Kitty has started to try to call people names. She isn’t very good at it to be honest, mostly she’ll just tell you that you’re a “silly tent”, but it’s enough that we sit her down, try to explain that calling names is hurtful and just not something that we do and hope that the message gets through. I asked her why she thought it was funny and of course the answer came back “D_ does it!”. And what happens at nursery when D_ calls people silly? Well Mummy, and out came the story; D_ had called names and then he’d had to go to explain to their nursery teacher and then he’d had to sit out with the teacher for a bit. For a four year old it was clearly a moment of great drama and excitement in the day, compounded by the fact that Kitty herself has never, as far as she is aware, had to sit out with the teacher.
It was a little incident, and I can see why it’s absolutely developmentally appropriate for her to be reenacting at home both the things that she does at nursery and the things that have happened at nursery. But it also gave me a little nudge, a little foreshadowing of the future, a little hint that we’re about to get into the days of peer pressure and wanting to be in with the crowd.
On the one hand, I do want her to enjoy her school days, to be well liked, and not to be picked on or bullied, but I don’t want that at the expense of her being her own self. If she is popular I hope it would be because she is known as a kind, gentle and respectful friend, not because she’s head cheerleader (We’re pretty safe on that one if she inherits even half of my absence of sporting ability). If there is a choice I would rather she was not popular, but stood up for our core values, although I know that that sounds incredibly harsh.
In the next eighteen years or so there are going to be so many times when she (and Elma and Pip in their turn) are faced with a decision to stand up for what she believes to be right, or to go with the group and let slide something that she knows would not sit comfortably within our family. I hope that she will have the courage to always be her truest self and I’m willing her to have the strength of personality to stand firm, and not to simply be a follower, but to think for herself.
This is the time that we’re building the foundations for Kitty, and while I know the end result that I want, I don’t have a clue how to go about it.
But perhaps I don’t need to, perhaps it is not so much something that you do as something that you are. Perhaps our family life simply is that foundation. Is the way to nurture a quietly determined woman, just to surround her in infancy with such abundance of unconditional love that she cannot be anything but confident? And within that, to let her question and challenge us, and remind ourselves to be happy when she won’t accept things at face value, because they’re the characteristics you want in an adult, even if they can be very time consuming in a four year old.
I can see so clearly through the girls’ play that they are copying the behaviour that H and I model for them, good and bad (we shall gloss over the week when one of my daughters referred to her socks as “blooming” and when asked where she heard that word said “Grandma” – it wasn’t Grandma, it was probably Daddy and probably wasn’t “blooming”) and it’s that awareness that kicks in when I can feel myself getting towards the edge of my temper. Sometimes of course it all fails and we have shouty Mummy (“if you do not put your shoes on this instant and go to the door we will be too late for nursery breakfast and you will be hungry and I will be a Bad Mother”), which no one likes and then I get a grip and apologise and we all go on.
I have always been confident in myself and, I think, fairly immune to peer pressure. When I was at school I was a gawky academic child who was quite happy just pottering around in her own company. I wasn’t lonely, I wasn’t bullied, but I was never part of the rich popular group and somehow it never bothered me, I just did my own thing and waited until I got to university and met a whole group of friends who were just like me (and H, but that’s another story). And so odd as it sounds, because I don’t know what it’s like to not be like that, I feel like I don’t know how to protect Kit or teach her how to stand firm.
But if I’m right (and I think I am – see aforementioned self confidence), there is nothing I can do but be myself, and go on in hope and with a giant leap of faith that in eighteen years time the daughter whom we love more than anything else in the world save her siblings, will be the strong, confident young woman that I can imagine right now.