Friday, September 03, 2010

Stop Growing Up So Fast: A Father Reflects on Turning Five

I am busy sorting out what looks like a refugee camp in my house, as we just landed in the UK on Wednesday.  So, with so much work on my hands, I am happy to hand over my blog for the day to a guest poster.  I will rejoin you when the dust settles and, if I'm lucky, when the kids' jet-lag dissipates.

My friend, Adam, sends out an email update every year or so to keep his friends up to date on his kids. He is an excellent writer and I enjoy all of them, but this one hit me, in particular, so I wanted to share his writing with you.


My mom often used to tell me things like “You were the happiest baby,” or “You were such a happy little kid.” What she left unsaid (sometimes) was, “What happened to you?”

I’ve often wondered the same thing, because although Mom was not a stranger to hyperbole, it seems like she had a point. I don’t actually remember anything from when I was four, mind you, but I recently completed a thorough review of the available photographic record to see if she was right. I catalogued and evaluated how frequently the photos show me in various situations, including: opening presents, taking a nap, smiling effortlessly, smiling falsely, scowling, wearing pajamas, wearing a tie, wearing a diaper, wearing an outfit that matched my brother’s, wearing orthopedic devices, wearing orthodontic devices, associating with great-grandparents, associating with known criminals, bleeding, crying, sunburned, fishing, bathing, roller skating, and eating birthday cake.

My research took less than an hour, but more than one beer. And I’m sorry to report that I’ve lost any notes that I (might have) made during it. Nonetheless, it seems fair to say that I was happier from ages zero to four than I have been for any extended period since then. Of course, at that time, I had never had homework or a job interview. Or wrecked a car.

Or failed to show up for something important, bombed a test, breached locker-room etiquette, borrowed money, made a regrettable purchase, put foil in the microwave, discovered a leaky pen in my pants pocket, asked for an extension, smashed a guitar that I still needed after I finished smashing it, interviewed for a job at a fast-food restaurant, or missed a flight while I was sitting 40 feet from the gate – wide awake – my name being called repeatedly on the airport PA system.

All that and more is why, despite the fact that five Junes have passed since my son was born, I don't know if we should allow him to be five. Can’t we decline? He’s a happy kid. Why ruin it by subjecting him to the inevitable angst and problems that come with advancing age? I’ve seen what happens. Their teeth fall out, they get bigger, and you can’t hang them upside-down by their ankles any more. It’s a whole thing. And if I can’t hold that guy by his ankles and fling him onto his bed, well . . . that could make him angry. And you wouldn't like him when he's angry.

Plus, he told me just yesterday that he wants to be four again. He was vehement and tearful when he said it. So it’s not as if I’m just imposing my own preference here; I’m trying to respect his nascent free will. One reason he wants to be four again is that he supposedly hated the intro-to-kindergarten that he attended for all of three weeks this summer. I get his point. Elementary school is largely to blame for introducing most people to the tawdriness of deadlines and written evaluations. Also, head lice. But the ironic thing is that, by enrolling him in kindergarten, we announced his fiveness to the world, and now we can’t credibly reinstate his fourdom. Throwing him a fifth-birthday party probably didn’t help. Regardless, it appears that the growing-up-too-fast ship has sailed. Whoops. Sorry about that, kiddo. Let’s all wish him a soft landing.

May he at least fare better than his sister, whose personal post-five malaise is the direct result of not being perfect all the time. She has many talents. She spent a week this summer at a musical-theater camp, she sang quite excellently in her school’s talent show in the spring, and she works in fits and starts on a book about, among other things, a sea captain named Bob Rutledge. She reads every novel she can find about precocious detective/wizard/demigod orphans. As I write this, she is looking at leaves and slides of paramecium through a microscope that she got for Christmas last year, and Little Brother is her "lab assistant" (her words, not mine).

But her ease at certain things sometimes makes it hard for her to be patient when other things don’t come so readily for her. So, although we are very proud of her for completing two junior triathlons this summer, she was upset with her own performance, and loudly denounced any suggestion that other people probably do at least some minimal training before competing in athletic events. But she was the one who wanted to do them, and she did.

She can also overestimate herself, as when she took it upon herself to improve Jim Gaffigan’s “Hot Pocket” comedy routine. I’ll spare you specifics, but believe me when I say that her embellishments didn’t make it funnier. That’s not to say that she lacks a sense of humor - far from it. When it looked like rain might force her brother's birthday party indoors, she suggested, as a backup plan, that the little kids could play “pin the boring on the boring.”

She doesn't know it, but she's growing up too fast, too.

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Thoughts appreciated. Advice welcome. Douche-baggery scoffed at then deleted.