Portrait of a little lady

Yesterday, Sophie started pretending to read Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady, I suspect because it’s the pinkest book she could find on the shelf. She narrated it to herself, turning the pages, muttering, “Momma, daddy, baby.” Apparently, according to her, it’s a family story. It sort of is.

A little later, we went to Barnes & Noble, where she looked out over the hundreds of display books, picked one out, and announced, “Momma’s book.” She was right. It was the only book on display that I have read recently. It was The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which has a picture of a bloodstained wound partially covering the title. I guess that cover illustration is dramatic enough that Sophie remembered it. But I read that book back in December and gave it away when I finished it.

So how can Sophie recognize this book? She is remembering a book-cover that she saw only briefly, one-quarter of her lifetime ago.

The obvious answer is that my baby is brilliant.

This is actually slightly disconcerting. Did my book-cover disturb her enough to make her remember it that long? Do I need to be more careful about what I let her see?

Sophie’s brilliance is a visual one. It’s not the reciting-the-alphabet-early kind of brilliance. She can’t get much past D, but then again I don’t care about reinforcing that anyway. She can’t count past 2, either. But she can spot a bird a half-mile away, often before I myself see it. She can even see in the dark better than I can. She knows which car is mine in a parking lot, and she knows when we’re driving within 2 blocks of home or 2 blocks of daycare. She recognizes the train station, too, and yesterday she remembered that Barnes & Noble has a model train-set even though she couldn’t see it yet, and we’d only ever seen it once before. Still, she knew to ask, “Momma, choo-choo, please?” She has a brilliance of sight and memory.

Then yesterday when we went out to eat, she informed me, “Momma, no nurse.” It’s her new slogan. I don’t know where it came from, because it’s not a phrase I ever used much, but she picks things up like that, and I’m glad she understands that we are weaning this week.

For good measure, she added, “Daddy, no nurse.” Then she turned to the strangers at the next table over and told them sternly, too: “No nurse.” One of the strangers was a nanny, it turned out, who guessed that Sophie must be about three years old, from all of Sophie’s chattering. This nanny was probably simply flattering us, or perhaps is accustomed to working with a child who doesn’t get chatted at quite so much as Sophie does — but still, I was flattered.

My child is starting to show useful abilities, useful beyond just the genial generosity that makes her bring her Daddy his slippers in the morning. She’s starting to be so much smarter than a dog. Perhaps I shouldn’t label that more-than-canine ability as “brilliance,” but, you know, I’m a proud Momma.

I’m also wondering, how long until she says something more embarassing than telling a stranger not to nurse?


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