Being (with) Ellie

I love to hang out with my niblings (nephew and niece), two of whom I recently saw when visiting them in another city. Jules turns six at the end of the month and yesterday was Ellie’s fourth birthday.

Jules is heavily into Club Penguin and drawing stick men, paying close attention to details such as protective machines growing out of their heads. Ellie, unsurprisingly, is into costume jewelry, all things Dora the Explorer and keeping up with her older brother. She knows exactly what she knows and wants, eats at a snail’s pace and draws pictures of her and me with finely disproportionate limbs and earrings – the mark of a true artist.

Most mornings, Ellie would climb onto the bed with me. Slowly skirting around my body – “it’s this leg that’s broken, right AJ?” – she would nestle up close to draw, write or to be read a story about ballet. Often I observed her learning curve with great fascination; new skills, new words, new foods, just so much newness in her world.

Watching Ellie learn her letters, studiously writing them with such focus and determination, felt like a gift, akin to seeing an infant take its first steps. Her big hurdle was the letter “K.” First, I drew it while she watched. Then she gave it a shot, but kept drawing two horizontal lines out from the vertical line, one much higher than the other. So I pointed out a magic spot in the middle of the vertical line, from which the two other lines are drawn diagonally. The concept still eluded her for a few tries, but then it clicked; from that moment on, Ellie’s Ks were perfectly drawn – her pencil hovering for a moment above the vertical line as she mouthed the words magic spot.

One day Ellie announced a writing project, eagerly setting out to write out the name of every student in her kindergarten class. She was ready to tackle the letter “Y” with names like Sammy and Teddy. I taught her how to write the letter by starting off with a “V.” Ellie then concocted an image of the rest: “with a tail that goes all the way down.” And so it went. At the end of every name that ended with a “Y,” Ellie would stop to reflect, turn her face just a little towards mine, and ask with an inquisitive look and a bit of pantomime, “that’s with the tail going all the way down, right?” Writing an “M” elicited similar queries: “that’s the backwards “W” right?” When Ellie finally linked up letters into words such as FROM, I knew she’d discovered a secret to her own success.

I am thankful for being witness to growth spurts such as these. Decades apart in age we are, and eons apart in life experience, but like me, Ellie too is on a journey of her very own.

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