I am watching TV on Sunday evening, when my Skype application notified me that Commander Sassypants was calling.
Commander Sassypants is my best friend’s six year old daughter – and we’ve been reading to each other over Skype during lockdown, so I wasn’t wholly surprised by this. Mr or Dr Bestie (Sassypants’ parents) has been Skyping me, saying hello, setting us up and then wandering off for a bath or a cup of tea, or five minutes’ peace, which – if you knew our darling Commander Sassypants – the Besties utterly deserve.
So I am a little bit surprised – and alarmed – that when the screen flickers into life, and there is just Commander Sassypants on the screen.
“Hello darling! Is everything alright?”
“Yeah,” the Commander replies, nonchalantly. “Just wanted to say hi.”
“Oh, how lovely! Does, um, does Mummy or Daddy know you’re calling?”
“Yes, Mummy said I’ve got until six o’clock and then it’s dinner time. I’ve spoke to [her best friend] and now I’m speaking to you.”
“Lucky me! What have you been up to today then?”
We talk for a few minutes, during which I mostly see the top of her head as she works out how to spell words on the keyboard to search for gifs and short videos to send me in the chat. These are all – utterly adorably – variations on ‘I love you’, ‘I miss you’ and ‘you’re great’.
When I tell her I don’t know how to send them back, she tells me where to click to find the search function – me, tech savvy and teacher of software to other people! Schooled by Commander Sassypants, aged six.
She stands up to demonstrate her new gymnastics routine, and her ability to use her toy’s skateboards as roller skates, and to show off these at their fullest, turns her computer to face her bedroom.
Where there was once a rocking chair, there is now a wardrobe, and where there was her crib as a baby, there is now a pile of books, including some Harry Potters, which she proudly shows me and mentions she and Daddy (Mr Bestie) are now reading the third one. “And watching the films,” she adds, casually, as though they aren’t rated 12A and scare the crap out of me on occasion.
A lump, unbidden, fills my throat. I read you stories in the rocking chair there, I think. I told you a story about a monkey with your name when you started screaming to calm you down, when I babysat you. You weren’t even speaking properly. I’ve known you since you were a baby in arms, and you’re just starting to get interesting, and we’ve lived the whole of your life already.
She tips over off the ‘roller skates’ and giggles. “I might try this the other way,” she muses, and after a third try, she executes a jump and a spin that are nearly elegant.
“Is it six o’clock yet?” she says.
I check my phone. It’s 6.01, and I don’t want her parents to have to fetch her, so I tell her it’s 6.01. I ask her to kiss Mummy and Daddy for me, tell them I miss them, and get them to give her a big hug from me.
She rolls her eyes at me, like ‘Oh Auntie Loops, you soppy date’ and kisses the screen goodbye. She hangs up and is gone, like all the years of her childhood we’ve already sped through.
I thought I felt old when I discovered my first proper, wiry grey hair two weeks ago during lockdown, but this conversation has made me feel ancient. Still, I put the blanket back over my knees, pick up my knitting and turn Midsomer Murders back on. No doubt there’s life in this old dog yet.