The Princess turned 7 today. This is the first year of my own life which I remember with some clarity and I wonder whether it will be the same for her.
I took a half day from work and picked her up from school as a surprise. We bought high school musical stationery (ah girls and their love of stationery), sandals to celebrate the change in the weather, tea and a bun which we enjoyed in silence: I read my book, she read her Beano. Then we browsed in a bookshop amicably together and went home. When we got home, we found that the boys and the childminder, M, had put up balloons and bunting and made her a cake. M had also bought her a present. Relatives called to wish her happy birthday. Shortly after M’s departure, my brother and sister arrived weighed down with presents. And we finally got the walkie talkie we gave her in the morning to work. She had such a great day. And that is not always the case. For example, she spent much of her birthday last year sulking in her room.
I seem to remember that 7 used to be regarded as the age at which children can give uncorroborated evidence in court and I can see why. The Princess is much better at seeing things and describing them in ways other people can understand. Smaller children can describe what they’ve seen but it’s as though they have no points of reference in common with you. They’re speaking another language. She has lots of points of reference in common with adults.
Mind you, sometimes, I think that we attribute more knowledge to her than she has. She really startled me the other day by saying that she had thought that you got change from every commercial transaction. When she paid the exact amount some months ago (counted out by me, she was buying a stuffed turtle), she was surprised not to get change. I remember the incident and I would never have thought that, at that stage, she didn’t really understand how money worked. She has a very extensive vocabulary (today she described herself as “tempted by several different cakes to the amusement of the people at the table next to us) which she does not always deploy in a manner which indicates understanding but she does like words.
She reads a lot and she hates to be told anything. I suppose, as an eldest child, she suffers from the full weight of her parents’ didactic tendencies (poor Daniel is always begging to be asked sums but we seem to have used up all our energy on herself). And sometimes, she does know surprising things. One day, in the wake of one of their unhappier interludes, I described herself and her father as being like diamond on diamond. “Why do I say that?” I asked her. “Because diamond is the hardest thing.” “That’s right and you know what’s interesting about diamond? It’s made from carbon atoms and do you know something else that’s made from carbon atoms?” I asked, about to trot out everyone’s favourite science fact. But she answered “Yes, coal.” “How do you know that?” I asked. “I read it in my science book.” That science book gets a lot of reading. I’m unclear how much she understands but she loves it.
It seems almost incredible that this whole loving, clever, beloved little person with views (oh how she has views), likes, dislikes, friends, conversation and a personality (lots of personality) was once a tiny baby. Although seeing her closing her eyes and sucking her thumb when I put her to bed tonight reminded me that she’s not so big as all that. Of course, it’s easy for me to check what has changed as, unbeknownst to herself (insert appropriate quantity of guilt here) my daughter has lived a life online. I hope that, on balance, someday, she will be pleased that so much of her youth is set out here. I think it might be interesting to read about what happened to her when she was little from a grown-up’s point of view and match it to her memory. She is part of the very first generation of blogged about children – it’s different from being in a book or being in a newspaper column. It’s more anonymous yet more detailed. I think that it is also less intimate than a book where more seems to leak out and, of course, it’s much, much more common and that’s probably a good thing. If the worst comes to the worst, all this can serve as a basis for her PhD research.
Happy birthday my favourite girl in the whole world.