Imagine you’re five years old. You live in Gladwyne Pennsylvania. You go to Gladwyne Montessori School for kindergarten where you’re in Mrs. Golden’s class with five other kindergarteners and a crowd of preschool kids. At home you munch on pretzels and play doctor and your mom puts your hair in pigtails.
You have an older brother in third grade. He goes to Gladwyne Montessori, too, but his school isn’t the same one as yours because it’s across the road on the other side of the playground. You still walk to school together, though. You chase your brother while your dad chases you and you run behind someone’s house through the wood to get there faster. Once you get to school you hop up the steps of the big brick building and wave them goodbye. Then you grip the straps of you butterfly backpack and go inside. Your cubby is the second one on the right. It has your name and a picture of you on halloween last year when you dressed up as Mulan with a pink and purple helmet and scowled at the camera. At your cubby you shrug off your jacket and backpack all at once and stuff them in. Off goes the jacket. Into the cubby. Out comes the folder. And inside that folder are important papers that your mommy signed.
Your best friend Zach is one of the five. When you go into the classroom he’s already there sitting at the round table next to the sink. Today your teacher is out sick so the assistant teacher is in charge. You don’t remember her name. But that’s okay. The whole school day you sit across from Zach drawing on printer paper with precise squiggly black borders. You draw lines and fighters so that it looks like the video game your brother likes to play and narrate as you go. Your voices are high pitched and loud, but to your five year old self it’s like they’re weaving epics and shakespearian soliloquies. Zach draws a fire mage who helps the little swordsman with a flat head. You draw Midna with long black hair, so long it goes off the page. When the assistant teacher comes around with her white binder and asks what you’re doing today Zach looks up innocently and replies, “We’re drawing. Obviously.” And inside you laugh and outside you smile. End everything is good.
And if you have a crush on Zach, well that nobody else’s business.
After you go home your babysitter stuffs you with snacks and teaches you how to mold clay. She creates fairy worlds and you make a blobby red being and when they come out of the oven hard you decide to keep them forever. When your parent get home the lights come on and your brother appears for dinner. You pray for tater tots. If you’re lucky she’ll make you cookies. And then, since it’s a Friday, you get to watch a movie.
When you’re five years old you watch movies, see characters, and decide to be just them. First Nausicaa, then Mulan, then Maria from The Sound of Music. Late you’ll move on to Kim Possible and Amy Pond and River Song. You’ll even spend a time with Kenma, Akame, and Sherlock Holmes. But that’s later. At five you’re young and can be anything you want and right now you want Mulan and Nausicaa and Maria. The characters you choose teach you to be kind and confident and free. They teach you to care for the ones you love and protect them as well and that selflessness is always best. But it goes farther than that, because they didn’t teach you that instead of being bad you should be good. At five bad isn’t even something you know. You’ve seen your share of villains. Sitting in the dark it’s impossible to forget the dark cars and raging fires, but somehow for you “bad” doesn’t even exist. So really, you’re not being kind. You’re being natural, normal, real.
You also watch your share of Disney movies. You read more than your share of books. Sitting on the floor with your paper and crayons you draw your brother’s video games and fire mages and Midna. Then, on another paper you draw a boy and girl in love. These Disney movies and children’s books that you’ve read never made you feel the need to be beautiful. They never made you feel the need to be delicate or feminine. They only made you want to love. So you hum to yourself and draw. You draw the allure and fantasy of the freedom fighters your brother likes to control. You draw scenes with long arcs of grass and wide expanses of white sky and yellow corner suns. You draw two tall figures with skin colored octopus arms to fall in love.
After your mom waves you off to bed you call to be tucked in. Your hair is wet and just goes past your shoulders. Your pajamas are hot pink; the pants have stripes. Leaning over you, your daddy tells you stories about a milk princess who, armed with her bottle of milk because milk was her favorite, went out into the world to learn. Then, after ten minutes of story, he pulls you blanket up to your chin, says goodnight, and turns off the lights.
At five years old, these are the stories you grow up with.