Sunday, the family was loaded into the car, headed to spend an evening with friends. I was telling Jason a story from the passenger seat when a voice piped in from the back, "Mom, don't talk forever. I have something to say."
We laughed. I finished my story. Audrey took her turn. I was reminded of just how much four-year-olds do have to say. And how much they know, especially about themselves:
Monday, Audrey came inside from a successful bug hunt. She placed her captive on the kitchen floor to observe what he would do. Unaware of her plan, Gomer* came by and stepped on the bug, killing it in front of her. Audrey cried the rest of the evening, wailed over her plate of dinner unable to eat, and finally stopped at bedtime long enough to say a prayer for the bug.
The next day, her school received a "Silly Safari" visit. A man came with his bunny (Foo Foo), skunk, baby crocodile, turtle (who wore a diaper), bag of fleas, and bird (who pooped on the floor). The bugs (that Audrey said were fleas) the man pulled out of his lunchbox. They were in a ziplock bag that the man told the class had contained his sandwich for lunch. Audrey found the sandwich-eating bugs rather funny and told me they were her favorite. She then proceeded to tell me that the bird had pooped on the floor and that was her favorite part about the bird.
"Audrey, I think you could be a zookeeper," I said.
She thought this was a good idea and asked just how she'd go about becoming a zookeeper. "I want to be a zookeeper, a farmer, and a mother," she said. "Can I do all that?"
"Audrey, if you want to do all that, I think you will find a way," I said.
Audrey also had an opinion about the things the adults had to say last week. Saturday, Jason and I were talking about Butler's latest win. "I think you should stop talking about that," said Audrey, who is not allowed to use the word "butt". "It sounds like a bad word."
I'm what you'd call an indecisive adult. But, I don't think I was always this way. As a first grader, I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. (I don't remember who posed the question, but I believe it was my teacher, Mrs. Montgomery, who never scolded me for doodling in the margins of my worksheets, but wrote comments about how pretty the pictures were, instead). I replied without hesitation, "a writer and a mother." Time passed, and by fifth grade my answer to this question changed as I gained new interests and discovered my friends' interests and heard the suggestions of adults. I was going to be a figure skater, then a friend and I were going to open an optometry clinic, followed by my claim that I planned to become an architect. I entered college with every intention of following the path to become a counseling psychologist.
Within three years, I had all the credits I needed to graduate with a psychology degree. But I stayed in school one more year, racking up English courses and sneaking in a couple creative writing classes for good measure, leaving college with the academic mark of an indecisive woman - a double major in English and Psychology. I meant to attend a graduate clinical psych program, really I did. I had excellent grades and recommendation letters and horrible GRE scores. The handful of programs I applied to rejected me. Then, this boy I knew, asked me to marry him and I found myself, once again, answering a question without hesitation. We moved to a small town near a college campus where I took a job to take advantage of the employee benefit of free college courses, and snuck into as many graduate creative writing courses as I could (where the legitimate MFA students wondered who I was). Four years later, the day before packing our car to move to Virginia, I told Jason he was going to be a father.
Today, I am a mother. Every day, Audrey asks me to make up stories as we travel in the car or eat breakfast. Every once in a while, I check into this space to record pieces of our days. And, while I wouldn't call myself a writer, I will tell you that I've never met an indecisive four-year-old, or first grader. When one tells me she wants to be a mother and a farmer (I won't hold her to the zookeeper since I brought that one up), I'm not surprised that she seems to know herself so well. Those four-year-olds have a lot to say, if we only silence ourselves long enough to listen.
*Some names have been changed to protect the not-so innocent.
As for Nate, our man of precisely a few words, he seems to communicate just fine, pointing to the refrigerator when he wants some milk, shaking his head to let us know what he doesn't want, and jabbering like a talk show host rescued from a deserted island at his last doctor's appointment when he realized that talkative sister of his was nowhere to be found.