It happened over a bowl of Cheerios. As most things generally do. My daughter saves her best work for when we all sit down to eat. She is six-and-a-half. The half is important.
As I packed the lunches, my back turned to both her and my son, I heard it. That throat-clearing noise that she does when she is about to unleash some verbal diatribe of sorts. It makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up and invariably, causes my shoulders to tense.
She does not possess an ‘Off’ switch. She is ‘On’ all of the time. On waking, there is no gentle rubbing of eyes and burrowing under the duvet for a few more precious minutes. There is only,
“Mum, do you remember, last year, when you said to me….?”
When she does sleep, I still hear her voice.
Cue throat clearing. “Ahhhhem… mum, what’s a cervix? I’m pretty sure I know what it is. I just want to hear it from you.”
My son, sitting directly across from her, sighed, pushed his chair back and crossed his foot over his opposite knee.
“Sorry”, he said. “She asked what was in the letter on the table because she wasn’t sure. So, I read it to her.”
As he explains this, she does not break eye contact with me. It is an unnerving trait of hers. Only after you have supplied an adequate answer, will she shrug her shoulders. However, not before holding that stare for a few extra seconds to determine that the information you have supplied to her is an appropriate response.
What had so piqued her interest that morning was a letter reminding me to book an appointment for cervical screening.
She independently reads but at her appropriate age level ie, she did not display any traits of an autodidact and therefore was not reading Tolstoy at three years old. However, what began to emerge as a pattern, so highlighted during various parent/teacher meetings, school reports etc was one single, dominant factor: determination. If she can’t do it, she will find someone who can. Her thirst for knowledge is also insatiable.
When she received her first diary, she ‘employed’ our neighbour to transcribe her ramblings as she could not yet fully construct sentences. If she cannot determine certain words, she will ‘employ’ someone to read them for her. I have sat across from the numerous, lovely teachers she has been fortunate to have and listened as they tried to concoct various other terms for ‘bossy’ and ‘stubborn’ (we have had, ‘leader’, ‘focused’, ‘determined’, ‘opinionated’ etc) which in turn leads me to nod sympathetically and assure them, “It’s ok… I know.”
At four years of age, she refused to sleep in her own bed for an entire week. She had recently discovered ‘Global Warming’ and was concerned about the rapid melting of the glaciers and had convinced herself that her bedroom would be flooded as a result. On having a school friend over for the first time I happened upon a conversation in which she extolled her fascination with allergies as the other poor child looked on blankly.
“Now, some people are in-tol-er-ant to gluten. But most people say they are, to pretend to be healthy. They are lying. They are just fussy.”
During the furore surrounding Brexit and the political campaign for the current president of the United States, we had to impose a strict ban upon her in relation to watching any news broadcasts. She then, once more, ‘employed’ her brother to read the headlines of the newspapers in the supermarket to garner sufficient information.
Yet, if you were to meet her today, her outward demeanour is of a regular six-year-old. She will not reveal herself entirely until she is comfortable with you. She reserves her best work for when she is in my company.
I have heard many times how fantastic it is that she is so independent and vocal. But let me tell you this, for 50% of the time, it is exhausting. As a parent, I thought I would impart all the wisdom I have gathered throughout my years (or scant information) upon her with a beatific and knowing smile. Instead, when presented with a particular corker, I frequently resort to muttering.
“I don’t know” or “It’s just because, ok?”
Because, really that’s just parenting and life in general. Not knowing yet muddling through. And no, she did not know the correct definition of the word ‘cervix’. She did, however, have a somewhat solid grasp as to its location.
Look for her on the campaign trail in 2033. I will be the one ‘employed’ to hold her bag.