Sitting, 5 years old, on an endless navy carpet, knees tucked to my chest, I remember the first and only moment I knew exactly what I wanted. I was in kindergarten, and we were learning about China. Although at this point in my life I knew very little, I did know how to get what I wanted. And that day, I wanted to make a fan. A beautiful, delicate, lacy fan — just like the ones that the elegant Chinese women would hide coyly behind in pictures.
The class, we were told, was to be divided into two groups: One would be making fans, the other, Chinese ribbon-sticks. We were not given an option between the two; it was assumed that we would be happy with whichever group we were randomly assigned, a reasonable assumption to make of a room of 5-year-olds. This assumption, however, reflected naivety on the part of Linda, my bottled-blonde kindergarten teacher, for there was at least one kindergartener with an adamant preference. Sitting in my stretchy, red skirt, what I wanted more than anything in the world was to make a fan, and I knew what I had to do.
When Linda had selected all but two of us that were to be in the fan group, I knew that it was time to take action. Sitting helplessly among my apathetic colleagues, I began to wiggle around, fidget with my unrealistically shiny Mary-Jane slippers and tug at my Christopher Robin bowl cut. With Linda fooled by my restless façade and seeking to get my feignedly fidgeting self off of her hands, my scheme was a success, and I found myself proudly rising from the lowly carpet to join the superior ranks of the fan-makers.
The fans we made turned out to be ones of folded and stapled pieces of 8 ½-by-11 printer paper, no lace, no delicateness, no vessel for demure smiles. My life was far from over, but when I saw the ribbon-stick group perform a special dance with their silky ribbons flowing from fine, wooden chopsticks, I felt as vulnerable as my paper fan, small and recyclable.
Fourteen years ago, although I came to know disappointment, there was some satisfaction in knowing what I wanted, and getting it. As I watched the dancers with their silky ribbons, I still clung to my paper fan, I had folded it, stapled it, and colored it myself, and it was entirely mine.
Since that day I feel like I have learned quite a lot. I now know how to write a 10-page paper in four hours, I know how to survive a day with six straight hours of classes on five hours of sleep, I know how to make a passable presentation on a 300-page book that I read the night before. But I keep thinking that what I knew as a 5-year-old is more valuable than any of that. Sure, I didn’t know how to write coherent sentences, but I did know what I wanted, and that was plenty.
If I could only commission my 5-year-old self to make decisions for me, maybe I could finally figure out what I want to major in, what I want to do this summer, what I want to do with my life. At nineteen, I like to think that I still have the means to get what I want, but the problem is that I just don’t know what that is. Maybe if all I wanted was to make a lacey fan, then life would be easier.