Bjork once described herself by saying: “I am a fountain of blood in the shape of a girl.” Although I like how her thinking strips away all pretense while still acknowledging the overlay of gender, I wish her words had gone on to include the importance of whimsy: “I’m a fountain of blood in the shape of a girl draped in the skin of a swan.”
At our house, we have a fountain of blood in the shape of a Girl, too. She doesn’t own a swan dress–nor would she agree to wear a dress of any kind at this stage of her development–but she has enough playful whimsy buffeting about inside her hoodie-clad being that I hold out hope for, at the very least, a faux zebra-skin strapless number paired with a tortoise-shell cape somewhere in her future.
The blood pumping through our Girl is turning 11 today (hey: divisible by 11). This past week, whenever I’ve been out running, or whenever I’ve been vacuuming in preparation for my mother and brand-new-step-pappy’s visit, I’ve mulled over what I might like to write in commemoration of my firstborn’s birthday.
What I’ve realized is that I have no angle on this one. After a silly opening salvo involving an Icelandic singer, I’ve got nothing. Here’s the thing: our Girl is simple, and not in the fashion of a Jethro. She is the beautiful, pure, easy, uncomplicated kind of simple, and trying to fashion anything fancy about her would feel false and overwrought. She’s simply, marvelously, genuinely simple.
When I gave birth to a girl, I never saw that coming. Even before the placenta was expelled, I worried about our future clashes, about her hyper-sensitivity, about the feelings her peers would crush into little red pepper flakes, about the tears, about the emotional aches.
Based on my own life experience, I knew all too well what was coming.
To my endless delight, she is stunningly not like me. She is simple. She is confident. She is brave. She is singularly kind. She is thoughtful. She is nurturing. The worst thing I can say about her is that she often cries when doing math.
When family and friends have asked, these past months, what they can send to her that would be a welcome part of a care package, her answer generally has been, “I don’t need anything. I’m fine.” Trying to ferret out if there really is something she’d like, I make suggestions and ask in a different way, yet the answer is always, “Nope. I’m good.” Even more, as she’s grown taller and taller, and her pants have all become several inches too short, I’ve told her we can make a real effort to find her some longer ones that fit. However, knowing that we plan to leave behind as many clothes as possible when we return home, so as to save on weight in our luggage, she merely looks down, takes a gander at her peeping socks, and says, “I don’t need any new pants. I’m good. These are fine.”
Recalling the wellspring of need inside myself as a kid, I am bewildered by her unflappable goodness, her fineness. Her steady responses are doing an excellent job of teaching me to shut up and back off, though. She is good. She is fine.
Here in Turkey, she has no social life. Although she adores her crowd of friends back home, she accepts that having no friends is part of the deal for her in here. Moreover, in Turkey, she has no out-of-the-house activities. Sometimes she takes out her viola and saws on it for me; we can’t find her a teacher here. Other times, she kicks a soccer ball around our courtyard. She likes helping me bake. She reads. She horses around with Paco. As the slideshow below reveals, this pre-adolescent is getting through her days in a foreign country in admirable fashion.
Indeed, it’s fine. She loves Turkey, says she’ll miss it when we leave. Every trip we’ve taken this year has struck her as the best of adventures, and while we were in Italy, she was already planning a future trip to Norway; when we were in Antakya, she was wondering when we could go to Marden. When we sat in the basement of our hotel in Gaziantep, eating the free meal that comes with the price of the room, she eyed the set menu of plain yogurt and lentil soup and avowed, “I can eat these things. I want to be someone who can eat anything.”
I am grateful for this time away from home, then, for the way it’s defined her. She doesn’t need stuff; she likes experiences. Her face shines upon the unknown. Maya Angelou, who said, “I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass,” would need to clap hands on her buttocks to shield them from Girl’s pummeling, would need to rev up the presses to make a million copies of a Grabbing the World by the Lapels poster featuring this kid.
Speaking of being a poster girl, and to undercut every assertion I’ve just made about our fifth grader, there is something Girl wants for her birthday, and it’s not an experience. With the lack of friends around her this year, she has forged a strong interest in a ‘tween magazine called Discovery Girls: she knows the names of all the girls in recent issues; she tracks which states were visited in which year and if they’ll be coming to Minnesota in 2012; she watches behind-the-scenes videos online; she dreams of one day being chosen as a Discovery Girl herself. She’s a little obsessed, which is a relief. It means she’s human.
As a result of this passion for Discovery Girls, she has a strong desire to own every back issue so that her knowledge base can be complete. She would go nuts to have even one more issue in her hands.
She knows Grandma is bringing the two most recent issues in her suitcase, and that anticipation has caused several days of excited monologuing already.
However, this lovely Girl has no conception of is that there’s something else in store for her birthday. She has no idea that we won a lot of 22 back issues of Discovery Girls off Ebay, that our friends Kirsten and Virginia carried them to London in their suitcases, that I then transferred them to my bags and carried them through Istanbul and Kayseri and to Ortahisar,
that they are hiding right now in our bathroom storage closet.
When she opens her gift, she will be astonished, gobsmacked, excited, overwhelmed, delighted, floored, ecstatic,
maybe a bit more than
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