Who am I today?
Elizabeth has always been amazing with her observations. Since she was small, she would watch other children and television and mimic. She took echolalia to a whole new level when she would mimic conversations- try them on for size- repeat, and repeat again. When people asked her questions, she would answer, not with the “truth”, but with a conversation she had heard before. When she was four years old “What is your name?” might elicit “Elizabeth”, but it would just as likely elicit “Dora”, or “Ariel”, or the name of the little girl in daycare. Once she learned to talk, around age 3, she quickly learned that conversations were expected- that they were what other people wanted. And so, she learned to respond. But she never quite knew what response it was that they wanted.
Her behavior has often mimiced other children’s as well. When she was five, she hung around “Trudie”, a little girl who had some severe behavioral issues. Trudie’s mother was very nice, and although we weren’t “friends”, and since I certainly cannot be one to judge, I encouraged the relationship. Although we never said the words aloud, I wondered if Trudie was on the spectrum as well- she was odd, socially behind, and ohhh- the tantrums. However, her mother was in the middle of adopting another child and going through a divorce, so I was happy to provide support however I could.
Until the day the girls snuck into the kindergarten classroom after school, when they were supposed to be in Aftercare at the school, and proceeded to dismantle it- dumping trash over, writing on the walls and throwing things off of the shelves. When the teachers came in the next morning, they almost called the police. Beyond the issue of adult supervision (where WERE the grownups, and how could two little girls have snuck away and not been missed?), I was deeply concerned when Elizabeth’s response to “But WHY?”, was “Trudie thought that it was funny!”. Elizabeth did not realize that the teachers would be upset- she did not realize that she would get in trouble- it did not occur to her- only that Trudie thought that it would be funny. There was no concept of “right” or “wrong”.
Now, I’m a good fan of Lawrence Kohlberg,’s stages of Moral Development that says that children of that age do not have a sense of “Right” or “Wrong” at that age- only a sense of “Will I get in trouble?” If the answer is “Yes”, then it’s “wrong”, and if the answer is “no”, then the answer is “right”. It made me so sad that Elizabeth did not/could not think to even ask “Will I get in trouble?”, but only copied her friend’s behavior. And let me assure you- she did, indeed, get in trouble.
Convinced that I had the next juvenile delinquent on my hands, I quickly ended that friendship. No more playdates, no more time together outside of school. I didn’t want to abandon that little girl, but I was thinking as a Mommy Tiger- and if I had a child who going to follow others and I still had some control over her friendships, then I was going to help find friends who could be good role models. Ironically, Trudie’s mother immediately stopped calling as well, so apparently we both figured out that the two together were a bad combination. I didn’t know whether to be relieved or offended.
Since then, Elizabeth has been a good child, a very good child, an almost TOO good child. She didn’t sass, she didn’t get in trouble very often. The worst thing she does is pick on her brother. But she still reflects the people around her.
When her friends got into baby dolls, she carried them around. When her friends played Barbies, she got a bunch of them and dressed and undressed them, with no semblance of play. When Jack, her brother’s friend got obsessed about Legos, she played Legos, too. When Emily loves dogs, she loves dogs. There always were some constants- swimming, math, babies, and putting things in her mouth.
Even her accents shift. In Kentucky, when talking to the little girl who had a deaf mother, Elizabeth lost her clarity-clarity that had been hard-won with four years of speech therapy. When she talked with Miss Vicki, she takes on an Ohio accent. When she hangs out with her friends in Georgia, she gets a Georgia country accent. And most annoying of all, her vocal accents are also taking on a Disney accent.
I hear the accents and intonations of Hannah Montana in her voice now. I hear the sass of Selena Gomez. I hear the angst of Taylor Swift. I hear the California tones and the exact conversations. Often these days, I will overhear Ray say “You got that from Hannah Montana!” I hear her reaching for new models in her conversations now. We have clamped down on Disney watching, but its effects are significant.
This summer, when she is on vacation and taken out of her comfort zone, out of her “place” on the Circle, out of her circle of friends, she is unsure how to act, and so she mimics Disney. She has changed her name- she is “Call me Ellie”, and she is choosing clothes that are pure, unadulturated attitude. Cute, but old for her years. She’s becoming a wannabe teenager right in front of me.
I know that fourth grade is a tough year for girls. I’m actually rather amused that she’s hitting this developmental step right on time. They are starting to grow up and are trying on teenager angst for size. Warming up their parents for the real show later. I’ve taught fourth grade girls; it’s not an easy age.
And I’m torn- I’m torn between being relieved that she’s growing up on time, and frustrated that she is such a mirror. I’m torn between being annoyed at the materialism and self-centered attitude of her clothing choices, and admiring of her fashion sense. These two conversations pretty much sum it up- both in the last 24 hours.
Elizabeth Ellie: I want a job where I can dress my baby in really cute clothes all the time
Me: Really? I would hope that you would want your child to be a really nice child, to help other people. It’s what I want for my children.
Ellie, without missing a beat: Well, it’s a good thing you have Ray. Did I mention that she has perfect comedic timing?
And today in the car, Ray said “I miss Elizabeth. I don’t like Ellie. Ellie just wants to put on lip gloss.”
Elizabeth had a form of autism I could deal with, I could manage, I could control. Ellie’s autism… Ellie’s autism looks similar- baby fixation, echolalia, all things oral. But this is a while new world… And one I have to learn to manage without controlling.