This is my monthly column in the New London Day. I think the link is only good for a couple of days so I'm including the text here.
If you had the opportunity to be four years old again, would you take it???
It's bedtime. Simon, Ben and I are lounging on the bedroom floor browsing through picture books and chitchatting, postponing the inevitable lights-out. Ben rolls across the floor to his wooden alphabet puzzle.
"How do you spell die?" he asks.
Die like dead or dye like color?"
"Dye like color," he says.
I give him the letters and he lays them on the rug: D Y E.
Next he spells his name, stealing the E from dye: B E N.
"How do you spell tag?" he asks.
"You tell me."
He thinks a minute and slowly plucks out T, A and G.
He then pushes all these letters into a long word, and Simon sounds it out.
"Hmmmm," I say. "Sounds like an antidepressant."
I tuck the boys into bed, kiss them goodnight and wander downstairs. Brian and I have a little chuckle about Ben's new wonder drug: Dybentag! Makes you feel like you're four years old again!
"You will experience frequent elation, fits of giggles, sudden running and the unbridled urge to spin in circles," I announce.
Brian takes a darker view. "Side effects may include crazy mood swings, screaming and stubborn intractability."
"And don't be surprised to find yourself trying to hit your sister over and over with a rope."
This whole exercise gets me thinking: What is it like, really, to be four years old? I look at my kids sometimes and try to remember myself at their ages, what motivated me, what I loved, what I hated. But this is difficult because my memory stinks. Nell is eight and I can kind of remember being eight, but before that it's nothing more than family folklore and snapshots stolen from my mother's picture albums.
What does it matter now anyway? I'm not sure that pinpointing myself at one particular age will help me understand my kids any better, though they, like all kids, love to hear stories about their parents when they were young.
But to actually BE four again. Would I want that? Would anybody?
I don't know. Four is a tough age. You have experienced enough to have strong opinions, but you're still a few years away from the Age of Reason. The world is just starting to make some sense, but it's still full of bewildering inconsistencies. Just about every day you're doing something for the very first time.
A couple of days later I ask Nell and Simon if they would like to be four again. Nell is non-committal. Sh can see advantages and disadvantages. Simon says no. He's six and intent on moving forward, not backward, in time. But when I ask Brian he does not hesitate. "Oh, God yeah," he says, as if the desire to return deep into childhood is a fixed reflex.
Ben tells me he wants to stay four forever. The idea of growing up makes him cry. And I totally understand. I can remember a time when it make me cry, too.