At the moment, if Dulcie has it or does it, Himself the Elf wants to, too. He is like the most slavish follower of fashion, with his big sister as his copy of Vogue. This causes some problems as the vast amount of her preferences are suitable for her age (well, tolerably. Her penchant for abysmally tasteless fantasy fairies hardly thrills me to the core but I tell myself it is Just a Phase) but not so much for his. He is a munching, tearing, flinging sort of child, whereas Dulcie has carefully looked after her possessions. She is fastidious, particularly with her own safety, whereas he is a cavalier and covered with bumps. If he were a car, you’d honestly think about getting him resprayed.
Yesterday, before preschool, Dulcie had donned a frothy cerise princess dress over her pinafore and was demanding my immediate attention to allow her to go to the loo in this absurd concoction. Himself the Elf was pootling around, eyeing the buggy with suspicious thoughts, fearing he was about to be contained. My choice: him screaming for five minutes while he is in the still pushchair, or him continuing to roam as I played toilet attendant. I decided on the latter.
Happy silence from him, until I noticed he was ransacking Dulcie’s lunch box, and had had some of her sandwiches and a big bite out of an unpeeled clementine. Cue manic sandwich-making as though I were on The Generation Game or something, putting it right before we RAN to preschool. Their wants and needs are almost always at odds.
“Is that a little girl?” asks Dulcie as we walk home from the playground, as a girl with pretty bobbed hair and wearing a tunic and leggings rides past on her bike. She is very clearly a girl, aged about eight, and I wish I was confused as to why I’m being asked this. I am bored with my own little homilies which are being completely disregarded, clearly.
“Yes, a girl,” I say firmly.
“She has hair like a boy and is wearing trousers. I thought she was a girl, but I’m just checking.” Dulcie has many, many times made me regret her bell-clear tones, forthright views and fog-horn volume, but on this occasion, the cyclist is well out of earshot, thank goodness.
“Her hair looked very nice – being a boy or a girl has nothing to do with the length of someone’s hair – and anyone can wear anything, it doesn’t matter as long as they’re clean and warm enough. It doesn’t change who you are.” We have this conversation about three times a week at the moment. To Dulcie, unless a girl has long hair (the irony being that her own very fine hair is growing so slowly that she has never needed a haircut and still looks almost bald in the bath when wheezing and blowing like a little seal, she dunks her head under the water) and is attired in a dress, preferably long, preferably pink, then gender is dubious. “I’m wearing trousers, and I’m a girl,” I point out. Continue reading
We are all supporting players in Dulcie’s imaginary worlds. Occasionally, when I’ve only had four hours sleep, and checked my bank balance, and realised I can’t have a pretty new dress, I harrumph at being made to be the Beast or a troll or a witch; but mostly I enjoy my swagger as I’m cast as a prince, to slay dragons and kiss princesses and swirl my tiny daughter around the Ikea rug that is, in fact, a marbled ballroom dance floor. Himself the Elf is now a useful addition to her imaginary world, but he won’t always comply. “Stop that! Don’t chew your crown!” she’ll squeal. He won’t take stage directions. “The whole castle is asleep until true love’s first kiss and he is clambering on a chair!” she protests.
Even as we walk down the street or play in the park, she’ll spot someone, a slightly older girl, always with very long hair and consistently wearing the sort of outfit that I wouldn’t dream of letting Dulcie wear until she’s oh, I don’t know, nineteen and able to buy it herself and even then her father and I will roll our eyes and ask if she’s going out like that; and she’ll say, “I’m being that girl with the high heels and the halterneck.” And that’s all it is. She knows nothing of them, and is sensibly clad in flat sandals and the sort of European, folksy clothes I love but she wrinkles her nose at, but suddenly, her walk changes and she’s flicking imaginary tresses, and eating pretend forbidden foods like lollipops or sweets. Continue reading
It is a momentous week, this week, for Dulcie begins pre-school. I’ve spent the last month preparing the way and watching her reactions when I tell her that she doesn’t need to stay for the whole session to begin with and how I’ll make sure she settles in before I leave. They range from boredom to brassy indifference and then back. I try again. “After three more sleeps,” I point out. “You’ll have your first session at pre-school. That’s an exciting thought. “How’re you feeling about it?”
She pauses in her deliberation between which handful of books she’s going to thrust at me to read. “All right,” is her threenager response. I expand on the wonderful things there will be to do at pre-school and her interest is particularly piqued when I explain that her ‘key worker’ will be a bit – a little bit – like a teacher at a real school. Her eyebrows raise appraisingly. “That’s rather grown-up, isn’t it? So, I’ll be a big girl, like a school girl who is nine or 33.” I smile and don’t point out that I hope she’s not expecting me to fund school uniforms for the next three decades. Continue reading
Dulcie and Himself the Elf have reached a new level of familiarity with each other and it isn’t just drinking the bath water that the other has peed in. They’ve perfected winding each other up to either such hysterical laughter that one or the other topples over, and as a neat counterpoint, have learned that they can reduce the other to tears of rage in an instant.
“He’s so funny! I love him so much that I’m going to give him a big squeeze,” croons Dulcie, grasping Himself the Elf firmly and making him sit down. He has spent the last minute trying unsuccessfully to reach up to a previously unattainable point on a bookcase and just as his fingers brush the shelf, she has calculatingly bumped him back down to the floor and is using his rage as a distraction for her boredom. But it works both ways. Himself the Elf may be charmingly silly but he isn’t stupid. He submits to the cuddle, all the while stuffing a huge handful of her treasured ballet skirt into his slobbery mouth. A muffled “Haaaaa!” can be heard from him, then a shriek as his sister notices. The tutu-clad child can certainly move fast when she needs to. Continue reading