The Giving Tree expects nothing in return. The Little Engine can. You are five.
Comfort comes in the form of fiction. There are no monsters in the closet. Nothing bad will happen to you in the dark. Mommy will always be here if you need her.
You’ll learn things by heart. You’ll memorize your favorite bedtime stories, as well as the shoe-tying rhyme about bunny ears. Under, over, around the bend…
Math will be a little more complicated. Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed will teach you more about jumping on the bed than about subtraction. You have a one-track mind.
You won’t care about penmanship. You’ll hold the pencil in your hand and ask what kind of wood it’s made of. Who thought to make pencils and why are they yellow and what does the #2 mean? I’ll have to look it up.
English will be the breaking point. Like Ricky Ricardo in an I Love Lucy episode, you will want to know how one combination of vowels could possibly make so many combinations of sounds. But you’ll phrase it like this: HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO LEARN THIS WHEN IT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE? You’ll break your pencil. You’ll shake and cry. I will not be equipped to solve this problem.
I’ll take you a doctor who will make us both feel small. On the car ride home, we’ll practice pronouncing Aspergers. We’ll agree it’s a stupid word.
I won’t want to look at you differently, but I will. I will study your history for signs and your present moments for defects. I’ll find a lot of “I should have known” but not a single “something is wrong with you.” I will believe with all my heart that it’s the rest of this world that is fucked up, but I won’t talk to you like that until you’re much older.
I will glue myself to the internet, trying to understand you. The more I read the more I’ll learn this was a mistake. They don’t know you.
You will take apart the toaster every morning. When I ask you why, you will say you are trying to learn it by heart. You will put it back together every night.
You will live in the moment. I will worry about your future.
I will make as many mistakes as you will, probably more.
You won’t understand. Kids never do.
I will tell my mother she was right. She will kiss your forehead the way she used to kiss mine. She will remind me that I was a lot like you when I was five.
“His version of “Goodnight” is “No more monkeys jumping on the bed.” Yours was “Don’t let the bed bugs bite,”” she’ll say. And somehow I’ll understand.
We will buy a brighter nightlight. We will turn the bunk beds into a fort. Everything will be fine.
Originally published March 29, 2008