When my daughter was turning, three Facebook-targeted ads caught me in their trap. They were promoting a photographer in north Florida that did amazing unicorn photo shoots. I shared it as a pipe dream because I didn’t really have the money to spend on something so extravagant. However, I didn’t have to. A family friend offered to pay for the pictures, and I gladly accepted.
Adelyn and I journeyed up to the Cape Canaveral area to stay with a friend of mine. I was nervous about the trip. Not because of the length of the drive, but because this was the first time it would be just Adelyn and I going somewhere for this long without my husband. It may seem a little paranoid to some, but I was concerned about if we had to stop at a rest stop. Adelyn and I are both small, which makes for a very easy target. I worked in local news, and the number of stories we had covered over the years about distracted mothers being abducted or targeted lived in the forefront of my mind. But these worries were unnecessary. Aside from the quick drive-through stop at McDonald’s, we didn’t need to make a stop.
On our drive up, I wondered how Nikki and her husband would handle having a toddler in their home. They had married just a year before, and I wasn’t sure if they had even thought about having kids. Even though Adelyn was a very well-behaved toddler, having a small energetic human in your home is a big adjustment. When we pulled into the driveway, Jerry and Nikki were both there. I am truly grateful for adult friendships because even though it had been a year since we had seen each other; it felt like we just saw each other at work. While I took our overnight bag and Adelyn’s fairy princess dress out of the car, Nikki scooped up Adelyn and took her inside. Adelyn put on a quick fashion show for Nikki as they prepared a delicious toddler-friendly dinner of chicken nuggets and french fries in the air fryer. I’m not sure how Nikki and I had a conversation with how much my little chatterbox dominated most of the exchange, but over wine and a stunning sunset, we were able to catch up on each other’s lives. By the time we went to bed, all I could think of was how wonderful Nikki and Jerry did with having a three-year-old invade her space. I guess I was unknowingly preparing them for their little boy that would join them in a few short years.
The next morning, the three of us drove to the ranch where the pictures were taking place. It was May, and you never know what that means weather-wise in Florida. You could face sweltering heat or a monsoon. Thankfully, we didn’t have to deal with sweltering heat or humidity, and somehow we were blessed by the beautiful, breezy, cool weather. As we drove up the drive of the ranch house, we saw a horse barn off to the left. Behind the ranch house was a field with brown and white horses grazing. I was hoping to see a different set of horses in the fields because, in the winter, the ranch house hosted Clydesdale carriage rides, however, to trick people into forgetting they lived in Florida. Adelyn saw the horses from the backseat and wondered if those were the unicorns. I told her no. Those were just normal horses.
“Good,” she said. “Because those horses are tooooo big. They are scary.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell her that horses were usually that big. I had seen pictures of the horses they used for the unicorns, and even though they weren’t the brown and white ones in the field, there were still a few large white horses. Thankfully, they had a small white one named Sugar.
A little to the left of the horse barn was a wooded path. I told Adelyn to look, and there, standing in the middle of the path, was the large white unicorn. We arrived a little early, and the previous photoshoot was still going on. Adelyn squealed and wanted to run toward the unicorns, but I had to stop her. I didn’t want her to interrupt the other little girl’s magical moment. We headed to the horse barn, hoping to find something that might distract my overly eager little girl.
While we waited, we walked through the barn, and the tiny unicorn Sugar was waiting in front of the stalls. I hung back, watching Adelyn walk to the barn. Her long tulle skirt made her look as if she was floating. Everything felt magical at that moment. Adelyn was so excited to see a unicorn that she wasn’t sure how to react. There was lots of squealing, and she reached out to touch the small pony, but instead of walking towards her, the pony shook her head, and Adelyn became wary of the pony.
“Oh no,” I thought. “We did not drive all this way for her to suddenly be scared of horses.”
Tentatively, she reached out a hand to pet the pony’s nose, and it snorted at her. She giggled, and everything seemed to be alright. Which was good because it was our turn for the pictures.
I spoke with the photographer, and she asked if Adelyn would be okay with sitting on a horse. I wasn’t sure. Before this afternoon, I would have instantly answered yes. But Adelyn was starstuck by the unicorns, and my adventurous little girl had become shy. The photographer said we could try, but we won’t push anything. Along with the unicorn, there were two other locations that the photographer showed me. She asked me if Adelyn could swing by herself. Adelyn had just turned three a few days ago. While she loved swinging, she couldn’t swing by herself, but she could sit on a “Big Girl Swin.” As the photographer showed me the tea party set up, a ranch hand asked Adelyn if she wanted to go for a pony ride. I don’t know where my phone was, but luckily Nikki was there to capture Adelyn at the moment.
The photoshoot was magical. Adelyn was a fairytale princess running through the woods. Dancing and trawling through the sunlight that poured in through the leaves. While she was hesitant about the large unicorn, she allowed the ranch hands to lift her up and put her on his back. I stood beside her and kept her calm while the photographer snapped pictures. You never know what kind of attitude to expect from a toddler, and I was so proud of how well-behaved my little three-year-old was. She smiled and laughed as she sat in the princess chair with the pony Sugar next to her. At one point, they even let her hold Sugar’s reins. Lucky for us, Adelyn just stood there with the pony instead of trying to wander off with him.
When it was time to swing, Adelyn asked if I could sit next to her. I was elated that she wanted me with her. As much as these pictures were for her, I wanted someone to capture special moments between my daughter and me. Not saying my husband doesn’t take pictures, but he is not a professional photographer, and my day-to-day wear is not a lovely flowing dress.
The photographer allowed Adelyn to pick a spinning tulip from the basket as the session ended. She picked a blue one to match her skirt. Sadly, the three of us piled into the car and headed back to Nikki’s. Adelyn chattered in the backseat, spinning her tulip and occasionally stabbing me with the stem in the back of the head.
After we received the professional pictures, I marveled at how well the photographer could Photoshop the bridle off the horse’s face. She even made the ranch hands disappear. I may be a video editor by trade; however, I have no skill when it comes to Photoshop. My husband and I printed out our favorite pictures, and Adelyn picked a few that she liked best. And soon, the photoshoot became a distant fond memory. That was until Adelyn entered kindergarten two years later.
Adelyn came home from school one day very upset. She went into her room and brought out a picture of her on a unicorn.
“See!” she proclaimed.
“See what?” I asked.
“Unicorns are real!” She said admittedly. “I met one, and no one believes me.”
“Oh fuck,” I thought.
While I had been so excited about the pictures and worried about things that could happen to us on the drive to and from, I never once thought about what these pictures might do. My daughter held in her hand a picture of her with a unicorn. Adelyn truly believed that these horses were really unicorns. She even saw the pictures with the bridle on the pony and said it was there because that’s where the reins go, and she wasn’t wrong.
I did not know how to handle the situation. She still believes in Santa, the Easter bunny, and the tooth fairy. If I told her unicorns weren’t real, what kind of chaos was I about to unleash?
“Not everyone may have the chance to have such a magical meeting,” I told her, trying to think of the best way to handle the situation. “You were very lucky and had the chance to have a magical moment and pictures from it. You don’t always have to make people believe you. What matters most is you hold this moment in your heart forever. What do you feel when you look at the pictures?” I asked her.
She looked at the picture and thought for a moment. “Happy and pretty.”
“Then that’s all the matters.” I smiled at her. “Do you feel less pretty because they don’t believe?”
She shook her head. “No.”
“Then who cares what they believe?”
That answer seemed to be good enough because she ran off and started harassing her older brother.
There have been times throughout the year that Adelyn has brought up that the boys in her class don’t believe her. But now the girls are saying they believe in fairies and other magical creatures.
Eventually, I might tell her the unicorns she met were just horses. But I might not have to. Adelyn is extremely smart. Who knows, one day, she might pick up the pictures and see the bridle for something more than just holding the reins.