On Being Six

“I colored for you today, my father,” Solomon told me.

Solomon has started to refer to me as his father. Or his dad. And Katie is his mother. And Samson is his brother. Very possessive.

“Did you?” I asked.

“During quiet time.”

We were walking back from the bus stop. A brisk December stroll through our quiet, Pennsylvania neighborhood. Rolling hills and chilly sunshine. Eat your heart out, Norman Rockwell.

Back home, I sat on the floor in Solomon’s bedroom. He opened his backpack. All sorts of papers came tumbling out. One of them was the drawing above.

“I made this for you, my dad.”

“Very cool,” I told my son.

I think the drawing is a portrait of me. 2019. Dad and Solomon. A checkmark, a purple dot, and a green head with green hair. I’ve seen worse depictions of myself.

“Do you like it?”

“I love it.”

And then Solomon hugged me. And a few minutes later he was screaming at his brother. And a few minutes after that he was quietly playing with cars in his room.

Solomon is strange. Children are strange. People are strange.

That’s a Door’s song.

***

Solomon turns six next week. Where have the years gone? What have the years wrought? Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Etc.

Solomon is approaching his prime. I’m fleeing mine. This is the condition of our present age. Talk about a fall. Maybe the creation will be redeemed and all of us will escape this mortal coil unscathed. Make it out alive. And maybe it won’t. Depends on how you make sense of what is going on here. As for me and my house, etc.

Anyway, six. What an age.

I did a brief Google search. Because it’s 2019 and that’s what people do. WebMD offers some benchmarks for six-year-olds. I don’t really believe in benchmarks. People are strange. Seems silly to pretend they are all the same. Anyway, WebMD suggests that six-year-olds should: 1) Speak in simple but complete sentences, 2) Follow a series of three commands in a row, and 3) Focus on a task in school for 15 minutes.

Yikes. These benchmarks seem like guidelines for a prison guard. Do adults really evaluate a child’s development in terms of their ability to conform to fascist dictates of those in power? Keep your mouth shut. Do what I tell you to do three times. Make the choice I want you to make. That sort of thing.

I’ve got a PhD in Education and am afraid to say that, in my experience, most of what passes as identifying and assessing the development of people is deeply undemocratic. An imposition of power more than a careful study of the idiosyncratic and complex ways that humans grow into more complex humans. But I’m just another in a long line of complex and idiosyncratic human beings, so what do I know?

It would be funny to list some of Solomon’s common behaviors as benchmarks for other children to follow. According to my observations, a six-year-old that is developing appropriately should: 1) Scream uncontrollably when something happens that irritates them, 2) Be able to acquire 600 moons in Super Mario Odyssey, and 3) Count to a thousand by hundreds (loudly) during a ride to Target.

I could probably add countless items to this list. And don’t get me started on Samson. That’s an entirely different list. Somebody purchase “SamPhD.com” for me and I’ll give WebMD some healthy, albeit idiosyncratic competition. My benchmarks will be more rooted in Hamlet than cognitive psychology. What a piece of work is man. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. That sort of thing.

Good parents don’t want Hamlet. They want a discrete list of simple behaviors so they can feel secure in their child’s development. My kid is normal and so I’m a good parent. Something like that. It’s scary to think that human beings are wildly idiosyncratic, that we exist in an unfathomable reality that cannot be adequately described. People thirst after simple categories or measurable progressions or quantifiable whatevers. I’m normal and this is normal and so I don’t have to be afraid. This desire seems especially true in the field of education. Benchmarks are easier than the existential crises of being alive in an enormous, complicated universe.

Forgive me, I’m ranting. I was writing about Solomon.

***

We never have big birthday parties. Our closest family is a good 650 miles away. So our celebrations of Solomon and his brother are humble. Cupcakes. Presents. A feast. I like to regale Solomon with stories of his birth.

“It was twenty degrees below zero,” I tell him, “and Mom and I got into the car at 2:00 AM on a Tuesday morning. We raced through the empty and icy streets of Northeast Minneapolis. We arrived at North Memorial and you were born the next day.”

He listens with rapt attention.

“The birth canal began to widen, baby juices began to flow, and you burst forth into this world.” I don’t actually say this to him. But it would be funny if I did, right?

Six years of Solomon. I have less hair. The follicles that remain are grayer. I’m softer around the middle. Wrinkles at the corner of my eyes. I laugh too much. I know less about people that I used to think I knew about people. I haven’t had a good night’s sleep since I was thirty-three. And don’t get my started on Katie.

And yet we are sharing this present age with a perfect, beautiful, annoying, loud, creative, moody, kind, genius of a complex human.

What a gift.

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