Even as a baby she didn’t want to curl into us- she preferred to be held facing outwards, where she could watch the world, make her own connections with it, and show off to whoever happened to be around.
When she started childcare I expected tears but can count on one hand the number of times she wailed at my departure, and each time as I stood guilt-frozen at the front door of the childminder’s house, I could hear her already merrily playing.
Once when she was just walking, I let her toddle off in the park, testing the theory that a small child will only stray so far. But her invisible elastic was either very long, or non-existent. In fact it was my elastic which sent me in pursuit of her.
‘My do it, MY DO IT!’ was her determined shout from the time she could string words together.
Yes, she’s independent, is our Leila. It certainly makes life less complicated to not have to deal with separation anxiety. But it can, frankly, be a bit of a kick in the parental teeth at times.
Like last week, when I hurried through the door of my Mum’s house to pick her up from her very first sleepover, and she snapped the living room door shut in my face with a firm ‘no’. Granny’s house was much more fun than boring old home.
Or last night, when she cried out in terror, in the clutches of a bad dream. ‘No, I don’t want to go here! I want to go back!’ she shouted. G hurried in to comfort her as I lay with bleeding heart wondering what horrible nightmare had troubled our girl. What child-snatching dragon, what dark unfamiliar forest? But no- she informed G that the horrible nightmare was that she had been watching DVDs at her childminder’s house, and I had arrived to pick her up.
I’m all faux-huffy about this, but I don’t mind it at all really. She’s strong and single-minded and she wants to do all the things, all by herself. Independence can only benefit a girl and woman as she goes- or in her case, charges- through life.
And also, she’s not really independent, is she? Not yet. She’s still barely hatched. Though it feels like I’m always the one reaching for her, grappling for a cuddle, needing her, in fact she still needs us for every single thing. Not least, she needs us as the foil for her independence. For the times when the bad dream IS about a dragon; for the times when she gets to a party, all guns blazing, to find unfamiliar faces and her confidence deserts her; for when she wants to get dressed ALL BY HERSELF but suddenly finds herself tangled in a panic of sleeves and her head jammed inside a roll-neck; when there’s a dog, any dog, nearby.
However far across the park she makes it, it’s never further than a pair of watchful eyes can follow, never further than the calculation of how quickly we could reach her before she reaches the gate. And though she might hold us at arm’s length sometimes , we know, and she knows- though she doesn’t know she knows- that we’ll always be there when she does look back from her determined trot forwards, however brief her glance.