Age six has been a miracle for my son and me. If you’ve read about my daughter, the Birthday Girl, turning Three, you already know that
1) my son was Three for two years, and
2) I suck at Three.
Really. I probably wasn’t very good at it when I was Three. In fact, the only story I have of me at Three took place almost exactly 38 years ago, just before Easter. We had already decorated eggs, and I came inside from the front yard looking for my mom.
“If I die, will my Easter eggs go to heaven with me?” I wanted to know. It took her a while to figure out that the reason I had this burning question was because I had just eaten some mushrooms as a kind of morbid experiment. There–now you know all about age Three.
My son had a legitimate claim to his prolonged exploration of Three. I had the audacity to be enormously pregnant or nursing his new baby sister for most of his original age Three, so he quite sensibly stayed Three until I had time to pay proper attention to it.
Two years of Three, and straight to age Five, which sucked for its own reasons. He started Kindergarten late, after a brief, failed experiment with Junior Kindergarten. At just-turned-Five, he was the tall, unathletic kid with a Princeton vocabulary and a bit more than his share of social immaturity. We did not win the teacher lottery last year; she was more interested in getting her class of thirty kindergartners to finish all their worksheets than helping the new kid integrate. Too late to break into the social scene and unclear about how to do it anyway, he didn’t make a single friend last year. And so he developed his alter-ego, his secret persona, his ultimate coping mechanism: Agent 005. He spent recesses skulking around the playground, talking into his wrist-comm and shooting pretend bullets at anyone who came too close. By the end of the year, he was answering my oh-so-casual questions about who he’d played with that day by saying brightly, “Oh, nobody. Don’t you know, I’m the weird kid!”
Six changed all that. This year, somehow, he was ready for the first grade. Maybe he’s like his mama–I never like the first time through very much, either. Too many mistakes, too much to get wrong. Maybe it’s because he started the year on time with everyone else. Maybe my one machiavellian feat of social engineering–the Modified Big Birthday Party–helped him get engaged early on in the school year. With an October birthday, his was one of the first to be celebrated. So he spent the month of September trying to figure out which fifteen kids he was going to invite to his party; limiting his options to just fifteen rather than inviting the entire class (an idea that made me want to gag in seven different ways) forced him to evaluate his peers: Which of these kids are interesting to me? Which of these kids like me? Which of these kids treat me well? Rather than just waiting around for his classmates to notice and include him, he was busy creating his guest list and quietly delivering personal invitations.
But I think the real reason my son wears age six so well is because he has finally caught up to himself. He’s always been the kind of person who’s just too big for his years on this planet. Early on, his tiny body was a perplexity to him, with all its rumblings and gurglings and disruptive digestive processes. After all, it’s hard to philosophize properly when someone’s always hoisting you for a burp. As a nine-month old infant, he would throw hysterical fits when he couldn’t get the Fisher Price Little People to stand up properly. After all, he could see us doing it and it was clear to him that they were supposed to be upright. The first motion his chubby fingers figured out was how to unscrew things. Yes, my little crawler went around the house scientifically applying the unscrewing process to every object he encountered, with fascinating and messy results. At one he was speaking in English, Spanish and sign language, but gave it all up for walking. He was fearless until the day he climbed to the top of the play structure and realized he could see all the way DOWN to the ground through the metal mesh. He refused to go up or across for the next three years–just didn’t seem sensible to him. At age two, he watched Finding Nemo twenty-three times in a row, then announced firmly one day after the terrifying barracuda scene, “I am NEVER watching this movie again in my life!” And he meant it.
Six is the first age into which he was able to fit himself properly, and it’s such a relief to both of us. So now he’s reading Poppleton and Nate the Great and writing/illustrating complicated stories about “Grim Weepers” and animal cannibalism. He’s serially obsessed with Legos and Star Wars and Ninjago (a happy prelude to monogamy, as far as I’m concerned). He belongs to the “Acorn Club” at school: his job is to store all the collected acorns in the pockets of his backpack, pants and jackets. His company, Muck Inc., uses our backyard for product development, and claims the discovery of a prolific patch of four-leaf clovers on our property. He and his friends skulk around together at recess, spying and investigating and collecting evidence. He’s been promoted at work, and now goes by Agent 006, and I couldn’t be more proud.