really MUST be the real Santa!”

Still dazed from the mystical Santa visit, I noticed that the nursery was selling well-priced poinsettias and Christmas cactuses (cacti?), which we give to the girls’ teachers each year, so I sent them over to look at the plants and select the ones they wanted. Meanwhile, I approached the cashiers for a large box in which to put our purchases. As I waited, The Man With All The Toys left his post and came up to me.

“I just wanted to thank you for bringing your daughters here every year. It means a lot to me.”

Oh, my goodness. Thank YOU so much for remembering them!

“How could I not? They’re beautiful and polite, and I love seeing how they grow!”

Thank you very much. Visiting you is one of our Christmas traditions each year. I know they won’t believe forever, but for now, they do, and you make magic for them each time we’re here. Thank you for the magic.

“Well, I certainly try. We all need a little magic.”

I still have no idea how he knew that we have an elf on the shelf, or that Ella and Annie received American Girl dolls last year. It could have been dumb luck – it probably was dumb luck – but it was pretty uncanny. Whatever the reason, my girls came away from our visit floating on air, certain that Santa Claus himself had just given them a hug and told them that they’d been good this year.

And hey… you just never know.

Christmas magic, my friends, indeed. That is the very, very best part.