The younger flopsy-duckit has learned to skip.
“Did someone teach you?” I asked her. “No,” she replied, “I just watched other kids doing it and tried it.”
Usually, I push her in the stroller to preschool, but today she wanted to skip all the way. She has quite the jauntiest skip I ever saw. With each hop she lurches precariously from side to side, sometimes so exuberantly that she knocks herself over. A little extra hop every now and then interrupts the regular skipping rhythm.
I laughed with delight as I walked behind her. She turned around.
“Why are you laughing?”
“Because I love watching you skip!”
This satisfied her and she turned back to skipping. I started to laugh again and felt like I might cry too.
I remember not being able to skip. I was about the younger flopsy-duckit’s age, a little younger, actually, and I had just started ballet classes at Antonia Dugdale’s ballet school on Florence Street in Islington. We had to skip across the room. All the other little girls knew how to skip. I didn’t. I tried. I hopped on one foot and then on the other, but I just couldn’t get the hang of it. I remember crying with frustration and humiliation. But I also remember the sudden joy when I finally got it, the buoyant feeling of skipping across a room that is quite different from running or jumping or hopping. And then, like the younger flopsy-duckit, I wanted to skip everywhere. At primary school, we would skip in groups of two or three girls, our arms linked across our backs. We’d spend the whole playtime just skipping around and around the school playground.
Every now and then, as we made our way to preschool, the younger would pause to tear off a tiny piece of a plant from one of the front yards we were passing. Then she would sniff it. The first plant was some kind of nondescript bush (can you tell I’m not a gardener?).
“Here, rub it in your hands and smell it,” she instructed me kindly. I sniffed it but couldn’t detect any fragrance.
“Doesn’t it smell good?” she enthused.
The next plant was only slightly more fragrant but then, on our third attempt, we struck gold:
“Lavender!” exclaimed the younger.
“Actually, it’s rosemary,” I said.
We crushed sprigs in our fingers and sniffed.
“Oooooh,” said the younger, “this one smells soooooo good. I’m going to give this to my teacher.”
When I was about the younger’s age, we did an activity at my playgroup (the equivalent of the younger’s preschool) in which we passed around jars of herbs and spices and compared their smells. My favorite was the jar of Nescafé. But my teacher’s favorite was the thyme so I lied and said that was my favorite too, because I wanted to be like her. I begged to sniff the jar of thyme one more time, in a bravura display of my olfactory sophistication. The jar slipped out of my hands and the dried thyme spilled all over the floor. “Oh, Duck-Rabbit!” said Susan, my teacher, in a tone that I remember feeling was unduly reproachful.
When we arrived at preschool the younger skipped back and forth in front of the entrance a few times. “Do you want to see how high I can skip?” she asked. Of course I did, and she demonstrated proudly. Then she dropped the sprig of rosemary on the sidewalk and we went inside.