Age 4 or 5: I'm in Pre-school or Kindergarten, and we get to do great things like finger paint with pistachio pudding and play with a wooden train that's almost big enough to ride on. But little Shawn is not a happy camper. My compassionate side emerges early as I try to comfort this blubbery boy. Mrs. Oskin, my awesome teacher, tells my mom, "She can do more with him than I can."
Age 6: It's Christmas morning, the year before the truth came out about where all those presents really come from in the middle of the night. I desperately want a bike. I unwrap all of my presents, and while the colored pencils are nice, there is no bike in sight. My parents ask me to go out to the kitchen for something. And there, in all its shiny blue glory, is my bike, complete with a white plastic, wicker basket, streamers pouring out of the handlebars, and a jangly bell that let's you know I'm a-comin! It's! My! Bike! I can't contain my excitement and shout: "I knew he wouldn't forget!" God bless Santa.
Age 10: Mrs. Bradley, the hobbit-like librarian with a hookish nose and hawkish eyes, who routinely falls asleep in class, tells me about an essay contest. I can tell that she assumes I'll enter it. I assume I'll enter it, too. After all, I'm the brainy type and have proven that I play well with words. But I don't want to write this essay. The topic doesn't interest me. And that's when it happens: my first major epiphany. I suddenly realize that I don't have to write the essay if I don't want to. I feel overwhelmed and overjoyed by this revelation of autonomy. And from then on out, it's people's expectations be damned! I'm charting my own course and marching to my own drummer! Okay, so it's all that within the confines of a very well-behaved childhood. I became a rebel with a conscience and just enough fear to keep me from breaking out completely.
Unknown Age: My family vacationed in Ocean City, NJ almost every year of my childhood and adolescence. One afternoon, after eating pizza, a sno-cone, and some caramel corn, I ask for a funnel cake, sure that there's no way I'll get away with such gluttony and debauchery. My mom, in a serotonin-high probably brought on by the sea air (or the sugar), says okay. I can't believe my good fortune and say, "I love vacation! You let us have whatever we want!" Thinking back on it, my parents often went out of their way to give my brother and me what we wanted, from a backyard pool and summer vacations to countless music and dance lessons. I guess that makes up for the time they almost allowed me to have cosmetic surgery on my gigantic ears.