A better world

Youthful imagination opens the door to childhood once again


Randy Richardson

As the parent of a 3-year-old, I live in a world that exists somewhere between reality and fantasy.

Parts of that world are not unlike the one I knew before. There are still the evening news reports with nothing but bad news. There's still a job to do so that I can pay the bills. And there's still cooking and cleaning to do. But all of this seem just a little more complicated now that I'm a dad.

The bad news on the evening news programs causes me to fret over the kind of world that my son will grow up in. Getting to work and doing the cooking and cleaning are not as easy as they once were because, well, there's that little gremlin to deal with, always tugging at my legs.

But the other part of the world is full of fairy tales and swashbuckling adventures. It's a pretty cool place filled with all the wide-eyed wonder and innocence that is abundant in childhood, but gets tempered by the knowledge and experience that come with age.

Years ago, I kicked out of my life the likes of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. All because they weren't real. What a terrible thing to do.

Now they're back in full force thanks to The Kid and my world is a better place for it. They're no more real than they were before, but they are real to my son. So, even though I know that they don't exist, I get to act as if they do.

All parents live in this fanta-reality world. Getting to see the world through a child's eyes is perhaps the greatest gift an adult receives with parenthood. It opens the door to a world you once inhabited but whose doors closed long ago. You can once again believe in the unbelievable. The impossible can become possible.

Vacations are drastically different from what they were before I became a parent. Captain Hook is not just a Disney employee in costume but is actually THE Captain Hook. And the tick-tock I hear is not my own alarm clock at the bedside, but comes from inside the belly of an oversized hungry crocodile.

Weekend excursions have changed as well. The knight on horseback at a Renaissance fair is no longer just acting, he is truly jousting for king and country. And when he raises his lance in victory, cheers resound because of the skill and daring he displayed rather than because he followed a staged script. Sure, I know the competition is fixed and the winner predetermined, but I pretend it isn't.

Before I became a parent, Disney cruises and Renaissance fairs were not even on my radar. They are things that I do now, though, because they are part of the world in which my son lives. It is a much better world than the one that I knew before he came along, and I feel fortunate that he reintroduced me to it.

Just a year ago, my son wanted nothing more than to grow up and be a chimney sweep, just like Bert in Mary Poppins. But that life's aspiration recently went up like a puff of smoke. And not just because he figured out that it was a job that required cleaning, a task that falls somewhere between walking and bathing on the disagreeable scale for him.

Instead, what happened was his discovery that his true life's calling is to be a knight in shining armor. He foresees a world where he'll get up in the morning, slip into his armor and go off to work with a sword in his belt and a lance in hand. He dreams of days spent jousting, guarding the castle and protecting his king.

I know that one day, not too far in the distant future, he will wake up with the knowledge that there are very few available jobs for knights in the world today, only ones for actors whose job it is to dress up in a knight costume and put on a good show.

That's part of life, part of growing up.

I wish it didn't have to come to that. The world today could use a few good knights in shining armor.

I'm just thankful that I have a son who lets me live in a world where they still exist.

Randy Richardson and his wife, Mitsuko, live in Evanston with their son Tyler, 3. He is an attorney with the Social Security Administration's disability appeals branch.


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