Friday, March 09, 2007

On Q

Who is Q, exactly, now that she's very much a little person?

Q’s character proves easier to state than to elucidate, I think. It usually comes through in the way she angles her head and the ease with which she throws a look.

Well, anyway, let me try to fill things in a bit with a story or two.

Not long ago, Q and The Boy were horsing around in their room, and Q accidentally hit him in the nose with a book. It wasn’t anything major, and he didn’t cry or throw a fit. We told Q that she should say “Sorry” to him despite it being an accident, because that’s how you treat people respectfully. Q and The Boy actually get along remarkably well most of the time, and these days she normally apologizes for such things even without being prompted. But though she readily acknowledged that she hit The Boy (and that it was an accident), she refused to say “Sorry.” Refused flatly. We told her (again) why it’s important, and asked her nicely to express regret. We soon moved to threats of a Time Out, and when she held out, we put her in her crib with no blankets or toys, leaving her in her room with the door closed. She wailed pretty good, as one might expect. After the standard two minutes, we offered her another opportunity to say “Sorry” to The Boy who, always wanting Q to feel happy, repeatedly let her know that it was No Big Deal. No dice; Q said nothing. We asked nicely again, and again moved to threats. Still nothing. We put her back into time out; more wailing. Two minutes later we tried again. We all went through this five times. Five. On the fourth she did go so far as to say, “Momma say sorry to [The Boy].” We weren't interested in a lesson on proxies, of course, so back she went one last time. Coming out of her room the fifth time she did finally apologize. The Boy, always the prince, replied, "That's okay, Q."

So what I’m saying is that Q has a certain steeliness about her, much like her mother. Some might simply call her stubborn; I prefer to think of her as resolute.

Here's why. So one night my wife had made rice and tofu with vegetables for dinner. It’s a dish she makes a lot, in no small part because both Q and The Boy usually eat gobs of it--tofu, vegetables, and all. Q, though, decided that night that she wanted “Just rice.” Try as we might, we could not persuade or bargain a single rectangle of tofu or kernel of corn into her mouth. The Boy can usually be distracted or otherwise convinced to eat. My wife has negotiated billion-dollar deals with relatively rigid adults and is particularly good at getting him to finish just about all of anything. This night, however, even she couldn’t shake Q. At one point, she used Q's spoon to scoop up a bit of rice and added a single, small, slice of carrot on the top. Q calmly took the carrot off the spoon and set it gently on my wife’s plate, adding: “Just rice.” We tried offering candy in exchange for carrots. “Just rice.” Cake? “Just rice.” The Boy cleaned his bowl, and we ostentatiously rewarded him with gummies. She was unmoved. And in what for me will always be a defining moment in the way I think of Q probably forever, my wife asked her if she would eat just one bite of tofu. Q looked my wife directly in the eye, paused for the briefest of moments, inclined her head slightly, and shook it gently and silently a few times. No crying or whining, no throwing food or fork. It was another one of those proud/not proud parental exchanges. (As you can probably tell, I’m slightly more proud than not proud, but then again I wasn't on the business end of her self-possession.)

This story, like the other, risks portraying Q as nothing more than obdurate or bratty. She's not. She's generous and quick and loving and funny, among other many things, and I’ve been trying to think of a way to describe her right then as she is in full, been looking for the right-sized brush to paint the detail as well as the background. I keep coming back to “regal.” My wife usefully compares Q to Audrey Hepburn's character in Roman Holiday, especially at the beginning and the end. That comes rather close, I'd say.

In any event, “Just rice” was what she ate that night.

Let me be clear. People--and children in particular, I suppose--resist doing things for all sorts of reasons, often to take power over others or to cause grief to those who have power over them. And there are times, of course, when Q won't give up a book or a truck that The Boy wants merely because he wants it, and she knows how it twists him up when he doesn’t get whatever it is. But Q also does many of the things she does because, quite simply, she believes thoroughly in herself. I’d like to think we taught her that, but I’ve been around her enough to know that she showed up with it. If she's anything like her mother (which she is), she will quite possibly rule the world.

If she wants to, that is.