Five-year-old, II; or Treasures of the Mommies

Dear Isaac, As I write this, I am staring at a Mason jar on my desk that is filled with … your hair.

Yes, actually it is a bit creepy. Thanks for asking. You agreed to let me give you a haircut in the bathtub on the condition that you could keep the hair, and I agreed, because you really needed a haircut. I confiscated the jar from your bedroom the way I have confiscated many such jars: after you are asleep or at school, I go into your room and remove the desiccated remains of crayfish, the dandelion heads, the bodies of bumblebees, the Play-Doh sculptures set afloat and mouldering in seas of coloured water, the hot pink feathers shed from a boa, assorted rocks and crystals (always the rocks and the crystals: ammonites, amethyst, fossils, and what you are convinced are diamonds and rubies and emeralds but are really just bits of broken glass and quartz), stinking seashells, the broken remains of costume jewelry, grass clippings and chicken bones, glass beads. You put all these things in Mason jars to keep — you think forever — in what you term your "gallery." You paint a picture, and then keep the water in which you clean your brush, because it, too, is Art. And, because they are either gross or rotting or overwhelming or simply because I have run out of jars, eventually I go in and secretly (well, not so secretly, anymore) set your treasures free.

It's not that I'm trying to stunt your creativity. Far from it. Not that I think I could if I tried. For you, everything is an art project. For you, every stick is potentially a good walking stick, to be carved and inlaid with beads. You colour in huge sheets of paper, create your own drawings, frame and reframe them, invite guests into your gallery to peruse your work. You have even affixed price tags to the framed pieces, and while no one has yet shelled out $800 for one of your drawings, I have no doubt that one day they will, baby.

(We've had some interesting discussions about the value and cachet of art, especially after visiting my friend Sarah's ceramics studio. I tried, as tactfully as I could, to explain why she can charge which she charges for her work but why you might not be able to do that just yet. One day, I explained to you, you might too have been a practicing artist for more than four decades, with lots of international exposure and teaching credits, grants and awards. "Well, you know," I said, trying to explain it in terms that you might understand. "It's just that she's a bit more famous than you right now." You were suitably miffed. "Mama," you said, "it hurts my feelings when you tell me that someone's more famous than me."

Well, my love, let me tell you that in my world you're kind of a big deal.)

But the jars, Isaac: what gives? Why must you preserve everything? Perhaps it's no coincidence that you are currently fascinated by Egyptian mummies, the whole mummification process, the various organs and their various canopic jars. Heart, lungs, liver, intestines, all squared away for eternity so neatly in their painted, jewel-encrusted containers. I'm not sure whether it's the bling, the over-the-top excessiveness of the pharaohs in their funereal rites that has you hooked, or whether it's the idea that you can keep and save everything in some kind of massive monument to the world, or some combination thereof, but it totally fits with you right now: embellishing and ordering and storing the various treasures of your world, for keeps.

I'm trying to remember to foster your creative urges, but I will admit to sometimes thwarting you as you quietly drag your stepstool over to the kitchen cupboard where we keep the jars. "No," I'll say, “no no no no no no no,”as you look at me all innocent and pleading, a fistful of crayon wrappers in your hand. "No more! No more jars in your gallery! It's time for bed! Enough!” "Just one," you'll insist, as though it's a compromise, as though it was understood that really you were going to take eight, and I guess you probably were.

We have signed you up for classes at the gallery, but really, you'd prefer to create on your own. Also, you don't really care for organized activities. Music classes, gymnastics, soccer, art: you have more or less dropped out of all of these in favour of making your own music, dancing and twirling and climbing and somersaulting through your own world, kicking a ball around in the backyard with your brother, creating your own masterpieces. And as much as we sigh and suck up yet another registration fee, I can't help but think that we've taken the position of sanity in our overscheduled world. After all, you're five: you see magic and music and activity and art everywhere, in everything, so why should we contain all of that in weekly half-hour slots? That's what you teaching me. That, and also not to sign you up for any new activities for a good long time. You're cut off, buddy.

Isaac, you're five! Look at you, graduating junior kindergarten, writing your name, picking words out of books, cracking the eggs seamlessly into your birthday cake batter this morning. Sleeping in your own bed (finally, praise be). You have sprouted in recent months, supplementing your all-oatmeal diet with a much wider array of foods (a few nights ago, I bribed you with M&Ms to try the chickpea curry I had just made, and you ate an entire bowlful, and watching you eat it made me ridiculously, inexplicably happy) that must have facilitated that extra couple of inches on your frame (you still haven't broken 40 pounds yet, though, that magical mark when you will qualify for a booster seat instead of a car seat).

You're five. I started this blog a week and a half before you were born, when Facebook was barely older than you are now and Twitter didn't exist. You have grown up, almost literally, online, and perhaps it's not such a mystery, your urged to preserve each treasure, bottle it up and keep it for all eternity. After all, isn't that what I'm doing right now? Every time I take a photo; jot down a line to remind myself of the latest crazy thing you said; wish I could bottle the essence of your sweetness, still so strong, not yet peaked. Each time I post something here it's a testament, giving in to the impulses we humans have had for millennia. What gives with the jars? Why must we preserve everything? Because it — and you, my love – are precious, priceless, treasure.

Happy birthday, Isaac, you adorable little sprite of a weirdo.

Love,

Mama