Scarlett’s Fifth Birthday

Yad­kin Val­ley Gym­nas­tics, Wilkes­boro, NC

It is March 22, 2013, 4:30PM EST.
I am watch­ing Scar­lett in her gym­nas­tics class. She is eas­i­ly the small­est and youngest in the group. A few of the old­er girls, around ten-years old, tow­er over her, near­ly twice her size. Despite her age, she is nei­ther out­classed nor out of her league. She is doing things; don’t ask me what they are called but they include doing hand-stands on bal­ance-beams, legs togeth­er, feet/​toes point­ed straight-up and then dis­mount­ing from the bal­ance-beam. Some of the old­er girls in her group have yet to do such.

In just the last few months, Scar­lett has got­ten expo­nen­tial­ly bet­ter. To explain why, her gym­nas­tics coach tells us “I think it’s because she is five now.” I agree with this; I don’t know why I agree, but I do. Some­thing hap­pened, immea­sur­able yet dis­tinct, and now she is doing some­thing she wasn’t before.

I step out for a few min­utes from her class and when I return, I see Scar­lett goof­ing around with one of her co-stu­dents. The gym­nast is pick­ing up Scar­lett and spin­ning her around. Scar­lett is squeal­ing and ask­ing to go faster. She is imma­ture; she is five. Of course it’s not her all her fault; she is treat­ed like the baby in the fam­i­ly by the old­er girls. She is the new pup­py that is learn­ing new tricks. And so she gets all the atten­tion from the oth­er par­ents and the gym­nasts: Scar­lett can not get enough. She is a pip-squeak until she decides to pay atten­tion. To get her atten­tion, I give her the I-am-watch­ing-you look (a two-pronged jab at my eyes, then a jab at her’s) and sud­den­ly I see her straight­en up, throw her shoul­ders back, salute me and then turn to her teacher.

Once she is ready to work, she’s as focused as any kid in the gym, prob­a­bly more so. She has a scary amount of con­cen­tra­tion. I’ve seen it when she will lay out her col­or­ing books and crayons and then pro­ceed to draw and draw for hours. She is not play­ing, not doo­dling but is drafts­man-like in her mien. She has the qui­et-calm but intense look that I have seen in oth­er peo­ple when they are doing some­thing requir­ing high lev­els of both con­scious and uncon­scious atten­tion. After her ses­sion, she might have ten to twen­ty draw­ings, each one com­plete with a sto­ry which she will recount to you in detail. She doesn’t have Mac’s man­ic imag­i­na­tion but giv­en what she has to work with: ponies, princess­es, rain­bows and the col­or spec­trum of pink, the sto­ries aren’t half-bad.

It’s this focus I see when we are at gym­nas­tics. It’s bit dis­con­cert­ing to see that steely, com­pet­i­tive look on a five-year old but she will do exact­ly what the coach­es instruct her and then with­out hes­i­ta­tion pro­ceed to attempt to do it. Time and time again, with­out any sign of bore­dom she will prac­tice moves again and again.

Some­times on the 30-minute dri­ve to gym­nas­tics, she will tell me she doesn’t want to talk and will stare out the win­dow. I almost want to say she is lost in thought, gaz­ing at the pass­ing land­scape, but I don’t think that’s it. I think she is just let­ting the world know she will take it at her own pace, with her own agen­da.

But I don’t want to tell you what Scar­lett can and can’t (noth­ing so far) do because it will come off as brag­ging (see above) and I know full well just how lit­tle con­trol we have over our kids and hence how little—very little—credit we can actu­al­ly take for our kids. Also, I know full well there are kids whose efforts are far greater than Scarlett’s and have lit­tle to show for it. I know these par­ents try just as hard as any do and I know they too won­der where their fail­ings lie.

And besides, you aren’t going to be inter­est­ed, unless you’re fam­i­ly, because you don’t know my kids’ nar­ra­tive. You don’t have any con­text into which to place what I am telling you. Like turn­ing to a page in the mid­dle of a long book, no frame of ref­er­ence, no invest­ment has been made, so you real­ly get noth­ing out of it. It’s watch­ing kids at a park. The only ones that real­ly have your eyes are your own and the rea­son they do is because they are yours and yours alone. This is the same for the oth­er par­ents and their kids. Like­wise, they prob­a­bly find my kids dry as dust—their cute antics, not.

So I want to tell you that Scar­lett turned five this past Feb 8. She feels pre­de­ter­mined in ways I don’t under­stand; all my kids do. This does not mean I feel pow­er­less (some­times with Mac but that is anoth­er sto­ry) but it feels like try­ing to tell a riv­er which way to flow. It can be done and has been done, e.g., the Chica­go Riv­er. But they had to go down to bedrock and extra­or­di­nary effort was need­ed and it’s not real­ly a riv­er any­more but a large ditch that turns bright, flu­o­res­cent green on St.Patty’s.

Scar­lett clear­ly has her own sto­ry she is going to explore and tell. Maybe I can sug­gest a com­ma here, a semi-colon there; it is already clear to me, she is total­ly in con­trol of her sto­ry. I can try to be help­ful like a dis­tant edi­tor but any line-edit­ing is strict­ly out of the ques­tion. Impos­si­ble and prob­a­bly detri­men­tal. Sort of like some­one who can con­trol the vol­ume but not what’s played. Maybe.

All I can do is write it down before she takes over the type­writer which Scar­lett is already ask­ing to do. While I am try­ing to write this piece, she has sat beside me and asked what I am doing and if she can do it too. And then she has slid in front of the key­board and start­ed typ­ing out the names: mac jack Scar­lett mom dad

She is already for­mu­lat­ing in her head what to write and ask­ing me how to spell,” One day mac was think­ing…

Start­ed March 21, 2013, 8:12AM EST Done March 28, 2013, 10:14PM EST