Kara, yesterday was your ninth birthday; your second in lockdown. A day of presents, pizza, mocktails, Black Forest gateau and board games. More of our days should be more like this, shouldn’t they?
The Spice Girls were a little before your time, but I know you’re aware of them. There were five of them: Sporty, Scary, Baby, Ginger and Posh Spice. You’re not posh, and you’re definitely neither ginger nor a baby. But you’re certainly both sporty (always) and scary (often), and a host of other things too.
It has now stuck so much as a nickname that at home we call you ‘Kat’ now more than ‘Kara’. Which I guess makes the different aspects of your personality less the Spice Girls and more the Spice Kats. So as I write my annual birthday post to you, I’m going to reflect back on your ninth year through the prism of your various personas.
Sporty Kat (aka The Karate
Although Toby has taken to football over the past couple of years, you have always been our one truly sporty child.
The pandemic has affected you the most, as most of your training has taken place over Zoom rather than in person over the past year. In particular, the winter lockdown was difficult for you. But you’ve come out of the other side and resumed live sessions with renewed motivation and energy.
Gymnastics is no longer your sole focus. You competed in your last – and probably final – competition barely a week before lockdown started. If so, it was a good way for you to end your competitive career, coming home with medals and your best set of results. And while you’re still attending ‘advanced recreation’ sessions at weekends, it wouldn’t surprise me if you moved on completely by summer.
Instead you’ve transferred your time, core strength, flexibility and balance to two other pursuits: martial arts and cheer. You had already taken to martial arts like the proverbial duck to water. Already a green belt heading into lockdown, you’ve progressed through brown to blue and you’ve been added to the leadership group. Which means: weapons. Uh oh.
Cheer is a more recent thing and, if anything, it suits you better than gym. Team-focussed rather than individualistic, competitive but not as single-mindedly so, you seem to have found a more natural home here with great coaches and a sociable group. We’ve been so impressed with how mindful and holistic they’ve been during lockdown, organising social events where possible and focussing on the kids’ mental health as much as their physical conditioning.
Whatever happens next, I have no doubt that you will continue to pursue your sporting interests over the coming years. I wonder what it will be next?
You keep it very much under your hat – much more so than your brothers – but you’re quite the smart cookie when it comes to school.
We were so lucky during lockdown that the three of you are bright enough and self-motivated enough that you all took naturally to remote learning at home for long periods. While your mum and I continued to work at home, you just got on with it, requiring only a little cajoling and having no trouble keeping up with (and staying ahead of) your assigned work. And since you’ve gone back to school, you’ve quietly leapt to the top of your year group at maths – just as your siblings did – and shown frequent flashes of academic talent, even if you’re not as single-minded about schoolwork given your many other interests.
Mind you, you never cease to amaze me just how much you know about a huge variety of subjects. Although I suspect that your choice of Mastermind specialist subject would be ‘the Marvel Cinematic Universe’. (Good girl.) Or possibly ‘songs that have featured in reality TV dancing/singing competitions’. (Your mother rolls her eyes at this. I love it.)
As we approach the end of Year 4, our thoughts now start to turn to your choice of secondary school. With your academically-minded brothers, it was always an obvious choice for them to aim for one of the boys’ grammar schools in Reading, despite the long commute every day. But for you it’s a less clear-cut choice. Are you clever enough to get into the girls’ equivalent of Isaac and Toby’s school? Yes, almost certainly. But, given your considerable sporting interests, would it be the best option for you? Or would you be better off going to the local (very good) secondary school, freeing up an additional couple of hours a day to enable you to balance academics with sports?
If anyone can juggle multiple sports with a 30-plus mile round trip to school, it’s you. But it’s a big commitment and not an easy decision. You’re nine years old; it’s not a choice we and you should have to make yet. But we’ll have to decide soon if you’re going to have time to prepare for entrance exams.
We’re a gaming family, so it’s tough being the youngest member of the household. Particularly when you’re an ultra-competitive pre-teen who accepts defeat with the same grace and equanimity as a politician who’s been called out for a public and embarrassing lie on live TV.
And yet you love games. Whether it’s family games such as Uno or Downfall, more complex strategy board games, or the kind of online games of investigation, persuasion and deception that we’ve played regularly with our friends during lockdown, you punch well above your weight.
You also love a good quiz too – both participating and setting them. One day, the five of us are going to make an unstoppable pub quiz team. I can’t wait.
Whether you’re holding a snowball, adopting your Mulan pose with a tree branch or in full flow at martial arts training – God help us when they start letting you handle weapons – you are by far the scariest of our kids.
And, no, for the 19th time, you can’t have a set of nunchuks for your birthday. You’re nine. (Maybe when you’re ten.)
You know that scene in Elf when Buddy starts throwing snowballs with the speed, range and accuracy of a sub-machine gun? That’s you. Your favourite part of films is invariably “the violence”. You think UFC and WWE are for wusses. (Okay, I made that last one up. But I bet it’s true.)
There are times when you can be a proper girly girl. I love that part of you. But I also love that I don’t ever have to worry about your ability to stand up for yourself. You will never be anyone’s pushover. Now will you please just put that knife down?
Triple Threat Kat
You sing. (Kara-oke, natch. Or, when it’s just you and me in the car together, musical theatre.)
You dance. (If you ever chose to pursue it, I have no doubt you would make a very good Latin dancer, particularly the faster stuff like salsa. Anything that means you spend less time twerking is fine by me.)
And I’m pretty sure you can act too. (There are times when it does appear that you actually like your brothers. Or at least tolerate them. Either way, you certainly have a flair for theatrics. You’re as much of a drama queen as a Premier League footballer who hurls himself to the floor clutching his face after an opponent brushes his toe.)
If nothing else, you’ll have an alternative career as a Butlin’s redcoat. Or as one of those contestants on series 95 of The X Factor.
I love you, Isaac and Toby equally. But there’s something undeniably special about a father/daughter relationship, particularly when your only girl is also your last child.
It’s all about the little things, many of which I’ve had more opportunities to do with you since working from home because of the pandemic. Doing the school run or driving you to gym, martial arts or cheer. Preparing the Sunday roast together. Dropping Hamilton lyrics and lines of dialogue from Marvel films into casual conversation at every opportunity. When you crawl into our bed in the middle of the night and snuggle up to me. They are simultaneously the least significant parts of our relationship – and also the most important. They are the bursts of colour in a world of black and white; the dots of the i’s and the crosses of the t’s. They are what bring meaning to the facts of life.
No matter how much of a handful you are, no matter how sassy, feisty and fierce you insist on being, no matter how determined you are to be nine going on 19, you will always be Daddy’s little princess. And that’s how it should be.
And finally …
Let me finish with two anecdotes from your ninth year that sum up everything you are.
The first is from our day at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. Who was the child who insisted on doing all the biggest, scariest rides with me? The one who screamed with joy rather than fear as we plunged down the 62-metre drop from the top of The Big One? With you, I never need to check if you’re up for it. I know. I’ve always known.
The second story comes from a hypothetical question your mother recently asked about what you would do if you knew you only had two days left to live. Everyone else came up with the usual answers about spending time with the most important people in their lives, ticking items off the bucket list and so on. You? You immediately said you would go round committing all the crimes you wanted to for fun, knowing there would be no consequences. I’m not sure whether that makes you the ultimate thrill-seeker or a budding serial killer. Let’s hope we never find out, eh?
Whatever you go on to do in life, whatever happens, my one piece of advice to you is this: don’t ever stop being you. It’s what makes you special and unique. It’s why every moment in your presence is an adventure.
Happy birthday, Kat.
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