Wednesday, September 08, 2010

There She Goes - Characters My Daughter Resembles

My daughter turns three on September 9th. Her personality is really beginning to develop now, and everyday my wife and I are greeted with new sentences, vocabulary, and concepts that she has mastered. She's also navigating her way through a full range of mannerisms and emotions.

One moment she might hold her white teddy bear "Pickles" close and give him a big, expressive hug. Then, in the next, after I've asked her to do something, she might react quite differently.

"Cecilia, it's time for dinner. Let's put your toy away and get in your chair."

"Daddy, no. Last one," she often says.

"Honey, time for dinner."

"No. No dinner. NO!"

In these moments, while I sometimes feel exasperation depending on the particular outburst and duration, I mostly find myself smiling and wondering if these expressive moments foreshadow the personality traits my daughter will exhibit as she gets older. The possibilities seem endless but, even at three, some traits are clearly more dominant than others. I extrapolate and spin through the possibilities, and my mind invariably turns to famous female characters from books and movies that Cecilia is beginning to resemble.

DOROTHY, THE WIZARD OF OZ

Some days, my daughter is a Dorothy. That is, she's an explorer, always on an adventure, moving from room to room, and looking for the Emerald City or some elusive Wizard. Her yellow brick road might be the laminate flooring that spans most of our house because, after all, it is on the floor where she meets and ventures forth with her stuffed animal friends. Ever at her side, her teddy bear Pickles is her first and closest friend and can only be Toto. Elmo from Sesame Street is the companion she talks to the most and has to be the Scarecrow. Her lovable, over-sized bear Ruff -- who is her equal in size -- is the largest and strongest of her friends and recalls the Tin Man. Finally, a diminutive Japanese puppet cat named Felix is the Lion.

She talks to these companions all the time and takes them with her, throughout our house. Her affection for her friends is matched only by her protectiveness. She covers them with blankets, feeds them pretend food, nurses them when they are sick, and will stand up to anyone who she thinks wants to take them from her (like Mommy or Daddy, who sometimes make the mistake of picking up Cecilia’s friends in an effort to tidy the house). One imagines Elphaba or the Wizard cowering from this child's protection.

Cecilia is most like Dorothy, though, at the end of a long day, when she has had her full of play and fun. As night falls, she smiles and grows comfortable, in her own room, her bed, her home. There’s really no place like home.

CHER HOROWITZ, CLUELESS

One day when I picked Cecilia up from daycare, Linda, our daycare provider, stopped me.

"Do you know, at the end of the day we do a clean up song?"

"A what?" I asked.

At this point Cecilia chimed in and began singing. "Clean up. Everybody, everywhere. Clean up. Everybody do your share."

Linda laughed. "We sing this at the end of the day so all the children know it's time to pick up the toys and clean up. But you know what Cecilia does? She sings the song but just stands there and tells all the other kids to put everything away!"

I laughed too, but it got my wondering, what if Cecilia developed into a bossy child? What if she continued to hone her conniving and manipulating skills to always get what she wanted? I suddenly had visions of Cecilia in high school playing matchmaker to difficult teachers to turn C grades into As. Or adopting the nerdy, unhip girl at school as her friend. Even further, she might strut atop the high school social scene, self-assured but self-absorbed and tilting toward the superficial.

I glance over at my daughter and see her cute face and pigtails and, for a second, the image blurs and I have a vision of a teen-aged Alicia Silverstone from Clueless walking down the halls at high school. Could my daughter turn into Cher Horowitz?

At first the notion really frightens me, and I can’t get the image out of my head of Cecilia going on a wild shopping spree though Beverly Hills. But then I remember that as Clueless begins, Cher is only 16 years old, smart in fashion and social manipulation, but still a young girl with much to learn about life and people. This gives me some comfort, not for the hard lessons Cecilia would face if she grew up like Cher, but for the person she would become at the other end. Because, even as a toddler, with the self-absorption that comes with the age, Cecilia has shown a remarkable capacity for growth and change, and it’s not so difficult to see her, like Cher, learning through her teenage years and making efforts to help and understand people better.


SCOUT, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

If I had to use three terms to describe Cecilia, I would, without hesitation, say that she is strong-willed, curious, and independent. She often knows exactly what she wants, is content to explore and work out how to get it on her own, and will fight for and protect it once she has it. In this sense, she often reminds me of Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird.

A few weeks ago, Cecilia was playing with a neighborhood boy, when the boy grabbed the ball Cecilia was playing with out of her hands

"No,” Cecilia said forcefully. “You need to share!”

The boy just looked at Cecilia, not sure what to make of the challenge, and then dropped the ball and began playing with something else. It wasn’t exactly Scout standing up for Atticus, but the episode made me realize that Cecilia has it in her to speak out when she believes things aren’t right. I beamed with pride but also worried at the conflicts my daughter might someday face if she regularly calls out other people.


Another time, after dinner, we were eating chocolate for dessert, and when Cecilia saw that one of our guests at the table was eating an extra piece, she cried out.

“Mommy, Mr. Gary is having an extra piece of chocolate!”

It’s not just when she speaks out that Cecilia reminds me of Scout. My little girl is insatiably curious and always wants to know what’s happening. She regularly looks out her window and tries to see what the neighbors are doing. Had we a reclusive Boo Radley on our street, Cecilia would be just as terrified and fascinated with him as Scout.

Her curiosity extends to other children. Though Cecilia is sometimes as shy as she is independent, she invariably comes around to new kids and befriends them. In this sense, she sometimes makes me think of how Scout became friends with Dill.

I don’t know if Cecilia will continue to resemble Scout as she grows older. There are times when she avoids conflict, so she may be less inclined to speak out in the future. If she does not change and continues to mirror Scout, though, I will do my best to support her and impart the lesson from Atticus that "you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view — until you climb around in his skin and walk around in it.”

PRINCESS LEIA, STAR WARS

I suspect that all parents can't help themselves from bragging about their children, or overstating the qualities their children possess. My wife and I are no different, and often hear ourselves mentioning our daughter's singular talents and how precocious she is. Of course, deep down we know her quirks and idiosyncrasies, as well as her full range of emotions, the stuff that no one else gets to see.

As an example, just last week Cecilia refused to eat her dinner. My wife and I tried everything, but Cecilia continually refused and her mood shifted from forceful to abrasive.

“No!” she yelled, over and over.

My wife and I held firm and amidst the brinksmanship, I recognized that my daughter reminded me of Princess Leia, who did not give in to Vader while she was imprisoned on the Death Star and disclose the location of the rebel base.

Cecilia loves to tell others what to do. “Finish your dinner,” she often tells me, or “I want to wear the orange shirt.” One can just see her moving Chewbacca along, and leading Han and Luke to an escape from the Death Star.

My daughter is a petite little girl, but she plays hard, climbing and leaping off couch cushions and running and aggressively tackling me and my wife during playtime. As Cecilia leaps off her bed or down the stairs, I’m reminded of Leia swinging across a chasm with Luke, and holding her own in firefights with stormtroopers and ultimately besting Jabba the Hutt when the opportunity presented itself.

Finally, like Leia, Cecilia is not forceful or driven all the time. She can be subdued and loving, like at night before bedtime. And she loves her Mommy and Daddy more than anything, and would do whatever it took for them, as Leia did for Han, when he was frozen in carbonite and she had to rescue him.

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I know I have an overactive imagination, and, to an extent, see my daughter as I want to see her, and as the characters I’d like her to resemble. In the end, of course, she’s her own person, and won’t be exactly like anyone, not the characters I described, or other close matches, like Jo March from Little Women, who my wife believes Cecilia is already beginning to resemble. It is fun to compare and imagine, though, and wonder which character Cecilia will resemble next.


Happy Birthday, Cecilia!

2 comments:

  1. Bravo Dad, Cecilia will cherish this someday...as they make their way through life, girls sometimes need a reminder of their true selves. What a gift.

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  2. Thanks for the kind words, GirlCook. It sure seems like its hard being a girl sometimes, with all those magazine covers and models setting hard to attain standards. I suspect Cecilia will struggle live every other American girl, and I'll have her back.

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