Thinking her son is intrigued by freedom, a mother struggles to explain the concept in 5-year-old terms.
The night lights are on, the turtle and the frog sending their green glow into the room.
We begin our nightly routine. My 5-year-old son bows his head as he says the alphabet, a hybrid version of prayer and the ABC song, naming something he loves with each letter. " 'A' is for Avery," he says, and I recall the cute brunette in his preschool. "B" is for Baseball, while "C" is for Cameron. "D" is Dinosaurs, and "E" is always for Elephant, his favorite animal. " 'F' is for Freedom," he announces. This is new. Freedom. Wow. I wonder if Asheville Montessori is studying democracy.
I want to acknowledge this moment and say something profound. I want to say how freedom safeguards values. "Freedom is very important," I say instead while he nods and continues with "G" for Gingerbread.
The next evening we have the same routine and this time he shouts, " 'F' is for Freedom!" I'm prepared now, having consulted Webster's for a child-friendly definition, and I tell him that freedom is liberty, as opposed to slavery. "Do you know what slavery is?" I ask. He shakes his head. "Slavery is where you're not free to do what you wish. So if you wanted to play soccer or go to a movie or even go to school, if you were a slave you would not be allowed to do these things."
His little head turns and his eyes narrow. I imagine he's soaking in the idea. "But you don't allow me to eat a sweetie before bed or jump from the bunk bed to the ceiling fan," he says. "Am I your slave?"
I should have seen this coming. "No, sweetheart, but you are my little boy, and those rules are to keep you safe."
"But does freedom have to follow the rules?" he asks. His little face glows with urgency, and his brows furrow. I'm uncertain how to answer the question, and I stumble out that freedom makes her own rules.