It's a blowy, cloud-racing day. It's always breezy in that playground down by the river. Following a week of broken nights, Operation Exhaust (The Child - At All Costs) is in full swing, so I don't immediately clock the funny little girl in the slightly old-fashioned outfit playing with her grandmother.
She's probably about four, quite slight, with a huge, pink sunflower hairtie holding back her dark hair. Her granny is attempting to persuade her to wear a white floppy sunhat. It's too big for her, I can see that from here, and anyway it's way too windy. Anna-mouse's hat never even made it out of the bag.
Anna-mouse is hell bent on a heart-stopping manouevre which involves throwing herself off the edge of the climbing frame, hoping to catch hold of the fireman's pole on the way down. I am a wreck, challenged but happy with her increasing physical confidence and the sheer level of application to her task.
The other little girl is attracted by the climbing frame, too, which has all sorts of ways to climb. Her granny briefly catches my eye and smiles broadly, nervously, wanting to be friends. I smile vaguely back, one eye still on my kamikaze kid.
A moment later the old-fashioned little girl does something - I don't see what - which causes her grandmother to say Oh, that was good, wasn't it.
Yes! The girl replies, delighted with herself. I'm clever!
To which the grandmother, who knows I am listening, hastily - sharply - replies We'll have to see about that.
Will we? I think to myself. Why? Why can't the funny little thing be praised for being clever and - more importantly - for thinking herself so? Why is it so important for your grand-daughter to be modest, at the age of four? What special quality was weeded out of you at that age?
I am quite sure that had the girl said I'm beautiful! her granny would have had no problem agreeing with her in public. It was the attribute of cleverness which so troubled her. This tiny moment touched an enormous nerve in me. As one who could never have boasted I'm beautiful! as a child (I was convinced I was plain for many years. Sadly, I look at photos now and think 'Gosh, I wasn't'), and who never felt her intelligence was great enough to say I'm clever! either, I try daily to infuse Anna-mouse with a positive sense of herself. It has taken me half my life to have any real confidence in my brain, though there never was anything wrong with it. Please God may she already have it!
Oh, let our daughters be clever! Let them trumpet their talents at any age, at all ages. Let them know what it is to know that they can outsmart anyone in the room - or playground.