Saturday, May 12, 2007

Fairy Magic...fete des fées

The hand made invitations that went out said, "Crois-tu aux fées?" (Do you believe in fairies?)By the time Tess's much anticipated princess/fairy birthday party was over, it was hard not believe in some sort of magic.

Beth as usual provided the vision, the creative design, and the craft work. She designated me as the fairy storyteller, a job which really intimidated me never having thought much about fairies let alone never ever having tried to divert a group of five year old French princesses with a fairy story... I worried all morning about it .

The central conceit of her party vision was to have the kids build fairy houses in the adjoining wood, to leave the houses for awhile, and then to return later to find them occupied by, you guessed it, seven fairies. Beth painstakingly and lovingly crafted these beauties you see in the photo the week before.

She installed in the yard as her central set piece a tente des fées.
This was the epicenter of that other world, the magic one. The gauzy walls kept the illusion alive and the "real world" at bay for a good three hours. The mosquito net served alternately as a an atelier for making fairy crowns, a cozy place to hear a fairy story, and delightful setting for a fairy tea party later.

That morning as I pondered the fairy house activity in the woods, I decided to mark seven trees in the woods with red roses. This would make it easy for the kids to locate sites where they could make their houses.

The Princesses, Caroline, Constance, Casandra, Pauline, and Margot had been invited to join us. They came in fine array, the only hitch being that Princess Margot was a little late (missed the group photo) which kept the others hanging expectantly about the garden gate for a time. The mothers stayed long enough to exchange a few pleasantries and then left us.
I have to say that the prospect of spending three hours with this group was far less daunting than the crew of pirates we entertained six weeks ago for Colm's birthday. As I recall that event, it seems every balloon was popped. skewered, or smashed inside of the first twenty minutes. By contrast, the princesses popped nary a single one all afternoon.

Colm being the only boy, and the only one who really doesn't operate in French, slipped in and out of the mix, often reduced to a kind of Tarzan, prankster persona in which he conveyed things by gestures such as running about madly or whacking girls with balloons or sitting tamely next to the beautiful creatures who had invaded his house. The princesses suffered his presence gracefully for the most part and even occasionally sent a smile his way.

After some intitial socializing and running about, the princesses were called into the tent to make their fairy crowns.

After that it was time to pin the horn on the unicorn. The first hour was over before we knew it.
Then it was back in the tent for the fairy story which was supposed to serve as prelude to the house making activity. The kids all sat in a circle and listened as I told them about a magic (fictional) summer when my father took me to an island near La Rochelle where there was a un bois des fées.
When I asked my father how he knew it was a fairy forest he pointed to a butterfly fluttering by.
"What is the most beautiful, the most fragile, and the most magical thing in the forest?" he asked me. Without waiting for a response, he answered for me, "The butterfly. The butterfly loves magic. It loves change. It changes from a caterpillar to a butterfly, and every night it changes from a butterfly to a fairy."

I pause and look at the kids.
"Ask yourself, have you ever seen a butterfly at night?"
They shake their heads.

"That's because butterflies change into fairies at night."
"Have you ever seen a fairy, Dad?"
"Not quite, but I've seen their houses."
During this whole story the girls and I are totally in sync but Colm, who can't understand a word that I'm saying, has become squirrelly and begun doing things like hiding behind me and putting flowers on my hat, this makes the girls laugh which in turn emboldens Colm further. My son is competing with me for the same audience...I love him dearly but the tent is only big enough for one entertainer at a time. Beth sees the problem and retrieves him. Colm is upset that he can't participate, that he doesn't understand what I'm saying, so Beth tells him the story in English. This helps...both of us.

At this point I tell the kids about fairy houses, how they're made out of things you find in the forest, how they're usually near or in trees and how especially if you ever find a red rose near a tree that it's a sure sign there are fairies nearby.
"Once I built a fairy house out of flowers and branches and leaves and ferns. When I came back to visit it the next day, do you know what I found there?"
Caroline says, "Une fée?"
"No, a squirrel." Everybody laughs.

"He was eating the nuts in the fairy house. And the next day, do you know what I found?"
Caroline tries again, "Un ecureuil?"

"Not this time. A rabbit!" More laughter. "So if you make a fairy house may not find a fairy, but that's okay because fairies love to share their houses with all the animals in the forest. Are you ready to go in the woods? Would you like to build a fairy house?"
In no time our troupe is marching back to the woods. The discovery of red roses on trees triggers a flurry of excitement. Everyone wants to build a fairy house but no one really quite gets how to do it.

Beth and I begin suggesting materials which might serve to make fairy houses. I've stashed piles of sticks nearby but really there is no need. Beth helps the girls with some cool design suggestions and pretty soon there are seven kids on the ground by seven trees making seven fairy houses. Each of them in turn calls the others over to see what they have done.

There is a sort of creative synergy that happens as each kid begins appreciating and borrowing design ideas from the others. Kids are running back and forth alternately inviting people to come look at what they've done or coming for a look. We are in the woods for an hour b
efore Beth finally pries them away with the promise of cake and punch.
It's back to the fairy tent for tea and tiny chocolate fairy cakes each with nutella frosting and a silver sugar pearl. While I oversee the tea Beth slips into the woods and secretly puts the fairy dolls in each of the fairy houses. The tea party is classic, the girls chatter away as they serve each other in their little cups...

I am so proud of Tess
and the way she carries on and sometimes even mixes it up with them in French - don't be fooled by the costumes, princesses can be a tough crowd. She is absolutely fearless and unfazed by the linguistic challenge. The other girls make no distinctions between Tess and the others...and they genuinely enjoy each other's company.

I wonder if Tess will miss this group of girls? seems plausible to me.
The tea is finished, the presents all opened - it's obvious that the kids have is time for the final coup. Beth says, "Do you want to go back and visit your fairy houses?"
It's hilarious to see the way they all remember p
ractically at the same time...the fairy houses!
Off we go one more time, over the fence and into the wood. Trailing behind I can hear squeals. When I get there everyone is jumping up
and down holding their fairy aloft. And then from Casandra comes the question for which I had not prepared an answer though we should have seen it coming.
"Ce sont des vrais?" (Are they real fairies?)
I pause, my jaw is slack, I'm stalling for time, Beth is too. Suddenly Casandra's mother who has just arrived says, "Ce sont pas des vrais mais elles sont laissées par des vraies." (They're not real but they were left by real fairies.) I look at h
er with equal parts gratitude and admiration. She shrugs as if to say - all in the day's work of a supermom.

And so the princesses
and Colm jump and run about the woods clutching their fairies until, one by one they are summoned by their mothers to come home. Each parting is prolonged by the need for each girl to take her mother back into the woods to show off the fairy houses...I can't help but notice the admiration these women obviously have for the work Beth has put into this whole thing.

As I walk out of the woods for the last time that day I pass by Tess's fairy house. Her fairy is once again nestled inside. I wonder, did she leave it there on purpose
? It's nice to think that she and Colm will be able to return to these magic places whenever they want for the next couple of months.
Princess Margot who was the last to arrive is the last to leave. She and Tess and Colm somehow have energy left to burn and they run madly about the house and the tent. Their energy and exuberance is breathtaking and beautiful.

In the mottled light under the leafy oak and the cherry trees,
they flit about like butterflies.


Anonymous Brenna said...

Wow! What a b-day party. That's such a creative idea, of course Beth did an amazing job. The girls looked like they had so much fun. What great memories. It's really interesting to hear about Tess chatting with the group. It will be interesting to see what happens when she returns home. I bet she speaks better French than I do now! :) Sounds like a fairy of a time.

11:17 PM  
Blogger kc said...

Her accent is better than mine...I know more vocabulary though.

9:38 PM  

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