The dragons just kept getting cuter.
I'd meant them to be scary, with snakelike heads and pearly fangs, but as my fingers gained more practice the dragons they shaped became younger and more innocent, their wings tiny and their eyes wide. Dull spikes lined their heads and tails, not yet sharpened by age. They lay on their bellies or sat up and watched with good-natured curiosity. They were friendly. They were sweet.
They were flawed, and there were a lot of them. I experimented with color and pose, sculpting the way others would turn a stress ball. Every morning I baked the newcomers in my oven, and within a week my desk was overrun. Rows of dragons pressed against my laptop from all sides. Some I enjoyed looking at. Others were a reminder of some mistake I'd made. Putting the horns on before the eyes. Making the legs too thin so it tilted drunkenly while baking. Not realizing that some clay changes color as it solidifies.
What to do with them all? I couldn't keep them even if I'd wanted to. There were simply too many. I'd lined my shelves and windows with them. Set them on tables and counters and even filled a bowl with them. But what good was that? They'd only sit and gather dust. They were useless if not played with, and I was too old for my mind to dream that way.
I'd known that might happen. I'd promised myself I'd never grow up, not it that way, but it was a promise I hadn't been able to keep.
One day, finally, I knew what I would do.
I slid them through my fingers, separating them into two groups. Some dragons I preferred over others. Some had made less of an impact on me. I stacked together all the ones I could adequately love and poured the rest into my purse.
I left them on a school playground.
They'd replaced much of the equipment since I'd been a little girl, and someone had added a brightly colored U.S. map painted beside the hopscotch squares. I leapt from the ocean into Nebraska and thought how miraculous my childhood self would have found this.
I left dragons on the swing set I'd loved, where I'd close my eyes and imagine I was flying. Strangely, no matter how hard I tried, the picture in my head always became an ordinary swing set again, albeit one perched atop the clouds.
I left dragons on some strange new contraption I didn't remember but which looked like fun.
I left dragons on the plastic slide they'd installed in place of the metal one I'd gone down against orders when they decided to let us outside during a blustering tornado watch.
I left dragons on the equipment I claimed to be afraid to climb down from in an attempt to escape my somewhat evil kindergarten teacher.
And then I left dragons beside the gardening shed where my friends and I had played. I liked to think that the children who would find them would be cut from the same mould; wide-eyed dreamers finding magic in everything, untouched by this growing trend of cell phones and lip gloss.
One of my friends had had a sister who was different. She didn't always make a lot of sense. I played with her anyway.
I might not have been able to stop growing up, but I can still remember what it's like to be a child. Things have more magic when they're found, not given. When they sparkle and shine. When they look at you with what you can see, on closer inspection, are hand-crafted eyes. When your toy is unique in all the world and it's *chosen* you, waiting, perched atop your favorite swing. Those are the things a child will truly treasure. Although I doubt I'll ever see those dragons again, I like to think my actions have prompted new games and stories and dreams for dozens of children.
It's the kind of thing I would have loved.