Girl grows up

The Fitting Room

Fitting Room

I’m leaning against the clearance rack when Justin Timberlake’s voice fills the store. He’s singing about his suit and tie, which seems appropriate since my daughter is in the fitting room trying on semi-formal dresses.

As I lean, I look at the space below the fitting room door and see her feet—bandaids on the heels thanks to the chafing of those darn flats—standing on an island of discarded yoga pants and t-shirt. Timberlake croons “…can I show you a few things?” and my girl’s feet move and turn. The choreography that’s happening inside the fitting room tells a story. First, her toes face the mirror. She’s staring at herself, full-on, for a long time. Then her feet change directions; she’s looking at the back of the dress, craning her neck over her shoulder. Back and forth, her feet move, as she assesses the dress. A minute later, she stands still, and then her hand appears in the space above the door as it takes the hanger off a hook.

Because she took a heap of dresses into the fitting room, this dance continues for some time.

My daughter is fourteen, and the upcoming “ball” is the first major dress-up event of her high school career. Always a reserved, low-key kid, she teemed with excitement when she told me about the dance, asking first if it we had anything planned for that night, and if not, could she please go? Beyond that, she wondered if we could go shopping for a dress—nothing too fancy but something kind of fancy? She didn’t think she’d need new shoes or jewelry or anything. Maybe just a comfortable dress, perhaps a little sparkly?

This is the girl who fell into a lake when she was four, getting stuck between a pontoon boat and the dock. Never uttering a peep, she just stood silently in water up to her chest as the pontoon buffeted her against the wood and metal of the dock. When, later, I learned about this event, I felt sick to my stomach at the possibilities of that scenario and told her, “Oh, sweetie, you have to make noise. I know you’re a quiet person, but sometimes in life, when it really matters, you have to push beyond your natural tendencies, and you have to raise your voice. You have to make people notice you. Please, please, please, if there is any hint of danger, for the rest of your life, shout, yell, scream, thump—but make some noise.”

Her response was a placid, “I knew eventually someone would see me.”

She is unflappable, this girl—the rock around which the water flows. Thus, when she talks about a high school dance with excitement flickering in her eyes, I listen.

Yes, of course we could go dress shopping. It would, in fact, be a pleasure. Partially, the pleasure would come from watching my daughter transform into someone she has longed to be: a high school girl who gets to go to a big-time dance with a group of her friends. For years, she’s seen this scenario in movies, television shows, and books; now, finally, it would be her turn to take a twirl as the starring character.

On another level, watching my daughter try on dresses would help repair some lingering wounds from my own years in high school, a time when I never felt pretty or wanted or popular. Even though I did attend formal dances, and even though I enjoyed stuffing myself into a fancy dress and putting baby’s breath in my hair, the result was never what I hoped for. Photographs prove this: I didn’t look “gorgeous.” I looked like someone who had tried too hard to become a swan, in the process highlighting all things duckling.

It’s not that I’m a mother who lives through her daughter. When my daughter looks beautiful, it doesn’t convince me that I, too, am beautiful. I don’t take her reflection and apply it to myself. Rather, as I stand there, leaning against discounted halter tops while my strong, healthy, pragmatic daughter tries on fancy dresses, I’m considering how different her teen experience is from mine. Quite easily, she likes herself. She likes her body. She likes her hair. She cracks herself up. When I poke around the edges of her plans for the ball and ask, “So, are any of your friends going to the dance with a date? I mean, is that something that seems fun to you?” she scrunches up her face and declares, “No. I actually want to enjoy myself! I look at the girls who are worried about boys, and it seems so exhausting. I don’t have that kind of energy.” Ultimately, as I watch her delight in her own image, watch her like what she sees, watch her feel confident within herself—all of that easy acceptance of Self shows me a whole new way to be a teenager.

When I was 14, I was malleable and suggestible, looking to others for confirmation of my worth. My emotions ran high, and every day saw me clinging to a façade of good cheer to counteract myriad tiny devastations. Certainly, I had friends; I did well in school; I had a good enough time. On the other hand, I cried a lot and carried a lump of despair in my softest parts.

My daughter, however, isn’t a crier. In her bedroom, she has a whiteboard that lists short-term and long-term to-do lists. Every Sunday, she plans her outfits for the week and sets them in neatly wadded piles in front of her dresser. As soon as she gets home from cross-country practice, she takes out her clarinet and practices because once it’s done, she doesn’t have to think about it any more. Then she does her homework while eating dinner and watching episodes of Pretty Little Liars. She and her good girlfriends are drama free. Pals since elementary school, they have never had a falling out.

When I ask her if anyone is ever mean to her, she says, “Nope. Everyone’s always really nice to me. I think it’s because I don’t bother anyone.”

When I ask her if she wishes she had even more friends, she says, “Nope. I like my friends. Also, Mom? I have lots of friends.”

When I ask her if anything at school is feeling tough, she says, “Nope. Well, actually, you could ask anyone about doing proofs in geometry, and they’d say it’s tough, but that’s about it. Oh, and I really don’t want to wear that gross band uniform in public.”

When I ask her if there’s anything she needs or wants, she says, “Nope. I’m good. I mean, if you wanted to take me a on a trip to Norway or Italy or Fiji, I wouldn’t complain. Oh, and I could use some grey socks for Spirit Week.”

Naturally, there is a lot that a mother doesn’t see. In a few decades, I may discover that my daughter was full of agony or that someone hurt her. There could be disclosures and revelations that make my brain spin back in time and re-frame my perceptions. All I know for sure now is that I’m paying close attention, and every indication tells me she’s radically and dramatically fine—in a way that inspires me. I respect my fourteen-year-old more than I respect most people, in fact, and I want to embrace that feeling with the most open of hearts.

To that end, I rein myself in. Yes, my teen years were emotionally fraught. That doesn’t mean I have to try to trigger those same feelings in my daughter. If she says everything’s good, I don’t need to treat her report with suspicion, as though it’s something that needs to be debunked.

That’s why, when the door to the fitting room opens, and she walks out holding all the dresses in one big pile, my question is studiedly neutral. “Did you find anything you like?”

Matter-of-factly, she says, “There are a couple that are okay. I don’t love them, though. I’d rather just wear a regular dress with a really pretty necklace than have us spend money on something I don’t love.”

That becomes the back-up plan as we walk toward the next store.


I keep thinking about her excitement when she told me about the dance. I keep thinking about how sweetly she’d asked for a fancy dress, maybe “something sparkly.” I keep thinking about how that request had been an instance of my daughter raising her voice.

She needs to know I heard her.

We get to the next store, and as she heads off to the bathroom, she sighs, “We probably aren’t going to find anything. When I’m done, we can just go home.”

During the next few minutes, waiting for her return, I grab four dresses from the racks. As she walks up to me—so tall these days!—I say, casually, “You might not have chosen some of these, but look at the cut and the color. You know you always look great in blue. Plus, this one is both sparkly and comfortable. Want to try any of these?”

Ah, there it is. The light in her eyes is back. Sure, she’ll try them.

This time, when the door of the fitting room opens, she wants to show me how she looks.

Striking, vibrant, liking what she sees, eyes shining, she smiles at me tentatively. Carefully, I take in her loveliness, from the bandaids on her heels to the rubber bands on her braces to the smudges on her glasses, and I become a teenager again:

I burst into tears.

Her tentative smile, her shining eyes. They are making a noise.

And, because life is full of grace, I am there to hear it.

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bright banners Girl grows up list of ten the versatility of leaves

So Here


I’m not much of a joiner, nor do I really like playing tag. Also, rules chafe.

Thus, I’m not a particularly good candidate for the “meme” challenges and thoughtful awards that litter the blogscape. That noted, when kind fellow bloggers throw an award or a challenge my way, I do appreciate the acknowledgment. I do.

In the last month or so, a few blog-patriots have given me the challenge to list ten things about myself that no one knows. So, okay, it’s come up enough that I’ll do it; but I ain’t passing it on or tagging anyone else. Just write your blog posts, honies, and I’ll come read them. If you want to make lists, you should do that. If you don’t wanna, then don’t. ‘K?

Ten Things. Some of them my husband already knows, as he is my central repository for minutiae that require expression. But it’s what I got.

1. I just spent eight minutes taking the price tag off a dowel that now runs across the top of a fabric banner, which we will hang in a “dead space” at the bottom of our staircase. As I cursed the price tag glue and twining (’round and ’round the stick it went), I kept thinking to myself, “Here’re eight minutes of my life I’ll never get back. Here are eight minutes of my life I could have used to fold that basket of laundry. Here are eight minutes of my life I could have used to sniff glue, intead of peeling it.”

Constantly filling my eyes with birdies and bright orange, though, may just keep me off the glue during the imminent dark months of winter.

2. Streaming my own variety of “radio stations” over is a great way to find new music or just get a better sense what Those Kids Today are listening to. Although I can input any musical artist at all and then listen to “comparables” for hours, I’ve been using it to listen to more of The Killers, The Strokes, The Shins, The Ting Tings, and even one article-less group, Kings of Leon.

When I tire of pretending to care what Those Kids Today are listening to, I create a station for an artist I actually like, such as Lucero or Husker Du, and get all rock outy and nostalgia-afied. The other day, I played the They Might Be Giants station for Paco, and while he pipped around to the selections, it was acutally Groom who had to go over and hug the computer, commenting, “This is my favorite station ever.”

3. I am outrageously shallow and enjoy diverting my brain with the lives of celebrities. That part of my brain also really likes to go out and shop for boots. Generally, as is also the case with boots, my brain tends to love or hate celebrities. Although I will never know them, nor they me, celebrities cause in me an emotional reaction. I adore Russell Brand; I despise all reality show bimbos who, should their airplane go down over the Atlantic, sport implants that would keep them bobbing in the ocean loooong past when life rightly should have been snuffed out.

Interestingly, here’s what I realized last night: I flatline when it comes to Melissa Joan Hart. She engenders in me zero reaction. She is like vanilla pudding served in a clean white porcelain bowl, if you were to leave out both the bowl and the pudding.

4. My left hand smells like laundry detergent right now. Wouldn’t this be one hell of a puzzling mystery, if I hadn’t been doing laundry? How would the detective who finds my corpse explain the fact that one hand–only one hand–smells of Tide? Maybe I was making pipe bombs and–haHA, Karma lashed out!–one accidentally exploded and killed me.

I guess I’d rather just do laundry and get the hand smell that way. All in all, it’s one of the better hand smells. That detective should thank me for not springing a vastly different hand smell on him, in fact.

5. My Girl is growing up, which is part of the reason why I cropped this photo severely. Plus, some of y’all are big preeverts and should take your wanker selves off the Internet and stop looking for pictures of kids, you internally-broken skeezoids.

Anyhow, she’s growing up but is clearly in the ‘tween years, when the idea of middle school still has mystique. Here’s the thing no one knows about me: I just want to keep her in a bubble bath, reading books, through the middle school years. She might emerge pruney and dehydrated, but at least her self-esteem will be fluffy and clean.

6. Because Girl is growing up, and we’ve had to admit she will one day get moods and boobies and tampons, she’s going to have her own room for the first time. We’re currently working on shoveling out our guest room so that we can paint it TURQUOISE and ORANGE and YELLOW and maybe RED!!!! With polka-dots!!!!!! Groom has spent hours going through the closet, pulling out papers and running clothes and CDs of unknown origin. The other day, we put safety goggles on Paco, gave him a mallet, and let him bash up a stack of CDs. Now our back yard glitters with silvery shards, and Paco is feeling better about his beloved “Dee-Dee” moving down the hall. His one caveat is that, into perpetuity, he gets to smash things we no longer need. Tomorrow, I’m going to lay out my uterus on the unmown grass and tell him to hack away.

7. Speaking of Paco amusing himself in the back yard, we had one dry day recently, during which he built a veritable Hadrian’s Wall of leaves, only declaring it done when it was as tall as he. I regretted his Northern European bloodstock, as the wall took a damn long time. On the positive side, it did keep him from setting fire to stuff for at least an hour.

8. The mornings already are so dark, a state made worse by unrelenting lines of rain in the region, that I fear I will have bedsores by March. This morning, as is his habit, Groom slipped out of bed early, and during the brief moment when I roused, I thought, “What the hell is in his body that makes him wake up and get up? I don’t have that thing. If I lived any closer to the Arctic Circle, I’m pretty sure I would spend six months of the year under my duvet.” Half an hour later, again as is his habit, Groom brought an armful of sleepy boy into our room and dumped the softness into the bed with me. As the limp lad and I cuddled in for ten more minutes of warmth in the darkness, I realized that I could spend eight months a year under the duvet with the right company.

9. I’ve never shoplifted.

10. Completely without plan, I recently managed to get all twenty of my fingernails and toenails on different cutting schedules, something I hadn’t even known was possible until I did it. After a few months of, “Ooh, this one’s a little long; I’ll just do a quick snip” followed three days later by “Time to go after that hangnail, and as long as I’m at it, trim down the whole nail” followed four days later by “Hmm, that one’s snagging a bit,” I ended up with every single nail at a different stage of growth, a state that illustrates better than anything

the tiny insanities
that rule our lives
yet no one knows about

unless we announce them.

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