Growing up, we lived in a two-story, two bedroom, 800 square foot row house. My older brother Steve and I slept in one bedroom, while our infant brother Artie slept in his crib in the larger bedroom with Mom and Dad. Just off our bedroom was the only bathroom, which was convenient in the middle of the night should we need to pee.
My guess is that Steve was five and I just turned four, because we both understood that the world continued on its way even when we fell asleep. So, not to miss out on what our world had to offer, we tried to postpone bedtime, asking for one more story, or suddenly developing severely parched throats. Dad responded by routinely delivering a small glass of water to nip our stall tactic in the bud. We each took a small sip just to keep up appearances that we actually were thirsty.
One night, as Mom finished our story and tucked us in with a final kiss, Dad walked in with our water. Our room was dark, so we couldn’t see what was in the glasses, except that the liquid appeared translucent. We took our obligatory sip and simultaneously exclaimed that our glasses were filled with soda.
Our dad was flabbergasted. “Soda. Impossible. I filled your glasses from the bathroom sink like I always do. It must be a magic faucet.” We were amazed, but not so amazed that we didn’t empty our glasses. After Mom and Dad left the room, Steve and I whispered how lucky we were to have such a magical bathroom. The next morning, even before I emptied my bladder, I stuck my mouth under the faucet and turned on the cold tap. No soda, just water. I wondered if the magic only happened at night, or maybe it took Dad to conjure 7-UP.
After the first surprise, we eagerly awaited the delivery of our next thirst-quencher. Most nights we only got tap water. We took the obligatory sip, hid our disappointment, but did not press our luck with demands or questions. We didn’t want to jinx the magic. Then, when we pretty much forgot it, soda would re-appear in our glasses. We either received 7-UP or ginger ale, probably because they were translucent. We didn’t push for Coke or root beer. “Leave well enough alone and be grateful for what you get,” was already a learned family theme.
After each bedtime surprise, Steve and I whispered about the magic. How did it work? Why was this night different than other nights? Why 7-UP one night and ginger ale another? But drifting off to sleep with unanswered questions. Meanwhile, I had stopped checking the faucet for a morning pick-me-up.
Our unpredictable bedtime libation continued off and on for several months. Then, one night it changed. Even in the dark, we could tell that the fluid was darker. A quick sip told us we had orange soda. Beyond magic to miracle. We gulped down the NEHI. We were euphoric, even before the sugar made it’s way from stomach to bloodstream. Dad carried out two empty glasses, leaving behind two orange mustaches.
It is unclear to me today, nearly 70 years later, why we simultaneously climbed out of bed and tiptoed to our door so we could look in the bathroom. Maybe we were suspicious, or maybe we wanted a refill. I got down on hands and knees and stuck my head around the corner. Steve, resting his weight on my back, leaned over so he could see as well. Dad was at the sink, rinsing out the glasses, a huge bottle of NEHI orange next to him. He turned, and saw his two sons staring at him. We knew. No magic, no miracle. He gave us a disappointed smile and sent us back to bed. His magic was over, too.
I don’t remember Steve and I talking that night. We climbed into bed and silently processed our new knowledge, and would later regret that knowing would end our bedtime surprise. The magic faucet would never provide soda again.
There was more fallout. If there was an explanation for the magic faucet, what about the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny? I became way too skeptical for a four year-old.
Last week, our six-year-old granddaughter lost her second tooth while we were visiting. She was so excited that she decided to brush her fallen tooth so that it would sparkle for the Tooth Fairy. It slipped out of her hands and went down the drain. Zoe was distraught. Through crocodile tears, she wrote a letter to the Tooth Fairy, explaining what happened and pleading with her to come anyway. She not only received a “gold coin,” but a multi-colored letter from her benefactor. The next morning, she danced around the house in pure ecstasy. It won’t be much longer before Zoe learns the truth, but she has had the time to delight in the magic of childhood.
For many reasons, I grew up too fast. My four-year-old probably believes that everything can be explained. I sometimes wonder whether his early skepticism has impacted my ambivalent relationship with a personal God. But last week, that little guy got the pleasure of watching the joy that magic can bring to the world.