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


Jan 23 2013

It’s a cold night and the air is still and feels frozen sol­id, no longer flow­ing unno­ticed. The sky is very clear and the moon is flash-light bright. For some rea­son, the cold­er the night, the more apt I am to take Jack out for a walk. Jack nev­er objects to being out­side and Scar­lett joins in; she joins in, because some­one is doing some­thing she is not. Scar­lett does not abide.

Where we are right now the sky is not blud­geoned into a schmear of grey, lit up street-light yel­low from the city below. The sky is an inky black-blue which lets the stars stand out pre­cise­ly and pristine­ly. We stare up at the white-bright moon and Jack tells me, ‘I see the moon, dad­dy.’ Scar­lett then tells me the same thing. We stroll down the side­walk next to our house, clear­ing the walk of small branch­es and bram­bles blown down by the recent, strong winds from the West.

This is about Jack, final­ly.

Jack enjoys these walks. He should; his feet are built for it. Large for his size, they stick out like planks and fur­ther accen­tu­ate his reed­i­ness which Arnæzs’s are not known for. His feet look tougher and more weath­ered than our cir­cum­stances would indi­cate: We are not holler-ed in hill coun­try nor dust-bowled on the Plains. His life is not hard-scrab­bled to explain the lack of excess in body and action he exhibits. Unlike Mac and Scar­lett who’ve devel­oped a propen­si­ty for flour­ish­es in body and mind, Jack’s acts are effi­cient and clear. His body is already ath­let­i­cal­ly lean and his move­ments are steadi­ly prac­ticed. If he wants that cook­ie, he acts only toward that end with­out fail. Be it a cook­ie in a cab­i­net or fifty feet up on a ledge.

It is this phys­i­cal self-depen­den­cy that I think explains Jack’s lack of speech. Until very recent­ly Jack was mute. I’d like to believe it’s because he had noth­ing to say. If he need­ed some­thing and he could see it, then phys­i­cal­ly he could do what­ev­er nec­es­sary to get it. The times he couldn’t act but need­ed to com­mu­ni­cate some men­tal-state, his per­spic­u­ous grunts and ges­tures demon­strat­ed to me1 how cave­man got along dur­ing most of the Holocene until true speech evolved. But I’m glad to say that in the past few months sur­round­ing his third birth­day, his speech has improved immense­ly and he is quick­ly com­ing up to par with his sibling’s ver­bosi­ty and while it’s still hard to under­stand him, if his speech devel­ops any­where near his phys­i­cal abil­i­ties, I will be a bit scared about get­ting into argu­ments with him. Also, I’m afraid he’ll just beat me up.

Some more about Jack.

Jack is cau­tious and adven­ture­some. I’ve yet to see him repeat the same mis­take or be fooled twice. How­ev­er, this doesn’t mean he is ret­i­cent; he’s the least timid of our kids. At parks, he has climbed high­er than a little-kid’s par­ent ought to let him. It’s nerve-wrack­ing to watch. Fre­quent­ly, anoth­er par­ent will move in and hov­er around him, until I tell them not to mind and that it took me a while to relax and get used to see­ing Jack tee­ter­ing on the edge, up high and look­ing down at the rest us and usu­al­ly smil­ing because he knew he was mak­ing us ner­vous. But this boy is not rash. He knows he’s up high and knows it will hurt if he falls. He’s fall­en and cried, but unlike Mac and Scar­lett who will make sure we know they’ve fall­en, he will brush him­self off, espe­cial­ly his hands, wip­ing them—surprisingly fas­tid­i­ous­ly on his pants—and get back up and go at it again, know­ing full well what made him fall.

He is unceas­ing motion from the moment he gets up: climb­ing, jump­ing, run­ning, inde­fati­ga­ble until about 6:30 pm when he will ask for his pooh-bear and his binky. Being only min­utes from falling aseep, he will climb into your lap and nes­tle his head into your left shoul­der. You will take him up, put him in bed and say ‘go to sleep, Jack’ and he will reply, ‘Oo-kay’ and then pass out, the on-switch final­ly being switched off.

Feb 3, 2013 6:08pm gea

  1. see Ges­tur­al the­o­ry on the ori­gin of lan­guage []

Jan 6th, 2013

With the dog, I am jog­ging and now pause at the cor­ner of Mar­ket and Church street which is the meta­phys­i­cal break­point in this town: fur­ther West is the city park where I will be jog­ging for the next 45 min­utes or so, to the North and uphill is the ele­men­tary school that the kids will have returned to school on Mon­day (whew), direct­ly South is the cen­ter of down­town with the Reeves The­ater on Main street, and onward to the East our house sits where I’ll be back after fin­ish­ing the run.

Ear­li­er this morn­ing, Scar­lett will have come into our room and climbed into bed qui­et­ly and pro­ceed to yell into my right ear “Hap­py Birth­day!” at which point it will have been time to get out of bed and start the day and this run. Lat­er after the run, I will get back and Jack will have said “Ha Ba, Dad!,” and I would have replied, “Hap­py Birth­day, Jack” because in two days Jack will be three and this will be the last birth­day where he won’t object to shar­ing his day with mine.

Mac hasn’t decid­ed to wish me a hap­py birth­day yet. This morn­ing he is sit­ting qui­et­ly on the com­put­er, research­ing the lat­est mer­chan­dise from Ben-10. I’ve mixed feel­ings on this. Yes, he is using his words and spelling and devel­op­ing his facil­i­ty with com­put­ers and google but on the oth­er hand, it’s only going to be a mat­ter of time before he fig­ures out pass­words, birth­dates, SSNs and cred­it card num­bers.

Ever since the kids have been born, birth­days are both anti­cli­mac­tic and re-affirm­ing. I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again: there is noth­ing like hav­ing kids to pull your head out of your ***—if that is what you need and you won’t know until you do— which I did sore­ly need and now know. And so while noth­ing par­tic­u­lar­ly spe­cial is going to hap­pen today, hear­ing “Hap­py Birth­day, Dad­dy,” will be about as good as it gets and it is hard to think of what could be bet­ter; every­thing else is icing. It also tends to tie all the loose ends and the could-of-beens of life in a neat pack­age, because when you are look­ing at your kids, it’s very hard to think of any pos­si­bil­i­ties in which you would switch this even­tu­al­i­ty for any oth­er time­line. Kids val­i­date you in ways that noth­ing else can; Your kids are both explana­to­ry and excul­pa­to­ry, if you need that sort of thing—which I do.

Of course, your job and every­thing else you do shows what you’ve done (duh) but those kids are and will be a sum­ma­tion of what you are. I heard that writ­ing books, run­ning your busi­ness, etc., are your “babies,” but those are things under your con­trol entire­ly and your kids are not. It’s the times when they demon­strate they are sep­a­rate and unique that are the most impress­ing on me. It’s why I think those-with-kids are entire­ly dif­fer­ent than those-with­out-kids. I know this state­ment is spe­cious and sophist and maybe just says I’ve nev­er fin­ished that book.

Of course, no one is where they thought they would be, whether they are look­ing at their old­er or younger self. There are now stud­ies to show this is true.1 So, if you think you are, you’re not think­ing hard enough.

I am now 42 and will re-read Dou­glas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy.

Jan­u­ary 6, 2013

  1. The End of His­to­ry Illu­sion
    Nytimes arti­cle on sci­ence arti­cle []