A time and place for unicorns

August 13th, 2008

“The unicorn is the only fabulous beast that does not seem to have been conceived out of human fears. In even the earliest references he is fierce yet good, selfless yet solitary, but always mysteriously beautiful. He could be captured only by unfair means, and his single horn was said to neutralize poison.” –The Unicorn and the Lake

That my daughter, for all her outsized dreams, could be satisfied with only a bedspread for this birthday is something I regard as fabulous. One look and you might not share my opinion of it, but I am a selfless saint, or so it helps we sinners to encourage ourselves daily.

Yesterday I asked her if she wanted to change out her old quilt for the new one, and we did. Off came the patchwork spread that had cushioned her across that first fearsome transition to the big bed. Fadeworn and soft. Off too the menagerie of stuffed animals, the easier for her to swoon at the sight of her new beloved.

“And what about Fay?” I asked. Fay is a three-foot-long stuffed pink unicorn, perhaps the most fabulous gift ever bestowed on a four-year-old, as big as she was when an infatuated little friend named Noah hauled it in to the birthday party five years ago. I was faintly disturbed by its sheer heft, the volume of space it dislocated on the bed. But Georgia adored it and she named it herself: Fay, which was my mother’s middle name, although my mother had died even before Georgia turned two. Did she understand?

“What about Fay?” I’d asked. And she proceeded to tell me a new and fabulous story, of how Fay should now be on the floor, behind the chair, by the turtle tank, for when Daddy needed to kneel down, and protect his knees, and such like that, her tone earnest and good.

I understood.

I understood completely.

There is a time and place for unicorns named Fay, that mysteriously gentle phantasm, the transition between first and last, then and now, hello and goodbye.

I miss my baby. I miss my mommy too.

I release them both into the wild.


  1. the push and the pull- so wonderful to witness our babies growing and yet a bit sad too. My girl’s oversized companion was a giant Pooh, also a birthday gift from a friend. At first it drove me nuts- the giantness of it! Now that she doesn’t need him so much anymore I think back to the times she was in tears, crying out for “Pooh!”

    Comment by nyjlm — August 13, 2008 @ 1:37 pm

  2. Your tales of all things Georgia are sign posts up ahead for me. Ones that I read to the letter in that my J is a year or two behind her. I have begun to notice the transition. While her Build-A-Bears still hog more than their share of real estate on her bed, I can’t ignore the behind-closed-door lip synching that goes on to said Brother and Miss Montana. I am both sad and happy at the same time.

    Comment by Kristin H. — August 13, 2008 @ 1:47 pm

  3. When my grandmother was about 65, she went out with her Greenstamps and came home with a giant plush bear. It took up an entire chair. Spilled over the chair in fact.

    She bought for herself. A few weeks later she bought a tiny bear to keep it company.

    The pair take up most of my son’s floor space now.

    Now matter how old you are, there’s got to be room for bears and unicorns…

    Comment by mapelba — August 13, 2008 @ 3:39 pm

  4. sweet fay. and darling georgia. its amazing how many goodbyes there are everyday when you’re a parent. and hellos, for that matter.

    Comment by Holly — August 13, 2008 @ 3:58 pm

  5. You have a tweener! To me, that is just as mythical as a unicorn. Mine are so small… although the boy just cried because I turned off Star Wars for nap time. He’s only three, but he begged and begged to watch the “bad guys.” And almost freaked out when I tried to take him to bed during the space fight. Sigh. How long is it until video games, skateboards and girls??

    At least the baby is still a baby. Although she does have a frightening predilection for shoes, bags, hats and my tinted lip balm that she steals out of my bag. 18 months old.

    Uh. Oh.

    Comment by Rowena — August 13, 2008 @ 4:56 pm

  6. The misty in betweens are so beautiful to witness!

    Comment by denise — August 13, 2008 @ 5:16 pm

  7. I’ve re-read this post several times. So aware of my own fear/resistance/judgment when it comes to seeing Aviva particularly already absorbing aspects of packaged “culture”. And yet I read about Georgia’s bedspread, and suddenly I’m nine years old too, remembering my crushes and obsessions, and looking at my girl self with compassion, and seeing it so clearly, how we just love our girls and let them move through these things. Or something like this. The temptation to get the thought just right before sharing it here is strong – all the more reason to move on. You are my teacher.

    Comment by Jena Strong — August 14, 2008 @ 2:26 am

  8. Jena,
    I really respect your honesty. Long before she reached age 9 I was gripped with the clutch of resistance you speak of. And I circled the wagons. Our TV mysteriously “broke” for 4 years. It only helped a little, and in that time I saw for myself that my judgment is just plain old judgment, and judgment slices too deep. Then I remembered that when I was in second grade, the Beatles arrived. From this vantage point, we see it as a cultural revolution. From my vantage point then, at age 7 or 8, I had such a crush on Paul that I would steal the album cover from my older sister, sneak into the garage and hide in the back of the station wagon where I would practice kissing Paul’s picture. From this vantage point, with Paul now 100 years old or so and still looking for love, I see it as something more deeply and mysteriously human. Something we all share, and to be treated with humility and respect. Paul and I ended up OK, notwithstanding. Our girls will be fine. Love is divine, especially when it is free from secret and shame. And the music is great for the time being.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — August 14, 2008 @ 2:46 am

  9. I used to feel that sometimes I was watching memories, when I would pick my son up from school, waiting in the car outside the school gate, spotting him spot me, before running to the car in his untucked uniform shirt.

    Comment by DQ's Windmill — August 14, 2008 @ 4:08 am

  10. My heart aches to witness my 9 year old darling waver back and forth over the line, sometimes all little girl, sometimes with an inkling of the womanhood to come.

    Karen – “Love is divine, especially when it is free from secret and shame.”

    What a line of prose. What a motto to live by. If we can give them and ourselves only that – we have given everything.

    Comment by Renae C — August 14, 2008 @ 1:25 pm

  11. I understand completely.

    Comment by Cat — August 14, 2008 @ 2:47 pm

  12. Kaishu,
    So true we are watching memories, and more precisely still, we are dreaming within a dream.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — August 14, 2008 @ 3:08 pm

  13. I share this experience of watching memories. It’s a kind of meta-experience, although I try to let it bring me more fully into the moment of seeing. Thank you, Karen, for your response.

    P.S. David Bowie. Seventh grade. Loved him so much I cried that we couldn’t be together.

    Comment by Jena Strong — August 15, 2008 @ 1:42 am

  14. we hold so tightly with one arm and push with the other….it is the constant joy and pain of seeing them grow, isn’t it? may each day bring blessings…

    Comment by Phyllis Sommer — August 15, 2008 @ 2:27 am

  15. I was always intrigued and delighted with the names my daughter had for her toys.”Baby Dean”(who knows where that came from) and her doll, Miomy, and when an old uncle asked her what her toy doggie was called, thinking it would be something like “Woofy”, she replied very seriously at three, “His name is Pattnar. I know that’s strange but its “instering” and that’s his name.”

    Comment by Pam — August 15, 2008 @ 12:17 pm

  16. Baby Puppy starts kindergarten next week. She insisted on a Hannah Montana lunch bag.

    Oh, my breaking heart!

    Comment by Mama Zen — August 15, 2008 @ 4:17 pm

  17. not so different afterall i guess. i thought the world had become so much more commercialized than when i was little. i feel a need to protect her from it in order to make her own choices. I actually list commercialism as one of my reasons for looking into unschooling! but ahh the sweet sounds of Jordon from New Kids and I was a gonner. mine is so little its hard to imagine this scenario yet. but i always think be whatever you want to be as long as it is different. i suppose making her own choices means the as long as part needs to go.

    Comment by latisha — August 15, 2008 @ 11:26 pm

  18. Latisha,
    Just that recognition, that awareness of yourself can make a world of difference in your parenting. Sometimes, we make very well-defended choices simply to protect ourselves from having to make choices! (And of course we do this in the name of protecting our children.) The world is vast and wide. We have to be engaged no matter where we are and no matter what is happening in front of us.In that way, we all need encouragement to come out, come out and play!

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — August 16, 2008 @ 12:09 am

  19. Your sweet stories have softened my lament and brought back so many precious memories. Stevie exclaimed loudly one day when we were out shopping (seems like yesterday but in Kronos years, maybe 15) “Mommy! Look at that poor boy! I feel so bad for him!” I turned around cautiously, expecting to see a wheel chair or something along those lines. “His mommy doesn’t know video games are bad for you!!!” As the woman turned on me with an incredulous expression, I quickly explained to Stevie that each family has the choice about what their “traditions” will be. No one decision or choice works for everyone. Reading your words has reminded me I have been letting go for years! Thank you and many blessings as your letting go continues!

    Comment by Kathleen Botsford — August 23, 2008 @ 1:51 pm

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