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.


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 []