Saturday, September 20, 2003

September, 2003: The magic of Five

Today, I was unloading groceries from the car, and Liam, 5, was helping. He came into the kitchen as I was stuffing bags of frozen vegetables into the freezer. Two boxes of Cheerios were clasped tightly in his arms and his face was radiant.
            “Cheerios!” He was beside himself with his good fortune. Just this morning, he had been wishing we had Cheerios, and now, here they were. As he continued unpacking the groceries, he shouted out the name of each food item, followed by the name of the family member most likely to appreciate it.
            “Half and half! Mom! For your coffee! Wow! I’ll let you put that away. I know you love it. Jacob! Crackers! Here you go! And bananas! We all love bananas!”
            Living with five-year-old Liam is like living with a human shot of expresso. You wouldn’t think someone so small would have quite so many opinions and approach all of them with such passion.
            Five is a magical age. Anything is possible for a five-year-old and those of us  lucky enough to live with one should soak up the magic while we can.
            “I believe this might be the fossil of a button,” Liam announced earlier this afternoon, examining a small bit of plastic he found attached to the couch. Actually, it was a hardened dot of glue that had dripped from my hot glue gun, but I didn’t have the heart to tell him. A fossil of a button sounded mysterious and scientific, two attributes I had never before associated with our family room couch.
            Liam and his kindergarten classmates are newly hatched in the world of childhood. Four-year-olds are still shaking off the last vestiges of babyhood, but five-year-olds have been in the “big kid” camp for a full year, and the result is bold confidence. They’ve mastered eating with a fork, doorknobs, and printing their names. What else is there?
            Five-year-olds live in a place where God and the Tooth Fairy exist in harmony, and communication with either is easy and direct.
            “When we go to Florida, we will leave a map for the Easter Bunny,” Liam informed me shortly after I told him of our family’s plan for spring break.
            Liam’s kindergarten teacher has been teaching five-year-olds for 20 years and is unapologetic about her bias toward them.
            “I teach the best age,” she says every year at the open house. “Some days I can’t believe I get paid for this.”  Parents who stop by for an afternoon of volunteering don’t think she could possibly be paid enough.
            “It’s like herding cats,” an exhausted mom told me after an afternoon of helping.
            Tuesdays, Liam goes to my parents’ home in the morning while I work. My dad started teaching him to play poker a few months ago, and he’s caught on pretty quickly. When my sister visited recently, she and her husband sat down for a game of poker with pajama-clad Liam and Jacob before the boys went to bed. After Liam was down for the night, my sister told me there was something strange about hearing him say, “Duces are wild,” and noting the rustle of his Pull-up at the same time.     
            To me, that statement summarizes Liam — and five-year-olds in general. They can play poker, but they may wear a Pull-up to bed. They’re learning to read, but Teletubbies still has a hold on them. They can talk and reason, but they aren’t beyond slipping to the floor in a wailing mess of a non-verbal tantrum. 
            Five-year-olds straddle two worlds. Time and space are liquid. To a five-year-old, there isn’t too much difference between six days and six months. Both are impossibly far off. Chicago and Tokyo are equal as possible travel destinations.
Self-consciousness is still evolving. One day, Liam is horrified to be seen in his underwear by his little sister, but the next, I’ll find him on his bedroom floor, naked, pushing a hot wheels car down a ramp, having forgotten he was in the middle of getting dressed.
            I’m not sure I saw the magic of five as much with Jacob, our first child. Jacob, at five, seemed old to me. At the time, I could not foresee how different middle childhood is from early childhood. I didn’t anticipate the sudden jump in knowledge and understanding. I didn’t know that the magic begins to fade as early as first grade.
But I know it now. And while it’s always a pleasure talking to 9-year-old Jacob, firmly rooted in reality, I’m enjoying the fossils of buttons and the maps for the Easter Bunny while they still exist.

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