It is a rare treat to gain entry into the mind of a five-year-old, especially after more than a year of COVID restrictions and caveats for those of us within a “certain age group,” residing in sunny Florida for months at a time. Imagine the joy our small group of grandmothers felt when we came across young Michael in the pool doing his “monkey walk” around its rim. Conversant and outgoing, Michael captivated all who happened to be within his personality’s magnetic field.
With water blaster in hand and a wad of gum in his mouth, Michael was a natural at holding court and imparting the tidbits of information rambling around in his five-year-old brain. I, along with two other “grandchildren deprived grandmothers,” was only too happy to provide the opportunity for him to shine. After explaining what a “monkey walk” was, Michael proceeded to demonstrate his prowess by walking and wading, hand over hand, around the perimeter of the pool, all the while chatting away about his likes and dislikes.
As Michael and I engaged in conversation, covering a vast array of topics from how far the water blaster could shoot water across the pool (inviting me and others to participate in his target practice), to what erupts from a volcano (“lava. It’s very hot”), to his favorite kinds of gum (which he happily chewed while chatting away), I thought how exciting it is to be a part of his world; a world where every day is filled with discovery and adventure. While in his presence, there was a sense of well-being, normalcy, and hope for the future, as we laughed along with his precocious self.
At one point, one of the women in our group mentioned her teen-aged grandchild to which our new little friend replied, “Well, I’m five.” Her response was that her grandchild was also five at one time. Without missing a beat, Michael quickly replied, “Well… everyone was five once.” Upon hearing his response, I thought how his simple statement of fact carried more depth of meaning than his five-year-old self could imagine. Yes, everyone was five at one time, but those early childhood years of viewing the world with untainted eyes become obscured by increased expectations and responsibilities as we advance in years. Everyone was five at one time and Michael allowed his listeners entry into a world long left behind and rarely brought to mind.
As the conversation continued for the next hour or so, his natural ease at being the center of attraction ignited memories of my granddaughters at the age of five. I recalled the many scavenger hunts with clues written in verse on cards and their excitement when finding the sought-after treasure. I thought back to a young May, wearing garden gloves and a sun hat, kneeling on a pad in our yard with spade in hand, planting tulip bulbs. Her joy upon seeing the tulips in bloom the following spring filled her with a tremendous sense of pride in achievement. I thought back to a free-spirited Eloise merrily dancing to the song “Happy” at the local frozen yogurt shop without a care in the world. I thought back to pinata parties, shell collecting along the beaches of Cape Cod, watching birds as they flew in and out of the bird feeders and the myriad of wonderful moments I shared with May and Eloise as they lived those enchanting early childhood years, the years that seem like minutes when remembered in retrospect.
Later on in the evening, I thought back to my own childhood. Those glorious days of walking through the woods in upstate New York with my father by my side. I thought back to how my older brother and I discovered a sedimentary rock filled with fossils as we walked along a road and how we examined the tiny fossils held within its layers; my very first awareness of an ancient world. And I thought back to joyfully running through overgrown fields oblivious to the dangers of ticks, snakes, or any other creatures that I learned about as I grew in age and wisdom. Ignorance was bliss!
At dinner one night, I asked my husband, Richard, if he recalled any early childhood experiences. For a brief moment, he went back to his childhood self and told me about visits to his grandfather’s hotel in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey, a journey that involved taking a subway, bus, and ferry since he and his family lived in Manhattan and his parents didn’t drive. He recalled how, once there, he would play yard games like hide and go seek, and baseball with his many ”across the river” cousins. Thanks to Michael’s simple statement of fact, Richard relived a time spent with his grandfather, a grandfather whom he loved and hadn’t thought about in years.
Now, as I write this, my thoughts travel to past moments shared with my daughters at that tender age. I see Jessica donning our pat cat, Spring, with one of her doll’s bonnets and walking her throughout our apartment in a doll carriage. I see her at imaginative play with her nursery school playmates. Visions of Nancy collecting seeds and “itchy balls” on a fall day and placing them like fallen treasures into her little brown paper bag. I see both girls engaged in leaf rubbings using peeled Crayola Crayons and tracing paper. Every day brought a new adventure, every moment was filled with immeasurable joy.
Yes, Michael, everyone was five at one time, but we rarely pause to think back to those early childhood years. Thanks to you, I relived the many joys I experienced as a child, parent, and now, as a grandparent. The world is a wonder-filled place when there is a Michael around.