Watching My Daughter Lose Her Belief in Magic and Find it Again

by Aaron Einhorn
One of the greatest moments of joy for me as a parent was when Mira let me know that she doesn’t think that the characters at Disney are real.

Let me explain.

I love the magic of theatre. I’ve been a theatre person my whole life – I loved going to productions when I was a kid, it was my favorite activity in High School, and it was my major in college. I am, in fact, a part of the last BFA graduating class from Miami University. I met Christina when we were performers at the Ohio Renaissance Festival, and I still perform in whatever way I can as often as I can. I love theatre.

I love stories. I love to write. I love to read. I love watching well told stories in film and television, and it makes me really angry when I see people given such a large audience and not telling stories well. As the Doctor once said…

Of course, with such a love of stories and theatre, naturally I work in IT.

But the point is that I love stories, and I love the magic of storytelling and theatre.

Mira is, of course, at the age where her friends are starting to tell her that Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy and the like aren’t real. And most significantly, that the characters at Walt Disney World aren’t real and that there is no such thing as magic.

I’m not naïve. I know that my little girl’s innocence is a transitory thing, and that someday she’ll look at the world with wide, cynical eyes, and see that things in this world are very often not as we would like them to be. Someday she will know that Santa isn’t real, and that Mickey doesn’t actually have the power to keep anything bad from happening inside Disney property, and that Cinderella is really just an underpaid twenty-something actress in a dress and a wig.

But for the longest time, I wanted to make sure that she could understand that both things can be true. That Mickey might only be someone wearing a costume and an over-sized head, but that with the magic of theatre behind it, that he could also still be the “real” Mickey Mouse. The care and attention that goes into crafting the illusion – and the willingness of the audience to accept the reality – that can make a thing real, or at least, real enough to take you away from the world where taxes are due and your boss is being a jerk and to a world where Fairy Godmothers can wave a wand and make everything better for a little while.

Heck, one of my favorite moments from our trip to Walt Disney World during our honeymoon was while we were waiting to go to dinner at Cinderella’s Royal Table, and we saw the backstage area where the Fairy Godmother was being getting ready for her entrance. As theatre folk, we found that part of the show (which we had watched earlier in the day from the front) just as interesting as the show itself, and so we looked and commented on it. The Fairy Godmother noticed us looking and immediately slipped into character, pointing to our Bride and Groom Mickey and Minnie Ears and making a heart with her hands. The woman was backstage, being prepared to go on, and she still took the time to make us smile about being at the Happiest Place on Earth on our Honeymoon.

Disney-honeymoon

No pictures of the backstage moment, but this was the trip. We wore those ears all day… and that’s it’s own kind of magic.

That’s every bit as magical as transforming a pumpkin into a carriage.

The thing is, of course, that bringing up this topic is tricky. You don’t want to preemptively tell her “Hey, Mira, you know, Tinkerbell isn’t really flying over the castle. That really is a zip line she’s attached to,” too soon. Because you want her to still be able to believe once she knows better, but you don’t want to kill her belief ahead of time.

(And Cordy in her innocence, is a whole different story. She still absolutely Believes with a capital “B”. Mira is starting to question. Cordy never will until we flat out tell her.)

We’ve started hinting about it to her, explaining that magic is real when you want it to be. That to someone who doesn’t believe in the magic, that Mickey is just someone in a costume, but that for those of us who are willing to believe, she has met the “real” Mickey each and every time. And that most importantly, Stitch’s hugs all came from the real Stitch.

Seriously, you would not believe this child's love for Experiment 626.

Seriously, you would not believe this child’s love for Experiment 626.

It’s further complicated, of course, by my Heroes Alliance activities. Mira knows that it’s Daddy and his friends in superhero costumes, but she also understands the importance of letting other kids believe that we really are Superman and Captain America and Wonder Woman and Batman and Rogue and Gambit and Iron Man and so on. Which, of course, has to contribute to her ability to see through the illusion. She’s also been reading Ridley Pearson’s “Kingdom Keepers” series, which presents an interesting mix of showing behind the illusions that keep Disney working while also bringing in real magic of having the Disney characters come to life when the parks are closed. Beyond that, two years ago, during our first family trip to the park, we met Cinderella at the Town Square just an hour before our dinner reservation at Cinderella’s Royal Table. Christina made a comment to Mira about how Cinderella would have to move fast to get back to the castle in time for dinner, at which point Mira said “Or it’s just someone in a costume.”

So, I actually felt some relief last night while we were all out at dinner at Red Robin and the discussion of what the girls want to be when they grow up came up. Through the course of the talk, the topic of the Disney College Internship program came up and both girls thought that might be something fun to do. Christina asked what they would want to do at Disney, and Mira answered “Be Princess Anna.”

Christina and I shot each other a look. Was this the moment when Mira finally said that she no longer believed that the characters were real? But then she continued. “You know, the people they have in costume for when the real one has to be somewhere else.”

I don’t think she still believes. But I think she still wants to believe, and wants to make us believe she believes. And that’s enough for now.

Magic is real. Magic is about the stories we can tell each other, in print, in person, on stage or screen, or from a performer at an amusement park taking pictures with delighted children. And I think Mira is starting to understand that. In some ways, I’d rather she believe in that kind of magic, even if she does have to start to understand that when Maleficent becomes a dragon during “Fantasmic”, it’s all just special effects.

Besides, Mira will always be my Princess Anna, so who am I to argue with her?

This cast member stopped us and said "Princess Anna! You're my favorite Princess! Can you take a picture with me?" I of course had to take their picture, and then "promise" to send the picture on to the CM. She put such a smile on Mira's face you wouldn't believe.

This cast member stopped us and said “Princess Anna! You’re my favorite Princess! Can you take a picture with me?” I of course had to take their picture, and then “promise” to send the picture on to the CM. She put such a smile on Mira’s face you wouldn’t believe.