The chubby-cheeked, pigtailed child in pink in this picture is now two weeks away from turning 22 months, when she will be two months away from turning two. The foot in the photograph belongs to her beloved nanny, who sent me this picture while I was at work.
This was a momentous occasion – it was Lil A’s first ever playdate. It was at the home of her friend called Sienna, who lives down the road. Sienna’s nanny and Lil A’s nanny are good friends, and the girls apparently seek each other out at the park every day. It is unimaginable to me that my daughter is at an age where she can show preference for certain people over others, where she can choose her friends, never mind that she can go to those friends’ houses without me first meeting the parents and checking the safety precautions in the house. Instead of delighting in this picture of my solemn little girl playing at a friend’s house, I felt my heart swell, and then sink. She was going forth in the world without me – even though, to be fair, she only went forth a few metres.
This was just one in a string of recent moments that have made me realise how independent Lil A is becoming, and how much my control and direct influence over her is dwindling.
For instance. At the beginning of the year, we converted our study/reading room into a play room for her (and by “convert” I mean “dumping all her toys from her bedroom and the lounge on the study floor, and taking out the desk”). It’s great – when she’s finished playing there, we can just close the door and forget about the Megablocks, board books, balls and teddies strewn all over the rug. Her bedroom is too small to allow the proper, spread-out play she seems to need (i.e. pouring out all the Megablocks, sitting on the pile of Megablocks, feeding teddies the Megablocks, etc), and we’re lucky to be able to give her a room all of her own. She goes charging down the passage shouting “toys! toys!” whenever anyone comes to visit – she’s quite proud of the mess, and wants to show it off. (Warning – long parenthetical tangent ahead: though, of course, she would never call her toys a “mess” – that word’s reserved for a most upsetting kind of situation, one which also proves to me how quickly she’s growing. In the morning, I always give her some of my green smoothie in her Cow Cup – an actual little mug, meant for an older kid – and we stand drinking our smoothies together. And she drinks it so neatly, and looks up to grin at me every now and then, as if to say, “isn’t this cosy, us drinking our smoothies here together”, and I can just imagine us doing this same thing in five, 10 years’ time, and it’s immediately clear to me that I don’t have a baby anymore – I have a girl-child. But then she invariably gets some smoothie on her chin, and she says “oh no, mess! Mess!” and she needs me to tell her that it’s okay, it’s just a little bit of a mess, and she’s actually doing very well. So hey – at least she still needs me for some things! Also, have you ever seen a toddler with a green smoothie-moustache? It’s quite cute.)
But anyway, the trouble with the playroom is that Lil A now has this space where she’s more than happy to play by herself. She doesn’t need her dad or I to occupy her in the lounge while we cook dinner – she just takes herself off to her playroom and gets on with pushing her doll she has called Beebee (which may or may not be a bastardisation of the word “baby”) on the “see-saw” (read: rocking horse/zebra), pushing along her plastic cars, and packing and unpacking her Megablocks (seriously: best. present. ever – she got them when she was six months old and still can’t get enough of them). She’s so happy keeping herself busy, and can spend so long concentrating on one thing that I can’t help but admire her self-sufficiency. But when I have to go find her to see what she’s up to, to join in her game, I get a little twinge of something that feels like regret, or nostalgia. It’s a twinge I I suspect I will have to get used to.
The biggest source of amazement to me when it comes to Lil A’s growth is that we are now looking at play schools for her. There are a handful of nursery schools in our neighbourhood, and we’ve narrowed it down to two possibilities. And, as well as making me realise that in a couple of months, I’ll no longer be my child’s first/second source of information about the world, and comfort, and laughter – I’ll probably be demoted to third place after her teacher and her nanny, who will still look after her in the afternoons – this process brought to light how weird some schools really are.
The one enrolment form I got asked the most obscenely personal questions I’ve ever seen outside of a blood-donor questionnaire. Never mind questions like, “Do the child’s parents live together?”, “What other adults live with your family?”, “Where do your child’s grandparents live?” and “Are there any genetic problems in your family, such as mental handicaps or autism?” – which, themselves, are offensively intrusive – it also asked “At what age did you stop breastfeeding your child?”, “What was the reason you stopped breastfeeding?”, “Did you have any problems during pregnancy or birth?”, “At what age did your child sit/walk/grab objects?” and “Does anyone in your family smoke?”. Bear in mind that this is a school for children older than three. I have absolutely no idea what any of these questions could bring to bear on the people who will be teaching my child for three hours a day, or how it could affect her acceptance into the school. But I do know that Lil A will not be going there. For one thing, can you imagine the guilt-trips on which I would be led, being a full-time working mother who stopped breastfeeding at 6 months because I was a full-time working mother? (Let me just say: I know that there are working mothers who manage to pump at work and keep breastfeeding, but I could not see that working for me.)
The only arrogantly intrusive enrolment form I’ve seen that is worse than this one was for an “alternative” high school that asked similar questions, along with “Do you have a TV in your home?” – if you answer “yes”, apparently your application is immediately rejected – and “Did you fly on a plane while pregnant with your child?”.
But offensive enrolment forms aside, with the playroom and play dates and play schools that have suddenly cropped up in her life, I have had to come very quickly to terms with the fact that Lil A is growing up – towards me, in some respects, but away from me in others. And there’s not a thing I can do about it, except spend as much time as I possibly can rolling around in a pile of Megablocks with her, sharing my smoothie, and joining her in what her nanny says Lil A loves best: “All the funnies”.