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In honor of the new school year, I offer an essay I wrote last spring at a writing retreat offered by The Sun. Thanks to the great Alison Luterman for the prompt; thanks to Elin’s mom Deb for the picture; thanks most of all to Elin for the inspiration.

Six-year-old Elin has a new song to share at the all-school assembly. She used to sing Ba Ba Black Sheep and Mary Had a Little Lamb, but last week she herded the wooly farmyard lot into her past.

Last week Elin made up her own song. Something about a swan and its mother. She’d practiced the tune for me at recess between rounds of Hide-and-Seek, before a playmate refused to be It and the April breeze fizzled beneath her sobs. Elin’s prone to petulant pining, but first she sang to me of swans swimming the blue lake. And I said, “Beautiful! I’ll sign you up for next Thursday.”

When Thursday came the song was something new – the swans met a bug, or perhaps they hugged? What she lacks in diction she makes up for in theatrics: hand gestures, swaying, exaggerated facial expressions.

And the performance was so brief that maybe no one in the room could register its import. Maybe no one else saw the high-strung child twist the tuning peg in her soul. I barely caught it – a triumphant flash in her acorn eyes as she returned to her seat on the scuffed carpet. It can happen that quickly: a child becomes no longer the echo but the source.

And now she perches before the chalkboard pondering her next title. “The world is dizzy,” she pronounces. She blows baby-fine hair out of her eyes. “I don’t know what it sounds like yet.”