Dear Neela: Confidence is Good, but so is Common Sense

Neela is five. She’s my last girl (I think).

Our three older daughters have at least something of their mother in them. Sweetness and decency and caution. They are all different from each other of course but they share this thing that stops them just short of (trying to think of the words to describe)…well… Neela.
My mom says Neela reminds her of me when I was small which, I assume, means she’s amazing? Neela actually is amazing. You’ll always find a big smile on her face mostly because she thinks she’s in charge of everything. Not the sort of “in charge” that implies any kind of responsibility or work ethic, rather the kind that likes the attention and can destroy a room in under two minutes and then cheerfully watch someone else clean it up.

Neela is addicted to coffee. Her favourite place in the world is Starbucks. My favourite place in the world is Starbucks too. Whenever we go Erin and the other girls stay in the suburban while Neela, who has been vibrating and chanting “Starbucks! Starbucks!” is released from the restraints of her child seat and bounces through the doors with me. I stand at the counter, order my Americano and ask politely for a tiny cup for Neela too. It’s always the same response from the staff: “Would you like a hot chocolate sweetheart?”. Neela looks at them patiently but sternly and says “Coffee!”. I apologetically look up and mumble something along the lines of “Look, this is girl number four, we ran out of energy”.
The addiction began one morning in a long line of mornings in which Neela had asked for “Coffee?”. When Neela asks for something and receives a negative response she is not deterred in any way, she just asks again. And again. And again. Her attitude is fine and she’s normally smiling while she’s doing it, it’s just that she keeps on asking. Being the fourth girl, she has learned through experience that mom can block out just about anything by now and if she wasn’t so persistent she would have starved a long time ago. So finally, and probably inevitably, Erin gave her a cup of coffee. That would work on a normal kid because coffee tastes terrible, but Neela decided she liked it. I’m not sure she actually liked it, I think she won a small victory and decided that the spoils of war should be enjoyed! She’s been enjoying it ever since.

Neela is my only girl who smirks like a Kope. Not a cruel, cold smirk but one that is halfway between a broad smile and a wink. When her little plans for world domination are thwarted by a knowing dad, she smirks at me as if to say “There’s always next time…”. It’s hard not to admire the sheer audacity of some of her requests and I find a grudging respect for her evil genius growing in me. When the answer is “No!” she just adds a “this time…” in her head and skips off to the next adventure.

She falls off her bench at the kitchen table at least once a week. She doesn’t care, she’ll be up wiggling and monkeying around in no time. She has heard “Neela! You’re going to fall off the bench!” more than a thousand times but she doesn’t care. She can laugh, fall on her head, cry like she’s dying and laugh again in under a minute.

Her stair walking scares me to death. I’ve been pretty hard on my feet and ankles playing sports over the years so I have to pay attention. Neela, ashamed of her father the Stair-Coward, normally attempts going downstairs jumping from one foot to the other while juggling two apples and holding the other hand over her eyes just to make it a challenge. I hurl “Neela! Pay attention!” after her and sink down to have my heart attack. I’m not sure she’s ever heard me. I’m a little shaky on what the speed of sound is, but it’s slightly less than Neela on the stairs.

Neela is the only kid in our house who’s figured out that if you burst into tears just before you catch heck for something there’s not really anything mom and dad can do. The tears seem real enough but it sure seems like something I would try… I did try that now that I think about it. I was tired of Erin winning all the arguments so I tried crying during one of them. Turns out it takes more energy to cry than lose an argument but I learned something new.

Katie is two years older than Neela and is a thinker. She’s also a fast little runner. We’ll see them walking around the yard until the inevitable “Race you to the _____!”. Neela jumps and starts running, she doesn’t really care where. I’ve never seen her actually walk anywhere. But when Katie throws down the gauntlet she always seems to be a step ahead of Neela, and she’s fast. Katie has already thought about how to win and stacked the race of course so Neela loses. Then Neela cries because Katie didn’t “Let her win!” It’s all about winning…

She learned how to ride a bike with no training wheels in a matter of minutes last week. We never taught her. We taught Arwen and Ailish. They taught Katie. And Neela taught Neela. The next day she was attempting wheelies. She hasn’t quite got them but manages to jerk the front tire off the ground long enough to frantically spin the handlebars back and forth. She somehow lands the thing and doesn’t die and maintains “It’s a wheelie!”. I’m not going to argue with her, it’s more dangerous than a wheelie any day.

She had her bike at church last week and I walked out to see her flying around the parking lot. “Neela! Quit riding around the parking lot when there are cars here!”. On her way by I said “You are getting pretty good on that thing though…”. Over her shoulder she smirks “Better than YOU!” Little rat…. thinks she’s the first Kope to ride a bike….?
What Neela has in confidence she makes up for with a lack of common sense. Who cares about caution when you’re already away from the crime scene before your sisters even know what happened? Just keep moving. Run faster. Pedal harder.

I was barbecuing on the patio tonight and was wondering where Kate and Neela were while Arwen was keeping me company. I looked out behind the house and saw them flying around on their bikes. No helmets, no shoes and Neela was already in her nightie for bed time. Katie decided to land the plane with Neela hard on her heels and both of them going way too fast. Katie pulled it off but Neela went by and just… forgot how to stop. Neither of her little bare feet were even on the pedals when she went by and her only response to possibly killing herself was a slight widening of the eyes as she bounced off the double stroller and straight into a pail full of weeds sitting on the sidewalk. I ran over, untangled her from the bike and carried her inside to mom. When I returned to the room two minutes later she was laughing about it. What else would she be doing?

All that to say is this: “Who’s better at riding bike NOW Neela?!!!”

(Don’t tell her I said this, she’ll probably be running whatever country I’m living in one day)


Post Blog note: In the time between writing this and publishing….



Full-on Faceplant! Still smiling…

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