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