Butterfly

Last week Maggie began Reception Year at her lovely Montessori school, which is UK pre-k and the last year before compulsory education begins. She’s in school three full days a week, and adjusting nicely. Moira, on the other hand, made it abundantly clear by the end of Maggie’s first week that she finds my company…a bit lacking. I’m okay, I’m just…not that interesting. It’s not my fault. It’s her, not me. But since I have to entertain her, I tried a new playgroup yesterday that my friend told me about.

We arrived to a church hall with wood floors and vaulted ceilings, where the echoes of almost thirty children and their caregivers vibrated over an expanse of toys, thrift shop keyboards and phones for kids to pound, mini-trampolines, and an art table. My body locked up defensively; this is not an atmosphere I’m used to. Such utter bedlam would have been impossible for Maggie to process, and until now most of our activities have centered around Maggie’s needs, since Moira was just happy to be where her sister was.

Moira took off into the din without a look back, arms stretched wide and a huge smile on her face as if to say “MY PEOPLE! YOU’VE BEEN HERE ALL ALONG!” I kept an eye on her to see what she was doing–and to whom she was doing it, if applicable–but I really believe that she could not have cared less if I was alive or dead. Once in a while she brought me a baby doll or enlisted my help to get the art smock on and off, but she mostly tore around exploring. I had to intervene a few times: she got a little bossy with the baby dolls, holding a miniature high chair over her head as if to kosh her new playmate, and another time she got up on the mini-trampoline and hugged the little girl next to her, who was not at all pleased that Moira had invited herself up. “Sweetie, not everyone likes surprise hugs on the trampoline.”

When I told her it was snack time, she ran away to find an empty chair and started babbling to her friend. When it was time to clean, she automatically took the lead in collecting toys and then, because she is a beast of pure strength, started stacking the miniature chairs. At the very end at song time, she raced into the circle and grabbed a stranger’s hand to sing “Hokey Pokey,” again not caring where I was or what I was doing.

Today I had to go to an event, a coffee social with lots of vendors and such. Moira did laps the entire time: continuous circuits past the tables, up the stairs, down the ramps, past the food, grinning at everyone, high-fiving, talking (babbling mostly incoherently) to people, giving hugs, pointing to friends. My friend Kathleen, herself a mom of three older kids, observed her in one of her circuits and said “My God. She just…never…stops.”

And she doesn’t. That’s what makes Moira so fascinating to me. Maggie’s autism diagnosis has challenged how I think and view the world, for sure, but at her core she’s an introvert who enjoys her books and quiet pursuits. That, I can manage. I’m an introvert myself and Tom claims extroversion, but he really straddles the ambivert line. Moira is an extrovert’s extrovert. It’s like living with a tiny diapered Oprah. “And YOU get a smile and YOU get a smile and YOU get a high five and YOU! YOU GET A HUG! HEY YOU!”

Being a natural introvert has meant that learning the rules of social interaction has been hard for me. I don’t have an intuitive knack for social comfort, and not a lot of desire to learn. Moira has the knack. She moves with such easy confidence and grace; very little gets her down. She certainly understands the rules–she picks up cues fluidly and easily–which makes it more galling when she then turns around and knowingly, smirkingly flouts the ones that are inconvenient to her purposes. This is the girl who taught her Little Gym class that it was fun to slide down things headfirst instead of feet-first; she’s given boys more than twice her age who want her to get out of their way at the playground raspberries and holds her ground like she’s seven feet tall. 

I know that her nonchalance in flouting the rules and pursuing her own ends is something that needs to be tempered, but truly, I am awestruck by her. That intuitive knack for mixing it up, jumping in, and getting to know everyone–even if they don’t necessarily think they want to be known (sorry, poor trampoline girl)–is so foreign to my experience that seeing it in action from such a young age is incredible to me. She’s a crackling sparkler of a girl, hard to ignore and hot to handle.

One way or another, this girl is going to be a showstopper. I’m so glad and grateful that we get a front-row seat.

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