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 []