We needn't have worried. Picking her up from her last session before half term, it was clear that she had not just 'settled in', but was now feeling comfortable enough to expose the full extent of her totally loveable lunacy to her teachers and peers. 'She's quite a character', the staff inform me, 'She never stops making up jokes', they add, 'We wanted to write you a list of her favourite activities, but actually, she just likes everything'. I know this, of course. I know her. She's like a sort of nutty professor, tripping gaily along the line between bonkers and genius and infecting everyone around her with her utter enthusiasm for absolutely everything she comes across. Today as I collect her she pulls me excitedly down the classroom to show me something she has discovered, a 'child friendly' mirror is slightly bent at the top end, and if you stand in just the right spot in front of it, to use her words, 'It makes your head go all wibbly'. She hoots with laughter as she sees herself in this new and funny way, and the staff are laughing too, we are all laughing, because it's impossible not to.
Psychotherapist Donald Winnicott (1896-1971) would have liked this moment. Winnicott understood so well the importance of the early attachment between mother and infant, and wrote about the role of the mother as 'first mirror' to her child. Initially, a baby has no sense of separateness from her mother, and therefore when she looks into her mother's face, what she finds there is understood by her as a kind of 'reflection'. If we are managing to be what Winnicott so reassuringly refers to as a 'Good Enough Mother', then we are able to reflect back to our baby feelings of approval, love and delight which she then integrates as feelings about her own self. A Good Enough Mother does this naturally and without thinking, mirroring her babies facial expressions and echoing her sounds in ways that say, 'I see you, I hear you, I understand you'. The baby feels, at a deep, pre-verbal level, 'I am seen, I am heard, I am understood'. This becomes a vital building block for the babies sense of self, greatly affecting her future sense of her own value and her emotional stability.
But as the baby grows, she begins to understand herself as a separate person in her own right. The 'mother-mirror' is still vitally important, reflecting back approval and unconditional love. But the baby starts to meet new mirrors. These mirrors might say, 'You are beautiful / interesting / hilarious', but they might equally well say, 'You are annoying / boring / not funny'. Part of the experience of becoming an individual involves experiencing our different reflections in the many mirrors we encounter, and through this coming to know more about who we are, and to learn, change and adapt ourselves accordingly. Being 'just with mummy', is a bit like 'one to one' therapy - there is a peacefulness and a security, knowing that the therapist is holding you safely and will reflect back only empathy and kindness. Out there at Pre-School, out there in the world, it's a bit more like group therapy, where the reflections back are many and varied, and this can sometimes feel both risky and enlightening.
From a secure attachment, a strong sense of self develops, and we become ready to jump towards independence rather than be pushed. The early 'good-enough-mother-mirror' makes us strong enough to take our chances with the Hall of Mirrors that is the 'group'. At Pre-School, I see my daughter beginning to find new reflections in new mirrors; sometimes joyful and funny, and sometimes more challenging, and I think it's a positive experience for her. It's pretty disappointing really, because we are attachment parents who do things like co-sleeping, extended nursing, and babywearing, and it wouldn't have taken much of a leap for us to go down the home-schooling route. Things may change of course, but for now, it looks like we are going to be rather irritatingly conventional on this one. I keep reminding her that if she doesn't like it, she can call me and I'll come and get her, but unfortunately, the phone never rings.
Not that there's much they can teach her of course. Last Sunday, out for a family walk, I was buried in thoughts about the petition to Amazon and thinking about what a jerk I had been to tell the world there was going to be an article about it in the Sunday Times before I actually had a copy in my hand. The article hadn't made the final edition, and I was reeling not just from disappointment but from the fear that I had made myself look rather stupid. Whilst I was busy musing and fuming to myself, my partner was trying to help the three-year-old over a stile. 'No! Don't help me!', I heard her telling him, 'I want to do it all by my own self, because...learning...is falling'. 'Learning is Falling'. Let me repeat that. Learning is Falling. Not falling is learning. That would mean something different. Think about it. Learning is Falling. It takes some people a lifetime of meditation to reach that kind of enlightenment. I'm convinced, she's amazing, brilliant, gifted, brighter than bright. But then I would think that. I'm her mother. To me, she will always be the fairest of them all.