Flights of imagination give place to real 'wings'

Like many small children, my son Carlos longed for wings. His yearnings were not prompted by superheroes, but emulated from a steady diet of the Flower Fairy books, Peter Pan, and bird watching. He wanted to soar on gossamer wings and inhabit those worlds bright with flowers, bird song, and youthful adventures.

My husband, John, and I debated the merits of creating a pair of wings to enhance Carlos's playtime when he busied himself creating his own little worlds. There was the Sand Colony dug into the side of a hill where creatures only he understood lived, and the manor house for a toad that reminded Carlos of the rascal from "The Wind in the WIllows."

If we gave Carlos wings, could we trust our imaginative young son to differentiate between the real and the pretend?

At last, because we wanted to nurture Carlos's creativity, we gave in.

One afternoon, I spread out a large remnant of stiff black fabric, and Carlos lay on top of it so I could "measure" his wings. We had decided upon butterfly-shaped wings that would be attached both to his arms (the better for flapping) and by straps like those on a backpack.

My butterfly wanted to sparkle. Using household glue like finger paint, Carlos slathered the goop over his wings, then shook vials of glitter across the fabric. Swirls of gold, blue, red, and green shimmered like the Northern Lights; his wings glowed with energy. We repeated the process on the other side of the wings, and for several years afterward I swept up glitter from the cracks of the porch floorboards.

While we waited for the wings to dry, Carlos and I discussed how these were not real wings. He promised that he would not attempt any flights from the peak of the barn, that he would use these wings only to fly into those lands gleaming in his mind.

And fly he did, from the picnic table, stumps, and other low takeoff stations. Carlos fluttered about the yard and his mind sailed away as he glittered in the sunshine.

He wore his wings in plays performed in our barn and even shared them with playmates, all the while remembering that his wings were only for pretend.

Years passed and eventually Carlos hung his wings in the playhouse and threw himself into beekeeping.

His eyes were on the wings of his bees and their honey, the liquid gold that shone in glass jars. Beekeepers need trucks to haul trailers of hives, and this summer his gaze lingered on every truck parked by the road with a "For Sale" sign.

John and I discussed the merits of investing in a truck for Carlos and his growing business. Was he ready for this responsibility?

We would appreciate not having to transport him back and forth from college. And deep inside, we both knew that Carlos had been careful with his first pair of wings.

The Sunday before Labor Day, Carlos's new-to-him red truck gleamed in our driveway, packed with his youthful possessions and a crateful of honey to sell on campus. His second year of college shimmered before him. After hugs all around and the usual request to "call us when you get there," he hopped into his truck and then pulled away.

About 20 yards from where John and I stood, we saw the flicker of his brake lights as Carlos paused, breathing in the richness of home one last time before taking flight with his new red wings.

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