An interesting thing happened on our brief trip to Santa Barbara. I was goofing around in the pool with Annie when it became apparent that a sunbathing couple was talking about us. I eavesdropped on their conversation (pretending to be oblivious) and discovered they were discussing something I had just done with Annie. The man characterized it as “funny,” but the woman called it “creepy.”

It wasn’t anything I thought anyone would notice, let alone find interesting enough to discuss. Annie had found the filter on the side of the pool, and started to stick her arm into it. Since this wasn’t exactly the safest thing for her to do, I pulled her arm out and leaned close.

“Don’t do that,” I said with a serious expression. “Monsters are in there!”

“Monsters?!”

“Yes. That’s where the monsters live. We have to leave them alone.”

Annie peered into the filter, wide-eyed, then allowed me to swim us away. As we went she shouted, “Bye-bye, Monsters!”

The woman had asked the man why Annie said that, and the man, who had been listening apparently, told her.

“Eww,” she said. “That’s creepy.”

“Nah,” he replied. “It’s funny!”

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There’s monsters in there!!!”

As they debated this it dawned on me that what I did could have been seen as a weird thing to do, like I was trying to scare the Dickens out of a toddler. And while I was trying to scare her (just enough to keep her from putting her hand where she shouldn’t), there was a bigger reason I told her there were monsters in the filter: I wanted to spark her imagination.

I remember as a kid the world seemed so full of magic. Santa was real, so was a rabbit who brought you chocolate, and a woman came in the night to trade coins for your teeth.

My Dad used to do things to make the world seem even more magical, and often took my sister and me on hikes behind our house into what he called The Magical Forrest. Looking back as an adult, The Magical Forrest still seems pretty incredible. It was a wooded area – perhaps a couple of miles in diameter – and in the early part of the twentieth century a number of families lived there. But then the road was moved, and their homes ended up abandoned. When I was a kid – a good forty years after the last people moved out – these homes were ramshackle, overrun with foliage, and covered with graffiti. From a kid’s perspective, however, they seemed like they belonged to another world.

My Dad helped with that, of course. With each step he warned that we had to “Watch out for trolls,” and said that if we saw any elves we were to “wave hello because they might give us gold.” I literally remember seeing elves and trolls peeking around the sides of those abandoned homes. It was just my imagination, of course, but it was so exciting! I want Annie to have experiences like that too, and while saying there are monsters in the filter is nowhere near as exciting as The Magical Forrest, it’s a start, right?

(Side note: The Magical Forrest is no more. Not long after we moved away some land developers put track homes where the magic used to be.)

In defense of the woman by the pool, I can see how she might’ve thought it was creepy to tell a tiny kid monsters exist, but I had a feeling Annie would take it as I intended. The joke will be on me if she starts having nightmares, but tonight she waved me over to the window and pointed out into the darkness.

“Monsters, Dada!” she said with a twinkle in her eye. “Dere’s Monsters out dere!”

I nodded and peered out with her at monstersย only she could see, and smiled knowing I was helping to make her world a little more magical. That is, you know, as long as I wasn’t scarring her for life.