The voice is resolute, the tiny hand surprisingly strong as I try and wrestle the plate away from its grasp.
‘Me.’ The word echoes, the sweet, infantile tone belying the robustness of the word.
I hesitate, oscillating between my choices. I could keep struggling in this fight but I will never emerge a winner. Taming a tantrum or clearing up broken crockery are the fateful options which await me.
I opt for the latter as the least painful path and hold my breath. And watch. As my toddler, delighted in victory, plate in triumphant hand, ponders over the culinary selection on offer in our holiday hotel. Never once taking my eye off of her, my hand hovering nearby, ready to catch any falling debris, I watch. As she joins the rest of the diners, the adults, the grown-ups far bigger than her, selecting for herself what she wishes to eat tonight. She is confident. She is independent. She is determined.
Then, inevitably, comes a crash and I am embarrassed. I am panicked. I am a bad mother.
There are so many times like this, when my daughter’s headstrong wilful determination makes me anxious and worried. Every day, as she grows, she is less accepting of help. ‘No. Me,’ is her constant refrain, whether it be getting dressed or making her breakfast or pushing the supermarket trolley. More often than not her attempts culminate in mayhem, in spilt milk, in tears when I step in and take over, in frustrated chastisement from me. ‘You can’t do that,’ I say as she attempts to push the vacuum cleaner, far bigger than her, around. ‘Please just let me do it.’.
But then there are times when I look at her and I am absolutely blown away with admiration. Because what kind of incredible person is it who attempts to achieve what they want to, against all the odds? What kind of resilient, powerful, strong, committed person is it who keeps on and on, even though the challenge seems overwhelming? It’s this kind of person. The kind who will sit for half an hour trying to do up the zipper on her coat herself yet never quite making the teeth connect. The kind who will spend minutes of focused concentration trying to put her shoes on, even though they’re lace ups and she keeps getting confused between left and right. The kind who will keep trying to catch her ball throw after throw, even though the space between her hands is far too wide to save it.
This girl, this determined, resolute child makes me feel humble. Who am I to step in and try and take over, just because it’s easier or quicker? And this quality that she has now, I hope that she carries even just a fraction of it through life. Because life is hard. There are constant challenges, there are always obstacles in all we do. And my girl will need to keep some of that determination to face them. To tackle all that life throws up. And to never give up. Ever.
She inspires this in me too. As I watch her, her youthful optimism and self-belief not yet jaded, I realise she is an example. To be determined too. To follow my own ambitions. To never give up. To stand for who I am.
And as I watch her grow, I am reminded of the Shakespeare quote from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. ‘Though she be but little, she is fierce.’ Indeed she is. And I couldn’t be prouder.