It was adorable, the way she sat there working her way through her letters with chalk on the antique ‘silent book slate’ I made for her from a mini chalkboard. She didn’t need to practice the alphabet; she had learned to read and write over two years ago, but her penmanship was improving, so I didn’t say anything. She was dressed in the white ‘nightdress’ I had made for her in the fashion of the seventeen hundreds.
My little Betty is lucky I like crafting. Oh, right. She asked to be called Elizabeth since that’s the name of the main character’s best friend in her favorite series, the American Girl Felicity books. It’s really nice to see someone so young interested in history, but no one her age does it quite like Elizabeth. She’s read every single Felicity book that American Girl has put out over the course of their three reboots, and she does her best to live them.
“Elizabeth, dear, it’s time for bed.” I tried to speak formally when I could because she loved it so much.
“Yes, Mother.” She jumped to her feet and did her best imitation of a curtsy, and then turned to erase her slate and put it and her chalk away. She picked up the small battery powered candle lamp that my mother somehow found for her seventh birthday last week, and balanced it carefully as she walked up the stairs. She had known better than to ask for a real candle holder, but this suited her just fine.
I briefly wondered how long this would last, and if I should be looking up renaissance camps just to see if my husband and I could afford the costs. I had previously thought that perhaps we could take her to a renaissance fair instead, but I didn’t like how they had turned into a ‘how low can I wear my dress without being indecent’ contest. Then again, perhaps the renaissance wouldn’t be exciting for her. After all, Felicity and Elizabeth weren’t born until the late seventeen hundreds.
The next morning, when Betty came downstairs, I was getting off the phone. Drew was making toast. Elizabeth looked from me to her father, smoothed out the yellow dress she had chosen to wear to school, and shook her head.
“You and your newfangled inventions.”
We all laughed. She learned that word from her grandmother, who liked to complain about how fast the world changes.
Elizabeth smiled proudly and sat down at the table. “Please pass the orange juice.”
“Are you sure you don’t want chocolate milk?” I was drinking some, and somehow it would feel less childish if my child had some too.
“Mother, the technology for that didn’t exist yet. Felicity and Elizabeth didn’t have chocolate milk. May I have orange juice?”
“Of course.” Drew answered for me. He got the carton from the fridge.
“What are we going to do with that child?” Drew asked as I walked back inside after dropping Betty off at school.
I shrugged. “She’ll probably grow out of it. At least she’s not obsessed with a time when they believed children should be seen and not heard.”
Drew nodded thoughtfully. “Maybe we should see about a camp for her. A normal one, where she can make friends that are both from this century and not fictional.”
We had heard a lot about her ‘best friend Felicity’, but she had also said she hadn’t met her yet because Felicity and Elizabeth don’t meet until they’re nine in the books.
“Perhaps we should.” I responded. “On that note, I think we both should be heading out now.”
When I picked Elizabeth up from school later that day, she was quiet the whole ride home. I had to keep checking the mirror to make sure she was still there, and hadn’t slipped away at the last stop sign. But she was still there, buckled despite the fact that they didn’t have cars, much less seatbelts, in the seventeen hundreds, and staring silently out the window.
“Elizabeth, how was your day?”
“Shannon said I’ll never meet Felicity. She said she’s not real.” She spoke quietly, as if she wasn’t sure she wanted to be heard. “Is Felicity real? Or is Shannon right?”
“Sweetheart, there are lots of people named Felicity in the world. Felicity Merriman may not have ever lived, but you’re not Elizabeth Cole. You’re Elizabeth Clark. So maybe in a couple years you will meet Felicity Morris, or Felicity something else. Maybe Felicity won’t even be her first name, but you will meet someone eventually who will be as good a friend to you as Felicity was to Elizabeth. Okay?” I pulled the car into the garage and then turned to look at my daughter. She nodded.
Over the course of the next week, I never once saw her writing on her little slate. She wore more modern pajamas, and she accepted chocolate milk and things like that that hadn’t existed in the eighteenth century. I thought perhaps her phase was over, that Shannon had forced Elizabeth to outgrow her cute olden day phase much too quickly. And then one day I was sewing a new skirt for Elizabeth in a simple modern style when she walked hesitantly into my office.
“Mother?” she began, “would you teach me to sew?”
“Elizabeth, you’re much too young to use a machine. Maybe in a few years if you’re still interested.”
“What about with just a needle and thread. They didn’t have machines yet back then.”
I smiled, oddly happy to have my daughter sound like she wished once again to be in the seventeen hundreds.
“Are you sure you won’t hurt yourself? Needles are very sharp.”
“So I’ll use a thimble,” she offered, “please?”
“Elizabeth, thimbles are extremely annoying to try to work with. I don’t know how to use a thimble.” I thought for a bit. “I can start you with crocheting or knitting, and then you could use a yarn needle to sew yarn patches together. Yarn needles are bigger and they’re not sharp because the holes already exist, but it’s the same technique. Would that do for a start?”
“Thank you, Mother. Can we get yarn in red, white, and blue?”
I smiled, “That’s very patriotic of you. Got a specific project in mind?”
My little girl nodded happily. “An American flag.”
“Okay, I’ll pick some up tomorrow. Do you have any homework today?”
She shook her head, and then headed for the doorway. Elizabeth stopped and turned back to face me. “One more thing,” she said. “Could you call me Betsy?”