Elsa develops a mind of her own
Don’t you hate it when your most reliable Chinese stock phrase is met by a look of total non-comprehension? And don’t you really, really hate it when the look is coming from your own, formerly adoring, offspring? Returning home from work recently, I was greeted with the heart-warming sight of Elsa playing with her dollhouse, happily wittering away to ayi on a make-believe matter I couldn’t quite catch. “Ni shuo shenme?” I enquired encouragingly of my little angel. She looked up, her stony facial expression the perfect mirror of a 60-year-old Beijing taxi driver’s. “MEI TING DONG,” she intoned.
I’ve since come to realize that this oh-so-charming dismissal was a signal, heralding the beginning of the end of Elsa’s previously sweet and biddable nature. Since the day of my first brush-off, a new Elsa has emerged, and spending the day with her is like navigating a mined ocean bed – I never know what false move will spark the next explosion.
Breakfast is a relatively low-risk affair, with efforts to insert Elsa into her high chair – legs and arms flailing – causing only minor surface damage. (It seems that the highchair, a much clamored for item in cafes, is public enemy number one when we’re at home.) Once she’s free to roam with toast in hand, however, my miniature nemesis steps it up a gear and assumes the role of Dedicated Naturist. Clothes have become an invention of Satan, diapers detestable. I chase the little nudist around for a bit but am soon forced to surrender, resorting to distributing potties strategically around the living room in a pathetic rearguard action. Then I put on a Pingu DVD until ayi arrives.
Five penguin adventures later, I depart for work. Elsa is supremely unconcerned (where’s that famous separation anxiety?), and airily waves me off. “SHANG BAN,” I hear her informing ayi knowledgably as I make my escape. This kind of über confidence in her ability to divine the day’s events and a tendency towards officious proclamations are other endearing features of Elsa’s newfound independence. It’s actually quite touching to watch her learning to make sense of her world, particularly when she doesn’t get it quite right – like when she delivers the same “off to work” verdict as I leave for an evening out (ayi raises her eyebrows but maintains a complicit silence).
In the afternoon Elsa and I venture out to the shops or for a playdate. I pretend not to notice her outstretched arm, palm held uncompromisingly upright and to the fore, or the way she bossily bellows out “TAXIIIIIIIIIIIII” from the comfort of her stroller. When we do get in a cab, nothing delights her more than fishing through my purse to locate a 100 kuai note, then thrusting it magnanimously through the metal cage at the grateful recipient inside.
I find things more manageable once back in the flat, where damage control measures are easier to implement. I pretty much know where the bath time mines are laid, for instance. Bubbles must be poured onto her hand, not into the bath. On no account reach for the voluminous snow-white Ikea towel – only the ancient grubby rag I should have thrown out long ago will do. Do not place said towel on lap, it must lurk inconspicuously on the floor. And over-vigorous squirting of the rubber bath toy is entirely unacceptable.
After bath time and another dose of Pingu it’s finally time for bed (place all three bunny rabbits within reach and don’t forget the pig). At last I can relax with a glass of wine, or “mummy’s water” as a good friend dubs it in a vain attempt to fool her 2-year-old. I comfort myself with the notion that Elsa’s premature arrival at the “terrible twos” stage – at a mere 22 months – clearly demonstrates an unusually high IQ. As the wine bottle lightens, I become quite reconciled to the weighty responsibility of having such a genius in the family.