When I first posted ‘My Extraordingary Daughter’ she was just about to begin her degree at Glyndwr in Wreham. She was working for Calon Lan Caring Services and had just become the youngest Special Constable in North Wales. I talked about her: ‘pounding the beat in Rhos and on Wednesday and Friday she will be sat in university lectures on Crime and Criminology. She will also spend at least one morning or afternoon doing housework at home. She will walk the dogs, pick up some grocery and go out with her friends.’ I said: “And she will do all this with grace, and humour and energy and above all, enthusiasm. Because that is what my extraordinary daughter does. And as if all of that is not enough, she will do all this looking absolutely beautiful. She will light up each and every room she walks into. Because that is what she is: a little ball of love that lights up everywhere around her.”
She has now left home for her final year at ‘uni’ – house-sharing (shacking up, we used to call it) with Mr ‘Well Fit’, and is working for another caring service. Now approaching her 21st birthday next week, a lot has happened, but little has actually changed since my original post: she continues to be the best idea I ever had. 🙂
E. was my idea. The best one I ever had. She was carefully planned because I didn’t want any more maternity leave, we simply couldn’t afford it and because once I had finished changing nappies, I really had finished changing nappies.
It was quite a fun pregnancy really – I ate zillions of tins of fruit cocktail, and cream cakes, and drank loads of tea for the first time in years. I also went off alcohol. I got really fat really quickly, and Eddie, the caretaker, commented immediately. I remember starting to worry about ‘doing this one properly’ – ‘natural birth’ ! And just like last time, I started making crap, nervous jokes about the crap system of babies having to come out the way they got in again. And again, it didn’t happen. I was marking GCSE exams, as usual in those days: the deadline was the 12th, ‘it’ was due on the 21st. But then it all went pear-shaped when the final scan was mis-read. It appeared she had stopped growing and she had to be whipped out sharpish. Unfortunately, I told the nurse, that was not going to happen: I still had papers to mark. The nurse was aghast; the doctor was fairly calm, and agreed I could have till Wednesday night and come in on the Thursday morning.
We got up at the crack of dawn to get to the hospital by 8 am. I was wheeled down into the bowels of the hospital and put in a queue. And that is where we stayed pretty much all day. There was one emergency after another all morning. After lunch, which I didn’t have, there was one emergency after another. It was 3.30 in the afternoon before she was unzipped.
At some point, flicking through a baby magazine (I bought loads, read some and ignored all) I learned that the worse age gap between siblings was between 2 and 3 years – apparently it was the age difference which created the greatest sibling jealousy, which in turn could create loads of other issues. GM was 2 and half. Great. To combat this we presented E to him as his present and his responsibility, which he took to with the same gusto he had for all his toys. So when we finally arrived home with her, not only did Benjy the dog take a couple of sniffs and immediately hop into her carry cot with a protective stance but GM raced upstairs and returned with his sunglasses and placed them over her face.
E could hold her head up within a matter of a few weeks: GM watched her like a hawk, imagined every possible harm that could come to her, anticipated her every need – and picked her up at every alarming gurgle or cough. He would waddle across the sitting room with her in his arms – her arms, legs and head flopping all over the place – much to the disgust of many a visitor. But she thrived on it. And could hold ber own bottle around 5 months, could walk in her ninth month and could use a small knife and fork before she was one. In fact she surpassed every baby and toddler milestone miles ahead of all the textbook expectations. Until she went to school.
She went off to O P Primary nursery before she should have. She could, and did, dress herself completely and was appalled to learn one of her first targets was to be able to put her own coat on. S., the childminder, was equally appalled and pointed this out strenuously. S. was a governor at a local Catholic primary school and didn’t like taking E to O P. S. also pointed out and then demonstrated that E could even ride her two-wheeler bike without stablisers. This did not go down well with the other ‘mums’ – they had 7 year olds with theirs still on.
E. had an extraordinary vocabulary for her age. She could calculate and was extremely dexterous for her age. But her school work was ropey. She was chatty in class but clearly struggled to get on with the other girls. She did make one friend, J. E. and J. were always falling out though. J. tried to bully E. and E. soon got fed up with this. J. tried it one time too many – pinching E. in an afternoon lesson. E. did not pinch J. back. E. punched J. hard. J. did not try to pinch E. again.
By the end of the third week she declared that school had been great so far, but she wanted to know how much longer she would have to keep going. S. and I laughed – I told S. she could tell her it would be another 11 years. E. gave up on other girls somewhere around the end of Year 1. And she also gave up on her school work. I didn’t have the time to coach her at home, didn’t know how to coach her at home, being fearful of making matters worse by confusing her, and decided rather than to work on her school work, we would make sure she was good at other stuff.
E. was again bullied by the girls at W B Gymnastics club. It was quite a big thing, the ‘choosing the activity’ decision. GM was doing football with T. FC and also went to kick boxing with H. from next door. E was told she had to find an activity to do when she was 6. And just before she was 6 she announced her choice: gymnastics. We were gob-smacked. Where on earth had she discovered gymnatics and did she even know what it was? But I was impressed, and made enquiries.
I still remember the first few sessions. She was obviously new and couldn’t do anything. The girls overtly shunned her, and she came over to me quite a few times and said that no-one would partner her. I sent her back. Just do it anyway. And she did. I was appalled at how the mothers of these girls condoned their behaviour. But it was one of the best things that ever happened to her. Because when she was no longer the new girl, she didn’t avoid the new beginners, she offered to partner them. And my extraordinary daughter began to take shape.
She decided to be a policewoman just before her fourth birthday. They had been playing in the dress-up box and the toy kitchen had bored her as usual. So had the dolls and the princess stuff. And then she found the police uniform. And came home and declared this is what she was going to be.
We moved to HK in 2002. She went to Y. D. She was in year 4, and surprise, surprise, not, the girls bullied her. She was the new girl again, and was shuffled around from ‘friend’ to ‘friend’ for the next 3 years. Eventually she settled on I. Just like J., I. tried to bully her. They argued and fell out all the time. But things were different this time because she was discovering she didn’t need girls at all – she made friends with the boys instead. And go down well this did not. This is probably best illustrated by describing the party to which every girl in the class was invited except I. and E. This remains one of the most callous and rude things I have ever witnessed: people drive through what looks like this idyllic little Welsh village, and yearn to live somewhere like this, oblivious to that old adage that money can’t buy everything, including class.
Towards the end of the first term at YD Emma brought home a piece of school work. It was a history piece. It was paragraphed. The sentences had capital letters and full-stops. The names and places had capital letters. The words were spelled correctly. More importantly, it made sense. Half-way through reading it I burst into tears. Finally, E.’s academic performance matched her ability. and there was loads of it. When E. left YD we bought Mrs J. a thank you card, and I wrote a note in which I attempted to express a fraction of the gratitude we felt for the difference she had made to E., to the difference she would continue to make to E. In deed everything she went on to accomplish would be based on the difference she had made to E. Mrs J. cried when she read the note, I cried when E collected her A level results – and thanked Mrs J. all over again.
When E. started secondary school she didn’t get bullied. This time she ‘got’ bullies. She didn’t attempt to make girl friends, they attempted to make friends with her. But they were too late, her best friend was M. and D. and A. All boys. Because she couldn’t pursue her gymnatics here she took up judo instead. When someone tried to bully M. she stepped in, hooked his ankle with her toe and floored him. No-one tried to bully M. again when E. was around.
And despite, or even because, she had given up on the girls, she was elected form rep. year after year. She was on the School Council as Year 11 Year Rep when the school was inspected – the School Council was deemed one of its outstanding features. She organised and sorted out the room allocation on the Year 10 skiing trip to Austria ensuring no-one was left out, and as a result of her intervention in a couple of other incidents, was then invited back the following year to help with the next year group: Year 11s aren’t even usually allowed to go at all. She raised huge amounts of money for charities each year selling sweets. She made Flintshire Senior County String Orchestra, playing the violin in one of the country’s most predigious junior orchestras. She got her orange belt at judo and played netball for the school. When she went to Wakestock at the end of Year 11, a fortnight before her sixteenth birthday, she spent the first night in the First Aid tent helping to sort out an O-D case. It’s what she does.
And when she wanted to go to Leeds Festival, she went. Going to Leeds was more than a matter of just buying a ticket. She had to pass her History GCSE with a C. Which was not going to be easy: she had worked her little butt off at the beginning of the course, and got an A* in her coursework by writing everything that could be written about some castle somewhere, without understanding a single word of it. Her end of Year 10 exam was an E, her Year 11 mock was a G. She had two evenings left before the exam and she knew nothing about the history of medicine or the American West, and frankly, cared less. But I didn’t want anything below a C spoiling her certificate. So if she wanted to go to Leeds she would have get the C in History as well. It’s not easy learning an entire GCSE syllabus in two evenings. But it can be done, because she did. And that is why she went to Leeds.
So when she became the youngest Special Constable in North Wales Police for as long as they could remember it was no surprise to anyone who knows her. As they read out the personal synopsis of each candidate at the Attestation Ceremony most began “and X has just left Y Univeristy, where they attained a degree in … ” : E.’s began “and E. has just completed her A levels… “.
My daughter is everything I would have liked to be. She is a talented athlete and a very talented musician. She is kind and caring and thoughtful. She will work till she drops. She does not know how to give up. She is absolutely stunning. Above all though, she is totally unaware of most of this. And that is why she is my extraordinary daughter, and why I love her so very much.