I’m losing her. To her comfy spot, where she sits and watches videos on YouTube for hours on end. Her childhood going missing somewhere under the cushions and the piles of toys barely played with, conversations not had, friendships not formed, books not read. Even her words are disappearing. She hardly strings a sentence together anymore, preferring to talk in cat, or worse, pug. ‘How are you?’ ‘Pug.’ ‘What did you do today?’ ‘Pug’, and so on ad nauseum. When I found her spelling homework book in her bookbag, untouched for more than two terms, she refused to let me help her catch up. She hardly lets me help her with anything. And hasn’t since the moment she could do it herself.
I didn’t know what to do with her, crying that she didn’t want to go to Cubs, one of the few activities she has gone to – the move up from Beavers has, it seems, proved too much. Her difference, perhaps more striking as all around her, others mature while she, in key respects, just won’t grow up. In fact, in some things, she’s regressed. Watching her painfully scrawl out her spellings, for all she knows her timetables backwards, I wondered whether I’ve been too lackadaisical. Jonah for all his early challenges has matured into quite a different character than the easy-to-anger boy he once was. But I had to put my foot down, and hard. I guess I learned to relax with Ava. Perhaps too much.
I feel sad that the one friend she has at school – a girl of Indian origin, who arrived in her school just as her last friend left – doesn’t ever seem to be able to come over to play, despite my leaving my phone number more than once with the teacher. I’m rarely in the playground to catch her mum or dad. But then it makes me sadder still that Ava doesn’t seem bothered, preferring her own company to anyone else’s – except perhaps that of her brother, who she idolises so much she let him put her in the naughty corner for some perceived wrong. She’s more than happy to have him rule the roost. So much for feminism, for all she’s always refused to wear dresses, or play with dolls.
But as someone once said to me (who frankly, I’ve struggled to talk to since) that my obsession with getting my children diagnosed (by experts, hey, but what would they know?) says more about me than it does about them. And yes, perhaps my own childhood experiences, of struggling with friendships; still struggling so much at school pick-ups that I find myself in tears at my own social anxiety; or lonely in the park, not quite knowing what to do with myself without the comfort of an e-cig or a phone to keep my mind from wandering down dark paths, fiddling in my bag so much I lost my keys without noticing. It maybe does says more about me – how much I worry. We are, after all quite different.
Ava has a more practical bent than me, perhaps making up for Jonah’s head in the clouds amnesia, which I’m sure he gets from my side. Like her father, she knows how to operate machinery, do long division, build things out of Lego, and code. I can’t do any of those things for toffee, and yet I feel enough for all of us – where sometimes she seems nonplussed, except over things I, for my sins, care about – coordinating outfits, brushed hair: the things I judge people on, but on which, I’m thankful, she doesn’t judge herself.
That’s why I sign her up to things like ice skating and gymnastics. Not for her, for she’s not bothered about any of it – for me, so I don’t feel bad about being the mother of a girl who likes to be by herself, who prefers things I’ve no interest in – Minecraft; Pokemon – where perhaps I once I wanted a daughter to dress up and play teddy bears’ teas with. She wouldn’t have it, and I just have to love her anyway. I do love her. So much. I just wish I could better understand her.
She went in the end – to Cubs- Tom forcing the question and packing them off in the car, all the while Jonah gave sound practical advice on ‘enjoying it when she got there’, while I, I worried that her tears were symptomatic of something else – bullying, or something more sinister, that she never ever has the words to express because she never opens up to me, though she loves to cuddle me while watching telly, and brings me her toy rabbit when I’m sad, never knowing what else to say. And that’s why I’m saddest. What I might have once wanted from my daughter isn’t always there – a confidante, a mini me, someone to be the best friend I never had. But the only person I need to address this with is myself. She’s perfectly happy on her own and I should be happy for her for that.