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You know how some people have memories of being 2 years old, playing with a favorite toy or climbing out of their crib? Or at 6, their first day at school?
My earliest tangible memories are at 9. For real. It’s not like I don’t have any memories before that, but those are merely vague images. Nothing I can describe in any kind of detail.
It was as a 9-year-old — a fourth-grader — that my memory suddenly kicks in.
Lexie, my first crush.
Caryn, who to this day is one of my dearest friends.
Mr. DiMaggio, my teacher who I think secretly appreciated my antics.
Roger and Mark and Ryan and others who I still know — some better than others — 35 years later.
I’m jealous of people who regularly remember dreams (another thing I don’t do). mostly because it seems like it would be great to know more.
Walking to school with my older neighbors. And sometimes going to their house after school. And their parents’ bed that hung from the ceiling.
The sketchy hospital across the street from our house that would eventually be demolished and in its place rise brand new townhouses into which we would move.
My huge bedroom with a shockingly-fancy brass 4-post bed.
Six weeks away at summer camp in the north woods of Wisconsin.
My oldest sister, Dana, suddenly existing.
I think about this — my lack of memories from birth to 8 — all the time. I’m jealous of people who aren’t like me. Probably for the same reason I’m jealous of people who regularly remember dreams (another thing I don’t do) — mostly because it seems like it would be great to know more.
I think about why, and there’s no obvious answer. I had a really happy childhood. No trauma. For sure I was a loner, and an only child (until Dana came around). Maybe I spent a lot of time in my own head? Or maybe it’s just the way my brain works.
Cut to 2016 and I’ve got a fourth-grader of my own. A boy so different from me at that age I wouldn’t believe he’s mine if we didn’t share the same coloring and love of Caesar salad.
I wasn’t a proper reader until much later in life. Don’t be like me.
Like any parent, there are a million things I want him (and his little brother) to know. A million lessons. But this moment-in-time feels particularly important. Because what if he and I share more than the shape of our eyes — what if this is the age his memory starts, like me?
If I ever thought he’d sit and listen this is what I’d tell him about this very specific time in his life.
1. Learn How To Be Friends With Girls
Actually, you’re already really good about this. It makes me happy for you. As you get older it’ll get more and more difficult to have girl friends who aren’t “girlfriends.” Especially if your whole childhood girls are “the opposite sex” and not just your pals. You’ll value dearly these relationships as an adult and I really do believe your attitude at 9 will help shape your attitude for life.
2. Bullies End Up Lonely, Bald And Broke
Don’t be one — they are losers. Don’t even be on the fringe. I know getting involved (in a positive way) can be tricky. You can always trust your teacher to hear you out confidentially. And if you’re on the receiving end, a stiff jab to the face should take care of things. But when you knock the bully on his ass, don’t feel too good about it. Let that be the end of it.
3. Fourth Grade Math Is The Most Valuable Math You’ll Ever Learn
Pay really close attention to math this year. It’s pretty much the pinnacle of practical application. You’re not likely to apply calculus on a typical Wednesday, but navigating effortlessly through fractions, decimals and complicated multiplication/division comes in handy all the time.
4. One Day Your Love Of Reading Will Be Attractive To Someone
You’re starting to read interesting and complex books now. Intelligence is sexy. A good way to be intelligent is to read. A lot. You’ll never be at a loss for conversation starters. I wasn’t a proper reader until much later in life. Don’t be like me.
5. Find A Sport You Can Do Alone, Anywhere, For Free
You are so opposite of me, socially. One day you’ll take a personality test and you’ll be an off-the-chart extrovert. Which is maybe more reason to find a sport at this age you can do by yourself, when no one’s around (or your brother is annoying you). I picked up running at 43 and it’s given me a lot. You’ve shown an aptitude for it recently. I hope you stick with it — it will be a lifelong outlet for you, no matter where you are, who’s around.
6. Have Your Own Sense Of Style
And/or trust me when I push the jeans, white t-shirt and black Vans. In 35 years you’re going to remember a bunch of kids at school dressed like they’re auditioning for American Ninja Warrior. As you start to develop your own aesthetic – which I’ve noticed you doing lately — don’t feel like you need to follow the trends — especially when the trend is athleisure. Be what you want; or if you don’t know what you want yet, be classic. That same person who finds your intelligence sexy … they will eventually want to look at pictures from your old yearbooks.
To me, life started at fourth grade.
Maybe for him it started at 3, when his little brother was born. Or 4, when his mom and I split. Or 5, when he learned to ride a bike. Or 6, when we spent a glorious week on the beach in Florida. Or 7, when I bought my new house.
Whenever it starts it starts. And what he doesn’t remember I will tell him and his brother all about. Maybe over a long run or in between chapters of a great book.
Ian is a 44-year-old father of 2 boys, 6 and 9. He lives in Chicago and works in advertising.