My son's best friend set out a shiny penny on the night before St. Patrick's Day and, in the morning, awoke to find that leprechaun had taken the penny and delivered in its place candy, other coins and, most significantly, a Night Fury dragon action figure (with catapult tail).
Why, my son would like to know, did the leprechaun not come to our house?
Listen, kid, I was tempted to say, leprechauns are not a thing. OK? Frankly, you're getting a little old for the whole Tooth Fairy business, but she's likely to keep coming at least until I run out of those golden dollars I get as change at the parking garage.
But, of course, I didn't say that.
At 40 years old -- a full-on grown up responsible for raising three kids, running a company, publishing a book and managing a household -- I found myself feeling really, really bad because I didn't know we were supposed to put out a shiny penny.
I was feeling a bit like I'd let him down already because, for St. Patrick's Day, we'd only dressed in green, gone to a party and made Lucky Charms treats. I wasn't home on the night before the holiday and, though I'd left my husband and our nanny with green shirts and socks for each kid, plus the rest of the Lucky Charms to serve with breakfast, I knew I wasn't delivering a holiday celebration up to my usual standards. I was not, for example, packing their lunches with green and holiday-themed items. I was not affecting a brogue or dancing a jig while getting them off to school.
So, yes, I was already having one of those working mom moments when you feel all conflicted and then get mad at yourself for feeling all conflicted because the men in the office certainly aren't and then you either go the rest room and cry for minute, honestly contemplating the possibility that you should quit your job in order to guarantee that your kids never again lack for appropriately holiday-themed bento box lunches, or you walk to Starbucks, drink a fancy coffee drink, pull yourself together and get on with your day.
But the shiny penny for the leprechaun thing -- that hit me later, in a whole different way.
Because it was after the fact, of course. And there was the additional dilemma created by the penny and charmingly misspelled and utterly heartbreaking note my son wanted to leave out by his bed, days after the holiday had come and gone, just on the off chance that there might still be a few straggler leprechauns still wandering around our woods. He really, really wants one of those toy dragons.
He also wants to believe in magic. And I love that, at 7, he still does.
But I couldn't deliver on this one. I didn't find out about it until after our nanny had gone home for the evening and, with my husband working out of town, I had no one to stay with my three little ones while I ran to the store for leprechaun loot.
And, anyway, I didn't think I should. As ridiculous as I think the whole leprechaun thing is --can't there be some things that are not about candy and toys for kids? -- I am a stickler for narrative cohesion. Having a random leprechaun show up at our house several days late just seemed wrong.
You know, I think the leprechauns disappear back into their magic places right after St. Patrick's Day, I told my son, as I was tucking him into bed. We might have to wait until next year.
He smiled and nodded, but he was just humoring me. He was sure one would come.
This morning, the penny and note still here, untouched, the breakfast table was a sad, sorry place. Never mind the homemade banana bread and the organic chicken sausage; my oldest son was slumped over his plate like he was enduring yet another low moment of a terrible childhood. His younger brothers were sweetly trying to comfort him, but he shrugged it off, world weary in his despair. He slunk into his coat, moped out to the bus stop.
I caught him for a moment alone and reminded him of all the fun we'd had over the weekend leading up to St. Patrick's Day -- the trip to Chicago to celebrate with old friends, the treats and music and laughter. He smiled wanly.
Now, hours later, it is so, so tempting to organize some grand surprise for tonight to cheer him up -- a note from leprechaun describing how he got lost trying to follow us home from Chicago, complete with green glitter and chocolate coins wrapped in gold. That would assuage my guilt, certainly. And it would delight my son.
But it would do nothing to help him grow into the person I know he can be. He needs a little grit, to deal with the things in life that do not work out as you'd hoped.
Magic, after all, is a mysterious thing and can't always be summoned at will. Perhaps the next silly holiday observance will be all the more fun for this one having been a bit disappointing.
So much of the parenting culture that surrounds us, from the intensely-edited photos on social media to the elaborate motherhood-as-project tomes of the bookstore and blogosphere, is focused on creating a never-ending series of perfect moments in our kids' lives. I'm not immune to that. I want it, too. (Talk to me about the instructional videos I've downloaded in preparation for making a Lego birthday cake next month.)
But I am also hoping that a bit of imperfection slips in every now and again, as it has this week. Because that's life. And, ultimately, the happiest people are the ones who know that, make their peace with it, and go on.
And also because, seriously people, leprechauns are not a thing.
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