And then you were four

Four is such a magical age.

An age full of possibility, when your ability to articulate your ideas has finally caught up with your imagination, and the worlds you envision take my breath away. You are not bound by the restrictions we adults put on ourselves. Even children for whom being four is not such a distant memory sometimes struggle to identify with the guileless wonder you thrive upon.

You seek out shiny trinkets of inspiration like a magpie and tuck them away in your mind, stored safe for future games and conversations.

You cherish the things we take for granted, your eyes landing on objects we all too often miss: a stone on the beach with a hint of green, shot through with a lightening bolt of white; a leaf in the park, veins vibrant with yellow and orange; a stick covered in lichen, hard and soft at the same time. You pick these up and hold them close, bringing them home to add to the spilling-over nature table, laden with your treasures.

Your pictures give us an insight into the way you see the world. Lines capture faces and gestures, emotion a swirl of colour and scribble. Often you will draw a story, images evolving as you voice the narrative, characters emerging to bring your thoughts to life. You hold pen or pencil to the page and sometimes surprise yourself, I think, with what comes out.

You tell your stories in three dimensions, too – build them with lego or magnatiles or cardboard. You never stop talking as you create – that storytelling again, shifting narratives taking shape as words tumble over them.

Words are a valuable currency for you. Your curiosity is driving you to want to decipher them, to break the communication code that is all around you. Some days you want to shape the letters yourself, taking great delight when the lines you form match the ones others have written. Other days you are happy to slip back into a wilder world, concepts unconstrained by the need to codify them, invented words shimmering through your boundless creativity.

You are on a cusp, in so many ways. On a cusp between toddlerhood and childhood. You are a ‘preschooler’, according to the labels our society offers. It’s an interesting concept that, for our unschooling family. An interesting concept generally I think – to define children at this extraordinary age by something they’re not yet doing, by a place they do not yet know. Developmental milestones turn to ‘school readiness’ – those measures of conformity and compliance creeping ever closer.

It seems a waste, really, of all that magic.

I wonder sometimes what would happen to our society if instead of seeing four year olds as creatures to be moulded to our adult needs and expectations we were to put our egos to the side and see you, really see you, for all that you are right now.

I know you have so much to teach me about wonder, and humility, and how to shape my own story. And I know that other parents feel this as they look into the eyes of their own magic-makers, feel the spark of inspiration, of endless possibility. But we pack it away beneath the weight of what we think should come next – work, bedtime, starting school. And so we trundle on, treading that well-worn path even as the world falls apart around us.

What would happen if we took your lead, my childling, my sage? What would happen if, instead of reducing you to an unfinished human waiting to be shaped and socialised in the only way we know, we opened ourselves up to the possibility that our vision of the future could be reformed? What would happen if we listened keenly to your stories, harnessing their power to rewrite the narrative we are chasing?

It’s what I’m trying to do, in our own little corner of the world.

I hope it feels that way to you.

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