The sun was just starting to set in Sheridan on a Thursday night in early April 2020. My husband was driving an old, borrowed VW van as I rode in the back, standing precariously in an inflatable unicorn suit. He abruptly pulled the van to the side of the road and said, “This must be it.”
With my head crammed against the upper window of the van, I caught a glimpse of a family of four in their front yard. I noticed two little girls were playing with unicorn stuffed animals and thought to myself “That’s fitting.”
My husband walked to the back of the van and opened the double doors. “Anyone around here want to see a unicorn?” he asked the family. For the 42nd time that day I reverse army crawled in the inflatable unicorn suit out of the back of the van and started dancing around to the song “Everything is Awesome” from the LEGO movie.
At first, the whole family seemed a little confused. The youngest girl was the first to break into a giant smile and before long all four gave into the joy of the moment. There we all were, dancing into the sunset without a care in the world.
The song ended and I crawled back into the van, the young family now looking a bit more stunned than confused. My husband got back in the driver's seat, honked the horn and we drove away. One block later I heard him say, “Damn. That one wasn’t even on the list.”
The world in late March and early April of 2020 was a pretty grim place. Few people left their houses for anything more than a trip to the grocery store, and even that felt a bit apocalyptic.
It was a time that many of us felt underequipped to manage our own lives, let alone support the difficult journey of others. Upon finding out National Unicorn Day falls on April 9 each year, I thought, “Maybe I could do something with that unicorn suit I bought for a few laughs a couple years back.”
I posted a link on Sheridan Upcycle for parents to sign up for a unicorn visit. Silly idea? Probably. But when I woke up the next morning, there were already 50 responses. By that night there were nearly 90 people signed up.
For a visit. From a stranger. In a unicorn suit.
This certainly wasn’t a cure for COVID, but it did appear to be a cure for something. Given I was only a few days away from showtime, I got to work. I started to map out the visits around Sheridan. After some rearranging and moving about half the visits to a second day, I realized I still needed to average 7 minutes per visit, a tall order for a unicorn with limited mobility.
Enter my friend Brady and his old VW van with the seats removed. With less than 12 hours notice, Brady showed up at 8:00 a.m. to be a unicorn chauffeur (slash navigator and circus ringleader as the unicorn was fairly useless for anything other than dancing). My husband also jumped in and took several van shifts (something he had most certainly not signed up for in our wedding vows).
Without the room to tell all 90 stories, here are a few highlights from the day:
Brady and I didn’t exactly work out the routine ahead of time, so the first stop was a little clunky. He tried to play the “The Unicorn Song” by the Irish Rover, which is way too slow for a unicorn to be jumping around enthusiastically. I also wasn’t entirely inflated when he opened the back doors of the van, so the whole thing was pretty pathetic. My sincere apologies to that family.
The Dance Off.
One stop was at an apartment complex and the family requesting the unicorn visit stood on their third-floor balcony to watch. Several more families came out and joined the party. Pretty soon there was a balcony dance off with giggles and waves among neighbors. We did a couple rounds of “Everything is Awesome” that stop.
The Return Visit.
One visit was to a house where a young girl brought her siblings out to watch the unicorn dance. Later that day she sent an email asking if I could come back again because her youngest brother didn’t get to see the unicorn. The next day was already booked solid, so I told her I could come at 7:30 a.m. the next morning if she was sure to have everyone outside and ready. When I arrived, she had all of her siblings sleeping on the porch in blankets to make sure they didn’t miss it. I will never forget the smile on her youngest brother’s face as the unicorn crawled in the van and drove away.
From visiting preschool classes to crashing a front-yard retirement party, each unicorn encounter brought a new round of excitement, humor and joy. For the first time in several weeks, these families had a reason to sit outside on their porch and wait for something good to happen.
A few months after National Unicorn Day, a friend sent me a video of his 4-year old son. They were walking by an old VW van and his son pointed and reported confidently, “That’s where unicorns live!”
Perhaps the magic of unicorns isn’t as rare as we think. It simply calls for chasing joy, sharing it with strangers and dancing into the sunset.