I’ve fallen into the trap of thinking that before though. I have wanted to stop her getting older so many times – aged four, proudly wearing her pink ballet leotard and matching crossover jumper; aged six, her face covered in chocolate cake mix licking out the bowl; aged nine, teaching her little brother how to make a daisy chain. And countless other moments in between. But I’m glad now that I wasn’t able to stop time when I wanted to. If I had, I wouldn’t have got to know her now, with everything that makes up being eleven.
Eleven has honed a fabulous sense of humour, sharp wit and sense of the absurd. About eighteen months ago, we went out for a pub lunch and she and I visited the ladies’ toilets there. With a painted wall in front of me, and a door painted the same colour into the toilets to my left, I mistook the wall for the door and pushed against the unyielding concrete to try to open the ‘door’, baffled at my sudden weakness. My daughter was vastly amused by my ineptitude and spent the next few days periodically doubled up in mirth at my expense, gleefully recounting the tale to anyone who would listen. A year and a half on, if she sees a similar wall/door configuration, she will silently approach it and push on it, eyebrow raised quizzically in my direction. Recently, she went to the toilet, alone, in a restaurant and came back commenting casually, ‘there was one of those walls Mummy, so I pushed on it, just to amuse myself’. I believe her.
Eleven has a strong, lithe, skinny body and is still reassuringly unselfconscious about it. Her ethereal, freckled beauty and pale, somewhat frail, appearance belies a considerable strength and agility. She is committed to her gymnastics classes, spending four hours a week with like-minded girls perfecting backward walkovers, back-flicks and flips, jumping into splits and shinning up ropes. At home or out and about, she will spontaneously throw a cartwheel when entering a room or walking along the road. She even tried to put her own stamp on the family cricket obsession – bowling with an integrated cartwheel manoeuvre. I delight in her body confidence and hope that her current focus on what she can do with her body will continue through the hormonal years which are knocking increasingly loudly at the door.
Eleven is also making her perception of femininity felt in a house of brothers, embracing nail varnish and hairstyles with a reasonable amount of dedication. It is not done in a vain way, though, but rather as a way of expressing her personality. She tries to tease her long hair into a giant bow, for example, or paint each of her nails a different colour just because she likes the colours. But she does not do it merely to look pretty (although I am sure that is part of it). She does it for the challenge of learning a new skill, like a complicated plaiting arrangement, or because it delights her to match the exact shade of nail varnish to her fluffy socks, or her duvet cover.
Eleven is developing a consciousness of how to present herself to the world, of what she sees as the need to be ‘into’ things as a way of marking her presence in her peer group. She uses Pinterest and has pages for hairstyles, for cakes and for animals. Not just any old animals though – only the especially small, furry, cute ones. Her favourite picture? A photo-shopped creation of guinea pigs wearing fluffy jumpers riding bikes. She appears to have made it a self-defining characteristic at the moment that she will only like something if it is somehow in miniature. She loves tiny dogs (preferably wearing something fluffy, preferably being carried in a bag with its nose peeking over the top), tiny (pet) rodents of all varieties, miniature pens, pencils, rubbers in the shape of a miniature flip-flop, pointlessly tiny post-it notes. Even miniature bananas were spotted on a supermarket shop. She does not normally like bananas but she squealed and wanted them because they were ‘so cute’. She then ate one and declared it to taste acceptably different to the normal giant variety (it didn’t). She also insisted that we bought miniature custard pots for her custard loving older brother. Aged thirteen, he railed at their pointlessness and ate four in one go. For her birthday party, she wants miniature cake pops, not a big cake.
Eleven can be breathtakingly thoughtful and mature. Two short months after my mother’s, her grandmother’s, death from cancer this year, I held a fund-raising coffee morning whilst the children were at school. Before we set off for school, she ran upstairs, found her pocket money and came down placing a two pound coin in my empty collection tin. She came and gave me a hug and whispered ‘something to get you started’. Along with this sensitivity is a startling and impressive amount of emotional resilience. She absorbs body blows, like realising that she and her best friend will be attending different secondary schools next year, rationalises them and moves on. She has already developed the ability that feels like an adult’s ability to express her upset, find her own way of dealing with it and recover.
Eleven is kind and caring to her brothers and is an especially wonderful big sister who has a particularly devoted little brother. They will still play happily together and, being roughly the same height, delight in trying to find new ways to lift each other and devise dance/gymnastics moves, with her in charge. This often involves her being carried by him, as she is considerably lighter than he is and I expect she will not be (marginally) taller for very much longer.
Eleven is a very busy little thing with a packed weekly programme of violin, piano and recorder lessons, gymnastics and art classes. I periodically urge her to give something up and not exhaust herself, but she cannot and will not choose what she could possibly stop doing. We still read together, ploughing through the books of my girlhood and she seems to genuinely like the world of Ballet Shoes, Anne of Green Gables and The Secret Garden.
Eleven does not yet appear to be embarrassed by me in public and will also almost always still hold my hand on the way to and from school and kiss me goodbye. I really don’t want that bit to stop but I know that change must be somewhere around the corner, as we hurtle our way through the last of her primary school years.
I know that I not only love my daughter, I like her enormously and enjoy her company. I can’t wait to see how she grows up.