Before having a child, I believed in the magic of childhood. In that time of blessed ignorance, the phrase conjured up images of sun-dappled meadows in some land of eternal spring, where a child, dressed in spotless white clothes, ran toward me in slow motion before falling into my arms, both of us laughing—with purity, like an angel would laugh.
I’m not laughing anymore.
First, my child’s clothes—not to mention my own—are always dirty, so choosing white would just be foolhardy. Second, the speed of our lives is less slo-mo and more Keystone Cops. Finally, with my pale skin I shun treeless meadows—as it stands, I have a permanent red stripe on my back from never having enough time to properly coat myself with sunscreen.
The real magic of childhood, I’ve discovered, is more like the magic you’d find at a circus sideshow or a Vegas opening act—mysterious, baffling and requiring a two-drink minimum. And there’s nothing up the magician’s sleeve, unless you count yesterday’s mac ‘n cheese.
So when you enter the big top or seedy nightclub of parenthood, here are 10 of the acts or tricks you’ll find yourself a captive audience to—or unwilling participant in—by the time your kid hits kindergarten.
1. The Escape Artist
AKA Baby’s first trick—performed when you attempt to swaddle them before nap time. When you check on them 10 minutes later, because they’re still babbling, your mini Houdini has one arm out and is waving it in the air in what you would swear is triumph.
When they become toddlers, they learn to escape their cribs, stacking toys and pillows or shimmying up the side before hoisting themselves over the edge and dropping to the floor like cats in diapers.
As they age, they become expert in squirming out of your grasp to evade a tissue or to delay leaving the park. You’ll think you’ve got them, but when you look down you’re holding an empty sweater.
2. Sleight of Hand
Early on, you’ll be good at this, switching out your real keys or phone and replacing them with fake versions, but that’s before they learn the concept of object permanence. Soon enough, every time you turn around they’ll have something in their hands they shouldn’t. It could only have been magic because often these are items you didn’t even know you had in your home. You’ll wonder: Is this tiny person capable of producing razors out of thin air?
Even when they’re older, if you turn away for a moment in the park, when you turn back they’re sure to be wielding an old piece of wood covered in splinters and bubonic plague.
3. The Zig Zag Lady: C’est moi
Some days you’ll feel like you’re in a box, your midsection being pulled one way while your head and legs remain behind. And you’re no contortionist.
If you work, when you’re there, you’ll think you’re missing out on time with your child; when you’re with your child you’ll think, wow, work ain’t so bad. At least you feel capable there. And you can hear your thoughts, and drink your coffee while it’s hot, and eat lunch without a little person sitting on you (or a big person, I assume, unless that’s your job).
4. Disappearing Acts
Things of yours that have disappeared since your child arrived on the scene: Sleep. Sanity. The last bite of cake. Time (to eat dinner, exercise, shop by and for yourself, chat with friends). Illusions of control. Your pride.
5. The Endless Scarf
This one happens during potty training when you leave your toddler in the bathroom by herself for a while and return to find all the toilet paper rolls unwound on the floor. Voila!
6. Cup and Balls
This is Daddy’s specialty, except replace “and” with “his,” and it’s not a trick so much as self-preservation.
7. What’s in the Hat? Or, Surprise!
Don’t put your hand anywhere without looking first and don’t expect to find doves or a soft, fluffy bunny. More likely, you’ll discover vomit, poop or a sticky mystery.
8. The Bullet Catch
What’s dangerous, travels faster than the eye can see, and has a sketchy relationship with dental hygiene?
9. Three-Card Monte
AKA The Short Con, which is an appropriate description of your child. You and your partner are definitely her marks, and she doesn’t even need a shill to fleece you. Also, if your child ever asks you to “pick a card, any card,” the magic is you will never be right, and she will get very upset with you.
10. The Vanishing Coin Trick
Abracadabra! You’re broke.