I had an argument with my six-year-old niece today.
‘I know more than you,’ she said.
‘No you don’t.’
‘Yes I do. All you know is how to eat chocolate.’
‘Not true,’ I said. ‘I know how to dispose of a body where nobody will ever find it.’
Her jaw dropped open. When she’d recovered, she said, ‘Well, I know how to kill a dinosaur.’
‘That’s nothing,’ I said. ‘I’m the reason there are no dinosaurs.’
And it got worse from there.
I’ve always been a bit of an easy target for kids. No matter how old I get, they treat me like I’m one of them. In fact, they treat me like I’m beneath them. When I was an eighteen-year-old sixth former – tall, bearded, tattooed and pierced, with a leather jacket, a ponytail and chunky army boots – the eleven-year-old Year 7s used to trip me up, call me names, tease me, even spit on me. And it’s always been this way.
No matter how much I threaten, shout, growl, snarl, swear, they still think I’m just a big teddy bear. Maybe it’s my Asperger’s Syndrome, but I have no idea how to get a child to respect me as an adult. And since Izzie turned six months old yesterday, that’s starting to worry me.
I want Izzie to like me, of course. I want to be best friends with her. But I also want her to respect me. To trust me. Not to see me as a figure of fun to be poked and teased, but as a person with a wealth of knowledge and experience and, stemming from this, a certain amount of authority. If today with my niece and nephew is anything to go by, she’ll laugh at me, snap at me, make fun of me, throw things at me, hit me, talk down to me, roll her eyes when I talk, and generally treat me as just another plaything. As kids have always done.
It’s worse for Lizzie. Instead of people just seeing her as a big kid, she is a big kid. Thanks to her autism, learning disability and dyspraxia, she thinks the wind is caused by trees, spends her time doing paint-by-numbers and playing with gadgets, and can’t walk past a ‘keep off the grass’ sign without cartwheeling on the lawn. She gets on great with kids because she’s on their emotional level – space hoppers and trampolines, Kinder Eggs and Happy Meals – and she’s so clumsy, everything she does looks like it’s been made by a five-year-old. This is not to be mean – she would admit as much herself.
And so, as little Izzie grows, Lizzie is daily becoming more nervous about how she’ll cope with a young, precocious child. She’s terrified of Izzie growing up and making fun of her. She’s terrified of Izzie overtaking her very quickly and coming to look down on her. And she’s terrified of Izzie growing up to be embarrassed of her immature, incapable mother.
I don’t think she has much to worry about. I have no doubt she and Izzie will be best friends. They’ll have an innate understanding of one another and while it is likely true that Izzie will overtake her in knowledge, skill and maturity, I don’t think she’ll make fun of Lizzie – she’s more likely to be fiercely protective of her mother, and help her with her deficiencies.
However, I sincerely doubt Lizzie will be much of an authority figure or a disciplinarian, and so this will fall to me. In our relationship, I’m the one who has to say ‘no’ when Lizzie is getting carried away, climbing over safety barriers, trying to dance in the rain without shoes or a coat, or spending a month’s income on frivolities. Even now, she’s the one who buys cute outfits and toys and bouncy chairs; I’m the one who buys nappies, and nappy creams, and baby wipes.
So the question is: how I can be the lawgiver parent when no child has ever respected me?
I mean, I can’t even get the dog to behave anymore. Lizzie spent six hours making a Christmas Gingerbread House. I then spent three hours correcting the mistakes Lizzie had made with the Christmas Gingerbread House. Since it kept collapsing under its own weight, I froze the pieces overnight then as I rebuilt it, I reinforced it with chocolate fingers so there was an internal frame, then glued it all together with icing sugar. It collapsed again, so I persevered, and finally I had something I was proud of. I put it on a plate on the table this evening, left the room for two minutes to change the baby’s nappy. In case you can’t guess the ending to this story, I’ve attached a photo. Now, if I can’t get an eighteen-month-old Cocker Spaniel to behave, what hope do I have with a spirited toddler?