At some point in the last couple of months, your face has changed. I noticed it in your back-to-school photo, and when I catch your face in repose in my rear-view mirror. Your face is thinner, older. You feel taller. You’ve just had a birthday, and now you are six.
In your head, of course, you’re much older than that. You are happiest of all when I treat you like a tiny adult, and one of the hardest things for you to understand is that it’s not always right for me to do that. But I give you as much autonomy as I can. What a funny thing you are: fiercely dignified, incurably perfectionist, dryly hilarious. You’ve never jumped through anyone’s hoops or softened your answers to be more socially acceptable. You hardly say a word in front of people you don’t know, so perhaps your blazing defiance, your fiery refusal to respect anyone before they’ve earned it, goes under the radar. It doesn’t here, where I watch you with astonishment, (often) frustration and not a little envy. Forgive me: sometimes I wish you’d conform. But that’s more about me than you, and you’d never take advice so patently ridiculous anyway.
There is proper delight here at six: the way you spend ages laboriously typing out text messages to family members, with carefully considered emojis; the way you hide books under your pillow and think I don’t know that you read them after lights-out; the instructional notes I find around the house (‘Please DO NOT use these until September’. ‘This way for Lego Club in Henry and Teddy’s room’). There are just a few words leftover from toddlerhood that you still mispronounce, and I hold them to me like old treasures: the Doctor fighting ‘the Garlicks’ in Doctor Who, eating ‘yer-sagne’ for dinner, going to ‘mathletics’ club at lunchtime.
I ordered you a cheese salad sandwich at school once, and you came home disgusted – disgusted – that it was ‘cheese, and cucumber, and CABBAGE, Mummy’. (‘Do you mean lettuce?’ ‘Oh, yes, probably’.)
You are still a fact-hoarder, especially now you can read. You’ve been telling me things, delightedly, about the Romans and the ‘Innocent Egyptians’ now you’ve discovered my stash of Horrible Histories. I hope I never forget your face when you’ve told me something you think is particularly unbelievable: wide-eyed, grinning, you give me a thumbs up and say ‘yes, TRUE!’ like you’ve personally fact-checked it. I mean, you might have. I wouldn’t rule it out.
You also love: your bike, ‘Mareao Karts’ (your spelling, Daddy’s old GameCube version), sausage pie, Tintin books, your brother (unconsciously, essentially) and your sister (openly, wholeheartedly), dinosaurs and Lego and space.
Yesterday we were listening to that song American Pie, and you laughed to yourself and said ‘Yeah, if you want to know how to dance real slow, ask a sloth’.
I worry about you more than either of your siblings. You are my first, of course, the fresh canvas that bears all my scribbled-out mistakes. You’re quiet and you care desperately and I worry that you don’t make things easy for yourself. And perhaps you don’t. Perhaps that doesn’t matter anyway, and you can already see what I can’t: that being defiantly yourself is all you can do, whatever anyone else thinks, whatever the pressures might be, whatever, whatever, whatever.
Good heavens, I love you for it. And for everything else.