A life in dragons


“I will try to like dragons,” Jessica says.


We are standing in the China Pavilion at Epcot, because despite my deep aversion to the Disneyfication of the world, Jessica loves Disney. Specifically, the Walt Disney World Resort.


So we go every now and then, and I always enjoy it because someone else is doing the driving and the cooking and the cleaning, and if I have to stand in extremely long lines, the reward is Jessica’s smile.


Today we are Epcot, where you can meet Snow White and Aurora, Jasmine and Aladdin (who gives Jessica a hug; last year he gave her a kiss). You can also meet Mulan at the China Pavilion, which has an interesting department store where you can find interesting objects that you will be trying to find a way to pack in your suitcase at midnight the night before you leave, but I digress.


I am looking at dragons. I collect them, and have for years: a red blown-glass dragon ornament a colleague sent me; a purple dragon paperweight to commemorate a trip to New York (the first time I stood on Hudson Street, about to meet the editor who won the auction for Dojo Wisdom, the only book of mine ever to be sold at auction); a painted wooden dragon that Jessica and I made together, glitter everywhere one long summer day; a dragon kite from San Francisco, where Jessica ran down the steep streets as fast she could, laughing in delight. My life in dragons.


The dragon I am looking at now is about ten inches long and perhaps six inches tall; red and yellow and green, with a fearsome expression. A worthy addition, and a reminder of this trip, celebrating Jessica’s thirteenth birthday. A teenage daughter, my only child, growing up too fast but not, in her opinion, fast enough.


I trace a finger along the spines of the dragon’s back. “You don’t have to like dragons,” I tell her, but upon reflection I guess you pretty much do, if you’re going to live in my house among them.


She looks at the dragon, red and yellow and green. “This is not Toothless,” she says, referring to the dragon in How to Train Your Dragon, which is one of her favorite movies, even though it doesn’t have any Disney princesses in it.


“No,” I say, “it’s not Toothless,” and set it aside. 


On the table next to it, she sees other figures. “Look!” she says, and pulls me over. There is a enormous assortment of tiny resin cats, small but fat, wearing different color clothing. A sign on the table calls them Good Fortune Cats.


“Can I spend my birthday money on them?” she asks.


I look at the price; a few dollars each. “Sure,” I say.


Unerringly, she selects seven of them. A fortunate number, though she doesn’t know this; that is how many different colors there are, so that is how many she wants. She brings them to the counter, where they are carefully wrapped and packed into little boxes. I add the dragon, and pay the bill, and once outside, we find a bench, and we open her treasures so she can look at them again. The cats line up between us and Jessica smiles at them.


“You’re not allergic to these cats,” she says.


“No. These are Good Fortune Cats,” I say. “Do you know what that means?”


She shakes her head.


“It means they are good luck cats.”


She knows what it means to be lucky, and that makes her smile, even more brilliantly than before. Then she braces herself. “We could look at your dragon,” she says.


I open it up, and I take it out. Next to the fat happy cats, it looks even more fearsome than before, when it squatted among its own kind.


She tries to like it. She says, “What is good about this dragon?”


I think about it a little.  Then I say, “I like what dragons symbolize. Wisdom. Knowledge.”


With that, the figures between us are transformed, symbols of our deepest needs: the child who needs all the luck she can get; the mother who needs all the wisdom she can find.


My answer must satisfy her, because she nods briskly and says, “The rain is coming. We should put them away.”


She is right; the gray overcast sky has turned dark and threatening. We pack the figures up and put them back in the bag.


“When we get home, we will put them where we can see them,” she says. “And remember.”


“What are we going to remember?” I ask as we duck into a fast-food shop out of the rain. Does she mean the trip to Disney? Or sitting on the bench, enjoying each other’s company? Does she mean the day at Epcot, meeting all her favorite characters? Or is she referring to her thirteenth birthday?


She rolls her eyes, a perfect teenager. “Mom,” she says, drawing it out to about ten syllables. “So that we can remember to be lucky and wise.”


“Oh,” I say. “That’s an excellent idea.”



  1. Seems to me Jessica is wise and lucky. Also of note, any place like Disney etc. you don't have to wait in line if you have a child with special needs – my son is autistic – and I didn't know this myself – but you just take a note from Doctor to customer relations and you get a special "no wait in line" pass. I don't believe in pushing the autistic card – but if it saves time and screaming and my sanity -I do it.

  2. Great story, I love how Jessica thinks! She sounds just like a typical teen girl – both wonderful and infuriating. It's great to hear your news, thanks for letting us keep up with you and Jessica.

  3. It's not hard to see Jessica as a perfectly ordinary girl. Whatever her handicaps might be, they are invisible in the way you write about her. This must reflect the way you see her yourself, intent on the person she is, and not the difficulties she has. Lovely story, Jennifer.

  4. I forwarded your original post about Jessica from 7/19 to everyone I knew because it summed up beautifully how I feel now, about my own daughter. In our case, not fireflies, but bubbles on the deck & throwing the dogs' yucky Kong. Might I be so bold as to beg (plead? instruct? harass?) you into sharing more over at hopeful parents?

  5. Your words are as clear as pictures… only deeper. The bench, the figurines, rolling eyes of a teenager… and oh.. and I saw yours and Jessica's heart, too! The prettiest picture of the story. Thank you for sharing!

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