For my mother, who taught me about magic.

When I was a little girl, I believed in fairies.

I spent half my time imagining how fairies might look and live, roaming the forest behind our house in search of forgotten fairy garments, fashioning palaces out of Kleenex boxes and tree bark—and pretending to be a fairy myself, much to the amusement of our neighbors.

One day, I started writing to the fairies. I left my letters folded up in the cups of tulips or tucked beneath tree roots. Unbeknownst to me, my mother saw me. And for the next year, she wrote back.

In beautiful letters painstakingly crafted from scraps of purple paper, my mother wrote back as a fairy named Lilac who faced the same struggles that I did. Though hers was a world of glimmering wings and dresses spun from raindrops, she too dealt with timeouts from her elders, the occasional unkindness of friends and classmates, and many other matters very dear to the heart of a little girl.

One day, the fairies had to move away. I was growing up. The last letter was from the Fairy Queen herself, who thanked me for being a friend to her subjects and reminded me of the important things I would need to keep practicing as I got older: things like faith, kindness and laughter.

Though the letters came to an end, the magic did not. My mother had given me the space to let my imagination flourish. She had given me the warmth of a friendship no less real for its mysteriousness. She was magical with that very particular kind of magic that lets daughters know they have been well and truly loved.

This Mother’s Day, there is no gift I can give my mother to equal the wonder and delight of my year as a friend of the fairies. I have watched her tackle painful life challenges far removed from the fantastical world she created for me. I have seen faith, kindness and laughter keep my parents together, endure through long illness, and grow my sister and I into women who will face life with bravery and grace.

One day, I will have a daughter of my own who finds a tiny letter in the garden. I have learned a very particular kind of magic.

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