L is a 7 year old girl. She seems, initially, like a "normal" child. Sometimes she's too loud or forgets to put things away; she always responds to correction with an apology, a cheerful attitude, and an immediate correction . . . which may or may not last. As time goes on, though, we realize that she is always watching. Always walking the balance of finding the "right" thing to do. She never says anything negative to anyone about anything else. She may say she doesn't want to do something, doesn't like that food, shouldn't have to go to bed then; but, she never complains to someone else.
She has a need to always be -- or have -- the best. At everything. Her school is bigger than ours; it's pre-K through college. Her mommy is very good at cooking. And sewing. Her grandfather built that church. She's been to our school before, she thinks for a grade it doesn't offer. And the stories change when she talks to someone else. To us, "her school" (which one? in 3 years, she's attended around 8, not including daycares) is bigger and better than the one she will attend with us; to her mother, the school here is "really, really big!"
L knows everything. She's read all those books that our 11 year old is reading. (And yet, she's still sounding out some of the words in her grade-level appropriate book.) She's changed schools so much because she's just so smart and the teachers didn't have anything to teach her. (And yet, she cannot do the grocery store math problems that my same-age child can do.) It is clear that she is very quick, very observant, and probably quite bright. But somehow, she has the impression she has nothing left to learn, while her school disruption has left her with gaps in knowledge that she should have been taught, but wasn't.
Nothing is ever her fault, regardless of whether the event needs blame. A call of "These cars need to be put away!" is immediately answered by her with "T got them out!" She removed her toy from its charger too early "by accident." Her brother, O, falls while running in the house (against the rules) as she flees, telling him to "chase me, chase me!"; it was "O's fault" he got hurt, because "he shouldn't be running."
She has to be a part of everything. A conversation with another child is constantly interrupted by her answering for them. I tire of gently saying, "I wasn't asking you."
We are slowly easing her towards understanding that not everyone has to be good at everything. That everyone makes mistakes and it's OK to say, "oops, I messed up." Slowly, because some of this is her trying desperately to be in control of something - anything! - while her whole world is falling to pieces around her. The other kids in this house have 2 parents, still married, who clearly love each other, so she must have . . . everything else.
Mr D says she's manipulative. I don't like the word, although I know what he means. Manipulative implies a negative intention, which I don't think she has. She has learned to manipulate others by playing on their sympathies in order to get what she needs or thinks she needs. After her mother tells her she doesn't want to hear about her ex-husbands new wife, L only mentions the new wife to tell her mother she got her stuck in the tubes at the playground and "isn't that good?" We have to help her learn that we will meet the true needs without the manipulation and that she cannot manipulate us in to fulfilling her desire for things that are not needs.
What we'll never know: How much time we have to teach her these things and whether we succeed.