You Can Burn Brighter than the Sun
At some point over the past year, you became obsessed with the fun. song, “We are Young.”
You fill the car with shouts of “turn it up! turn it up!” whenever the first few notes appear on the radio. You beg Daddy to play it “again! one more time pleeease!” on his iPod. You sing along with the words. You dance to it, transported to whatever brilliant and beautiful planet your mind goes to when you are lost in music.
Sometimes you even sing it all on your own, without any music to guide you, just carried along by your own internal soundtrack.
In these moments, I see some of the very best of you. Some of my very favorite parts of you. Your enthusiasm and your daring, your tendency toward daydreaming and imagination, your ability to get completely lost in a song or burst of reverie.
And when you sing “so let’s set the world on fire,” I think, “Right on. That kid’s going places that are bright and burning and wonderful.”
Today was your first day of kindergarten.
Like every parent sending their child off for the first ever day of school, I’m carried back to that first ever time I held you in my arms. There’s always that wonder with a newborn, that disbelief that someone so tiny, so helpless, could ever grow to be so big and so independent. And yet you’re not only big, not only independent, but also creative and curious and helpful too.
And though there was that ineffable new baby wisdom in your eyes on that day you were born, I think it’s safe to say that you know so much more now too.
Unfortunately, it’s taken my small, conditioned mind a while–too long of a while–to fully appreciate just how much you know.
Because you don’t quite know how to read yet. And I really wanted you to know how to read before you went to kindergarten. (Even though it’s perfectly normal and age-appropriate for a five-year-old not to know how to read fluently. But more on that in a bit.)
It’s not that Dad and I haven’t tried teaching you: we have. We’ve read books. We’ve played letter games. We’ve pointed out words on walks and in the car and on your t-shirts and in the grocery store. And though you can pick out a few words here and there–’you,’ ‘the,’ ‘Alec,’ ‘go,’ and so on–you do not yet know how to string a set of words together to read a whole sentence.
This worried me for a while.
It worried me for the same stupid reasons that I was worried back when I thought you didn’t know your colors.
You were two, maybe three, and I thought for sure it was time that you could and should identify all of your colors correctly. I tried puzzles. (Where is the blue circle?) I tried crayons. (What color is this crayon?) I tried everything. (Find something pink. Anything. Anything at all.) And soon I worried that you were colorblind, for every time I tried to engage you with all this color-learning, you’d get this bored look in your eyes and start naming everything “red. It’s red, Mom. That one too. Red. I don’t care. Can we stop this now?”
And then one day, we played Candyland.
“Look Mom, I got a green square!”
“Ah! Double orange! Cool!”
“You got one yellow, and I got one purple!”
And somewhere in the middle of our game, I looked at you sideways and asked, “Alec? Alec, how do you know these colors? You know your colors, don’t you?”
You looked back at me with a crooked smirk. You didn’t say a word; you just smiled.
In that crooked, smirking, beautiful smile, I could see you saying to me, “I don’t have time for those close-minded, traditional, bookish learning games of yours, Mom! I am a student of life! Of experience! Of the world! Expand your views of brilliance, Mom, because I have my own sort of awesome fire, and it is nothing like yours!“
And so we kept on playing.
We kept on playing.
You don’t yet know how to read, and you don’t yet know how to identify every single one of your letters. Or maybe you do. Maybe you know and you don’t have time for all my silly games. Maybe you learn in a way that makes learning how to read and how to identify your letters a lot more challenging than it is for other people. For the time being, it doesn’t really matter what’s underlying this thing that you don’t yet know because you know so much more that matters so much more.
Little man, you know how to crack an egg without getting (too much) egg shell in the bowl. That’s fierce. Those are some fierce cooking skills for a five-year-old.
You know how to construct a spaceship out of Legos. I see Legos, and my mind is limited to towers: just straight up-and-down towers. But you see possibilities for symmetry and three-dimension, for windshields and tail wings, for things that look like actual, you know, things.
You know how to identify a tomato plant just by looking at the little leaves sprouting up in the ground.
You know to maneuver your bike around the sharp corners on our neighborhood sidewalks.
You know how to listen to your body when you’re climbing trees and playground equipment: how to check to make sure that a limb is study before stepping on it, how to find a place for your feet if you start to feel unsteady.
You know how to say “holy shit” in context, and though I know I’m not supposed to be outwardly proud of this fact, inwardly, I’m proud. Terribly proud.
You know how to carefully construct a crisp, clean letter “A” when you write your name.
You know the difference between a whisk and a spatula, and you know not only how to use them but also how to distinguish the proper uses for them.
You know how to decode the workings of the iPhones and iPads and computers and televisions in our house.
You know that when someone is sad, it’s good to go up to them and ask if everything is okay.
You know how to enter a crowd full of kids you don’t know and just start playing with them right away, without any nudging or prompting, without any apparent anxiety whatsoever. Alec, I didn’t know how to do this until I was well into my twenties. Scratch that. I’m thirty-two years old, and I still don’t know how to enter a crowd full of my peers–and a crowd full of strangers–without melting into a puddle of anxiety.
You know how to approach the world with zest and excitement and curiosity and a hearty appreciation for play. And frankly, that type of knowledge is all too lacking in our world.
So any worries your close-minded mom might have about you not knowing how to read yet? I’m only going to say this because you don’t know how to read what I’m writing: fuck that shit.
Tonight, you are young, you are awesome, you are smart, you are delightful, you are fun, you are outgoing, and you are knowledgeable about so much beyond reading and letters and colors and numbers.
The reading will come in due time.
You, my dear, are going places that are bright and burning and wonderful with the knowledge you already have.
And as the lyrics go in that song you crank up “all the way,” you can burn brighter than the sun.