My daughter wanted a story. So I began with “Once upon a time” (which parents probably recognize as the stalling technique employed while a distracted multi-tasking mom thinks of a story to tell)… but I got no further than this opening before she interrupted.
“No, Mommy–a LIVING story.”
Evidently Elena Grace shares my predilection for non-fiction. (And no doubt she enjoys the bonus chance that SHE might score a role in the tale…)
The phone just rang as I finished that sentence–Elena Grace herself, calling from her dad’s house to chatter about what plans we should make for this weekend. “Cuddling and Keoni’s ‘chotlick’ chip pancakes are always on the list,” she began; “but what else should we do?” After some thought, our list now includes playing “Apples to Apples,” watching “Numb3rs,” baking with Keoni, practicing “R-controlled words” for school, and telling stories.
With that last addition to the list, I told her what I had just started writing [with no idea where I intended to go with it], and repeated her quote from the other day. “How about a Libby story?” she responded. Libby was our puppy a few years back, and Elena expounded on her comment by explaining, “I like to make jokes with words. It’s my favorite way of talking.” (Those of us who live with her might list that after the descriptor “INCESSANT” to describe her favorite way of talking… No one meeting her now would ever guess she was born deaf!)
“Maybe you’re growing into a writer like Mommy,” I suggested; “Writers like to play with words.” And as I think on it, she’s been showing that tendency all along. Like her older brother, she’s a Reader–but UNlike Christian, our family photo-archives show her writing-and-illustrating at least as often as burying her little snub-nose in a book.
My journals (and for that matter, my A.A. “Big Book”) are liberally sprinkled with illustrations and mini-stories in her hand. She writes letters to us. When she arrives from her dad’s house, she’s invariably armed with the letters she’s been writing since we last saw her, and she writes us additional notes the whole time she’s with us. She loves to label things; one afternoon she went through an entire Post-It pad labeling absolutely everything in the house. (The house suddenly reminded me of those learn-to-read books where everything has its word written above it…)
It’s a fascinating drama, watching the talents and personalities of the Little People unfold, and marveling at how unique they are. I know I “grew” them both, but sometimes it’s a mystery to me to see how distinctly (and how early!) their individual Selves became apparent.
Christian latched onto the alphabet as if he’d been born knowing it, and halfway through my program of “teaching him to read,” he suddenly… took off with it. Like something “clicked” one day, and he was suddenly reading. He has always detested writing, though–even when he was super-small, he was such a perfectionist that he insisted on knowing the correct spelling of any word before he would attempt to write it, and his “writing” time involved a great deal more erasing than actual writing. Because he couldn’t meet his own exacting standards, he found writing frustrating. Still does.
Elena Grace (a.k.a. Miss Kinetic Energy) displayed no interest at all in such static items as letters, at least until I hit on the Signing alphabet–which she gleefully picked up in the space of a couple days. (Kinesthetic learner!) She is also blithely unconcerned with such trifles as spelling, and breezily “sounds” her way through her writing in a manner Christian was never willing to attempt. Her spelling improves steadily–and her printing is beautiful–but even before those things were true, she was entirely uninhibited about putting to use whatever capabilities she had at the time. She wanted to write things–so she did!
My all-time favorite illustration of the personality-differences between these two isn’t directly related to writing, but certainly fits with their different approaches-to-writing… Watching the Olympics together when he was five and she was two, Christian was giving a mini-dissertation about what sports he wouldn’t do “when [he] got to the Olympics–because a person could get hurt doing that!” Elena Grace, meanwhile, had been absorbed in watching the skeleton-sleds racing down ice tracks… following which, she took herself purposefully to the head of the staircase and unhesitatingly hurled herself down headfirst. (Thank goodness for carpeted stairs and flannel pajamas and the force of friction.)
That, in a nutshell, sums up my children’s personalities. Christian will probably grow up to do something smart and safe (I’m wagering “lawyer”) and Elena Grace will probably continue to throw herself into things with heedless zest. And in writing that sentence, I find myself blindsided by an unexpected realization. If you asked me with which of my children I “identify” more, I wouldn’t hesitate to answer Christian. (Don’t throw anything! I’m not saying I love him more or like him more than his sister–I just feel like I “get” him more.) Yet in writing that sentence carelessly predicting their future paths, I realize which of those two descriptions doesn’t sound like their mother.
The idea that my daughter is like me may have caught me off guard, but I suppose it won’t be shocker to some other people who know us–my own mother, for example. I’ll probably be able to hear her eye-roll, from 300 miles away, when she reads this paragraph. And I’m thinking of all the times, particularly in my teen years, when she squinted her eyes and gritted her teeth and hexed me with the wish that I’d have a daughter Just.Like.Me. Check!
“Hair to her ass and attitude to her eyebrows”–that’s how I summed up Elena Grace (at least until she impulsively decided one day that she wanted her waist-length hair cut short). Her nick-name at home (and the password to her diary on my iPad–the first item I installed for her) is “Sparkle.” And I didn’t think she took after me? Well, she has had the answer all along. Whenever I’m stupefied by a stunt of hers and demand to know “WHO spawned YOU?” she giggles, pokes my belly, and sings out: “YOU did!”