I’m trying to write about a child, my youngest daughter Imogen, while a pillow fight is storming around me. She is the youngest and the smallest. She is 9, a week away from her 10th birthday. And she is being ganged up on by the older 2, her sister and their friend Morgan. I try to verbally referee, try to shame the older 2, try to get them to understand how little value there is in winning in this manner. But her older sister Ramona explains it all in a short outburst- “She’s impossible to beat!” And soon enough, after enduring many audible whacks to her head from the others, never failing to smile while doing so, she has all 3 pillows in her possession and has delivered her share of audible whacks.
Imogen was named after Shakespeare’s Imogen, from one his more obscure plays Cymbeline. Credit my Imogen’s mother with being educated in the Shakespearean obscurata. She is said to be Shakespeare’s strongest female character, who forfeits everything to pursue the path of love. As a princess she forfeits her title disguising herself as a man, thereby also forfeiting her gender identity, to escape her country, forfeiting her language and ethnicity, in order to evade an arranged marriage, forfeiting wealth and security. And she eventually finds her love. I love the image, unaware of it when Imogen was so named. I described this character to a friend recently and her response was that she sounds like a little Buddha. All these my little one wears well.
She is. She is uninterested in ambition- very strong yet has no desire to dominate. She sits on my lap and does situps, feet hooked under one leg, lowering her shoulders to the floor then back up. She will do pullups on the bus each time the bus pulls into a stop, counting how many total in a trip. She is offended if I cut down a tree let alone kill a rat, cries when distanced from the friends she loves but never when she is hurt. Literally, never. I encourage her towards martial arts but she feels she’s already pretty good at fighting. She is.
During our recent vacation, on Bowen Island prior to finding this cabin opportunity, in one day this is her account, about 2 hours worth- 1. fall off bike faceplant so hard helmet pops off. Father wipes dirt off- teeth, lips, face, clothes. Constant smile but an acknowledgement that that kinda hurt and needs to take a break. Break lasts 5 minutes 2. Continue riding bike into village a further 30 minutes. Push bike up a hiking trail. Find a snake. Pick it up by the belly as it thrashes about and sprays everywhere. Responds by saying “I think I need to put it down” Realizes it was snake excrement. Finds bathroom to wash said excrement off.. 3. Continues bike ride into village, riding through a parking lot. Father hears loud tearing sound behind him. Turns around to see big smile on face of girl in question. Knowing the answer, proceeds to ask question anyway “Did you just toot?” Knew the answer. Continues day, her consistently unamazed by these kinds of day.
Along with her sister and amazing little friends she is endlessly creative with an uncanny sense of proportion- preferring to make her own toys and costumes on her own. She is remarkably resilient, enduring physical hurt in a remarkable manner. One occasion as a 7 year old she fell off her bike on the Vancouver seawall. I waited a short distance away for her response while strangers rushed to her aid. Her loud laughter at herself and her predicament alarmed the strangers who looked to me for direction, receiving only a shrug. She has good friends and offers an intuitive, unpremeditated grace to one’s learning disability that makes it virtually disappear when they’re together.
She collects rocks, stones, runs outside when it’s raining, tries to protect moss from sunshine, set up an animal sanctuary with her sister and best friend Zoe, builds vignettes out of these collections for crickets and bugs to play in, dreams of the animals to which she can give care. As a 2 year old visiting a barn we found her with her hand fully inserted in a suckling calf’s mouth. Another occasion, last summer at Wagon Wheel Ranch near Sudbury, Ontario, a baby llama kissed and nibbled her nose (their noses were pretty much identical heights from the ground) for ages, put his head on her shoulder, but would skitter off if I came within 6 feet of him. Later a mule pushed her from behind with its long nose and she smiled knowing that it just wanted her to love it a little (dad thought it wanted a punch in the same long nose but dad gets a little overprotective sometimes). She lives in this world assuming Mother Nature knows she loves her and assuming Mother Nature loves her back.
She dislikes candy, sugar, icing makes her squeamish, craves carrots, fruit, berries. At her 6th birthday party I had prepared an array of food. She pointed to a bowl of steamed broccoli drizzled with flaxseed oil and sprinkled with a little sea salt and loudly declared “This stuff’s awesome”. Has the best food instincts of anyone I know, without exaggeration. At her 9th birthday party I purchased a truffle cake, kind of upscale for a 9 year old but knowing she likes dark chocolate (only) I thought this would satisfy. She smiled glowingly, said no thanks when offered a slice of the pastried finery, and only ate a little of the curled chocolate garnish from the top, which she also happily shared with all her little guests.
She follows me. Sometimes like a shadow. It’s these times I know she’s hurting or anxious. Just a quiet shadow, accepting of hugs, loving contact, jokes but resistant to questions, prying, efforts at forming an articulate understanding. I frequently find it difficult figuring out how to guide, how to push towards excellence, such a seemingly self-possessed child. What ends up being required of me is to simply honour the entrustment I’ve been given and observe. Observe when the adjustments need to be made in her and in the others around her, especially myself. These adjustments are generally accomplished quite easily as she doesn’t suffer complicated relationships easily. I love her.
And she hates the cabin.
The unlikeliest child to do so, but she hates it. Except, last week we went over to hike around, have a campfire (cabin life in small doses) and despite still insisting that she hates it, agreed to have her birthday party over there. Progress, methinks.
Happy Birthday honey. I love you very much even though you’re going to hate me for the photos I’ve posted.