My daughter was nine last week. She was my first baby and I truly was an absolute beginner when I started out my parenting life with her. As I’d worked with children since I was 16, in my employment and voluntary work, and had been a child myself prior to that, I think I thought I’d have the parenting lark sussed. I did not. For the first six weeks of her life I reeled in shock at the actual reality of having a child of my own. I describe those days as the Twilight Zone. Day and night merged; I lived in pyjamas; leaving the house felt like the world’s greatest ever achievement and I had a constant sense of having no idea if I was doing the right or the wrong thing. There were moments when I wished I could send her back and resume my child free existence as I wasn’t sure that I could keep up the pace, intensity and relentlessness of being a mum. With this poor first little baby, I had no idea that this first stage was going to end and that I would one day be able to go to the toilet and to bed and have a cup of tea without needing someone else’s permission or help to do so. At six weeks old I began to emerge from the dark, timeless place of very early motherhood and I pretty much decided that I would keep this baby and this role of mother after all. And I’m so glad that I did because this girl of ours is fabulous.
A year ago, when she was eight, her friends began to use the term ‘girly’ as a sort of an insult. My girl, who loves Doctor Who with a passion and can burp the ABC and Happy Birthday, was especially keen not to be tarred with the ‘girly’ brush and label. For her eighth birthday, we went to the boy’s departments to buy her Scooby Doo and Star Wars pyjamas and she would describe herself as being a tomboy. I told her that there was no such thing really, that girls were allowed to like whatever characters and cartoons and clothes that they liked and that just because the department stores put Scooby Doo and Dalek designs only on clothes that they situated in the boys department, didn’t mean that they were only for boys. “Who are they to tell you what you should like?” I would ask. Who are they to say that you should like One Direction and Moshi Monsters? Each person chooses what they like for themselves. You can be a girl and like those things; you don’t have to be restricted by their ideas of what girls should like and be and you don’t have to take on their label of tomboy which is also limiting. She liked Dalek t-shirts but she also liked her party outfit with the glittery buttons, lace overlay and ruffly collar. She became confused and worried as she didn’t want to be ‘girly’ but did want to like some girls’ things. Lots of conversations happened all year and we watched other people’s styles and tastes to see how a non-girly-girl could join her love of sci-fi, jeans, teddies and pretty things together in perfect harmony.
For her ninth birthday, as we searched for clothes and pyjamas, she eschewed the boys’ department altogether. A suddden love of Tatty Bear has appeared. She didn’t want pink Tatty Bear pyjamas, but loved the old-fashioned wynciette buttoned shirt and trouser ones, with their pink outlined bears on blue fabric. For t-shirts we still headed into the ‘boys” section as girls still love One Direction it seems and she doesn’t. Her t-shirts are festooned with these ‘boys’ interests, though they are teamed with her hand knitted lacy white cardigan made by a friend and denim shorts over black leggings with sparkles. She is finding peace between her actual likes and the expectations placed upon her by the products the shops want to sell her.
My girl is a whizz on the computer. She can throw together a greeting card on Publisher, a slideshow on Powerpoint and research her homework with no help from me. She writes stories on the computer, designing the pictures to illustrate them, and has spent much of the year playing Bin Weevils and less wholesomely, the weird world of Movie Star Planet. “Do you think the boys would like me in this outfit, mummy, and choose to have me as their girlfriend?!!!” What kind of playtime pastime is that?! Lots of conversations were seeded in the issues raised by that little doozy of a game!
My girl loves to read. She has books everywhere, reading many at a time and has reading each one multiple times. She had a second hand Kindle too, and when she accidentally broke it she cried as if she’d lost a good friend. She is reading Harry Potter 3 with her dad, Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield with me and Tom Gates, Wimpy Kid, David Walliams books and Jacqueline Wilson books herself.
She is long of limb and long of hair. She tells me that she’s growing her hair for charity and when it’s long enough she wants to send it to a charity to make a wig for a child who needs her hair.
This daughter of mine is an amazing organizer. Her books are stored in wicker baskets in alphabetical order, she lays out tomorrow’s school uniform before she goes to bed and without complaint she tidies the baby’s toys and books away and lays and clears the table for family meals. She bosses her younger sister around to help to keep their room tidy too. I am allowing her some independence and freedom as she is showing that she is capable and responsible of gradually taking this on. She has walked to the local shop to buy a few groceries, crossing the main road. She makes me cups of tea and heats up her own milk on the hob for her breakfast. She went to cub camp in the summer, for four full days. We had no contact at all with her whilst she was there, and all week I felt as if I’d lost or misplaced something! It just felt strange and wrong foe her to be so absent.
My beautiful girl is a worrier. She has such a creative mind and a vivid imagination that she can sometimes imagine an unlikely, scary event so realistically that it feels quite real to her. We have had lots of conversations about the fact that our thoughts make our feelings, and that scary thoughts which are not true or likely can still lead to scared and worried feelings that are very real. We’re working on finding strategies that work for her in talking back to the fear, of keeping a part of her mind open that knows that though these fears seem real, they are not. As an example of one of her worries, there is a children’s programme called The Sparticle Mystery in which all of the adults in the world disappear and the children up to age 17 are left to fend for themselves and to look after younger children and siblings. She has translated this to see what it would mean for her: that she would be left to care for her baby sister and her younger sister and that as the oldest she would be responsible for them and have no one to look after her. She is very afraid of me dying and has been since I was pregnant with the baby. We use visualisation techniques, techniques from CBT and also employ the creative mix of her imagination and her logical mind. This is a work in progress. This may be an aspect of who she is, this deep worry that she experiences, and so I want her to grow-up having tools to manage it so that it doesn’t hurt and hinder her.
Conversely, I love the fact that my two older girls still love to play. They spend hours setting up Playmobil, their dolls, Build-a-Bear and schools and go off into a world of their own. The Tooth Fairy still visits both big girls and Father Christmas will have letters and snacks left out for him on Christmas Eve.
I have a nine year old girl who has the technical sophistication you’d expect of a twenty first century child in our affluent country and yet she still has all the delightful hallmarks of existing in the magical world of childhood too. She is really, really loud. She laughs, giggles, races about and will play fight with her dad at any opportunity. She loves to talk, as she always has, and loves to chat to adults and to new people, to tell them about her and to learn bout them. She is great and enjoyable company and an amazing conversationalist. She saves her cutting tones, biting words and ability to choose just the right words to enrage and annoy for her sister. Aged 8 and 6, they have rowed and argued more in the last year than they have in the rest of their years put together.
She knows that we are lucky to live in the part of the world that we do. She knows that some children don’t have clean water, decent shelters and enough food. Given her propensity to worry, I’m careful about how we talk about the issues of our imbalanced and unequal world and so we use the fact to have deep gratitude for all that we do have. She does wish for a bigger house and a room of her own though, and she does have friends who have more and who get more. She doesn’t ask for much though and is excited and grateful for the things she does receive. Money is tight this year in our house and she knows and accepts what this means for how much she will receive for her birthday and for Christmas.
So happy ninth Birthday to my firstborn and greatly loved daughter. I love being your mum. Watching you grow is both a great privilege and joy, and a bittersweet combination of looking forward to what is coming whilst mourning all of the younger stages and phases of you that disappear as you grow. Since you were born, a part of my heart has lived outside of myself and within you. My beautiful girl x