when, exactly, was I supposed to grow up?

I sleep in a kind of jack-knife position.  On my right side, right leg stretched straight out, left leg bent, knee toward my chest.  I’ve slept this way since I was a small child.  There is a picture to prove it.  I’m napping on a blanket outside, my friend Johnny napping next to me.  We were both about four, on a camping trip with our mothers. 

I remember that trip, just as I remember a lot from my early childhood.  I remember being too small to reach the light switch in the bathroom, but there was a little stool there by the door I could step on.  I remember when I was finally tall enough to not need that stool any more.  I remember, pre-school, first grade and swimming lessons.  More than just remembering moments, however, I also remember what I was thinking.  I remember being in my own head when I was four and five and six.  With these memories comes the realization that I haven’t changed all that much.  The core of who I am, the essence of my personality was basically set in stone when I was five: talkative, outgoing, thoughtful, funny.  Now, add thirty years of life experience, and you have me today. 

That life experience is the kicker, isn’t it?  You learn to suppress aspects of your personality to fit in here, or pretend to be someone you’re not to get the job there.  Most of your life is spent trying to make the square you fit into a round world.  Disappointments, stress, responsibilities leave their film on your soul.  However, there are rare, unguarded moments when you speak without thinking, laugh without restraint, make a face when you think no one is looking.

You are five, with a better vocabulary and more coordination. 

Don’t deny it.  I can see it in you. 

You can be as grown up as you want to be, but if I choose to spend my time with you now, chances are I would have played with you during recess.  Substitute restaurants and cocktails for sandboxes and juice, but the rules are all the same.  You play fair, share, laugh, help, listen and care.  Add all the life experience you want, but if you didn’t have these skills at five, you probably never will.