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

Once upon a time. By Scarlett.. (as told to and written down by mom)

I won­der who the princess is.

26April 2012, 4:26pm

Once upon a time there was a princess and a king.

The king did­nt know the way back to the cas­tle so the princess point­ed to it

The cas­tle has pol­ka dots. There was a gold­en ring on top of the cas­tle and rain­bows. Two rain­bows.

Now there were three rain­bows.

The King was named Per­cy and there was a gold­en pil­low that fell to the ground out of the rain­bow win­dows.

And a long rain­bow was falling down and it was kind of squigly but kind of like a rock

—Scar­lett Arnaez

The disciplin(ing) of Scarlett

8:01 pm CMT june 3rd BGKY

Scar­lett at three.

We are in the ter­ri­fy­ing threes. Not just ter­ri­ble but ter­ri­fy­ing. Where­as Mac will use all sorts of rhetor­i­cal tricks and tropes to whee­dle out of pun­ish­ments and sanc­tions, Mac will at least play by the rules that every­one has agreed to. But Scar­lett… Scar­lett is doing some­thing we are hav­ing a hard time try­ing to fig­ure out how to react to, let alone coun­ter­mand. It was like she was all sweet­ness and good dur­ing her first two years in order to get us to drop our guard, get com­pla­cent, fall asleep at the switch, and allow her to take over sig­nif­i­cant por­tions of our men­tal map before we could form an allied response.

Exam­ples: You threat­en her with a smack-bot­tom1 and she tells you go ahead, do your best. You tell her she will lose her toys, she responds she didn’t want them in the first place. You give her a direct order and she will look back with sparkling eyes and ever-widen­ing smile, stand­ing there, dar­ing you to for­get she is just three-years old and not some recidi­vist hooli­gan.

Recent­ly, we had an event that crys­tal­lized the dilem­ma and sig­naled that she was going on the full offen­sive. For a few months now, Scar­lett has been pee­ing in her pants again. She will stand there in the mid­dle of the room and uri­nate down her leg onto the car­pet. We’ve had to put her back in dia­pers which she did not, of course, refuse. So this past week, Jenn is watch­ing Scar­lett start to squirm again and exhorts Scar­lett to use the toi­let like a big girl and that she had bet­ter run over to the bath­room to pee and instead Scar­lett runs up to Jenn and pro­ceeds to uri­nate, form­ing a large, warm pud­dle right in front of Jenn’s chair. Jenn is aghast at her behav­ior and tells Scar­lett not to step into the pee and then it hap­pens: Scar­lett looks down at the pud­dle and then cocks her head back up and dead-eyes Jenn while she pro­ceeds to put her right foot direct­ly into the mid­dle of the pud­dle and turn her ankle in and out as if rub­bing out the butt of a cig­a­rette she has just tak­en her last drag off and flicked into the dirt, rub­bing with slow, delib­er­ate mal­ice2 with the heel of her steal-toed boot, while slow­ly expelling smoke direct­ly into Jenn’s eyes and chan­nel­ing the leather-clad Sandy and her new­ly-found moxy at the end of Grease. There was a moment of stunned silence. The rest I can’t report because this is a pub­lic post, lest to say, we know we are in trou­ble.

~~~~~After­math~~~~~

After much thought, I real­ized we are in a pick­le. Like I said with Mac, it is pret­ty sim­ple to stick to your guns and not let him con­vince you to give in, but with Scar­lett, you have no car­rot, no com­mon goal. What she is doing is negating/​denying your pre­sup­po­si­tions and remov­ing the very base on which you stand. It is a rad­i­cal skep­ti­cism that leaves noth­ing unques­tioned, noth­ing tru­ly know­able, and chal­lenges con­vic­tions at their core. Sud­den­ly you won­der if the total­i­tar­i­an­ists weren’t right after all.

Although I got­ta tell you anoth­er part me ana­lyzes the sit­u­a­tion and say: “She adapts to any sit­u­a­tion and is bone head­ed stub­born… Learned well, she has, this young padawan.”

  1. Yes, I know we are also against copo­ral pun­ished but like Neville Cham­ber­lain learned, appease­ment only works for so long. []
  2. well, as much mal­ice as a three year old can muster []