My daughter Lucy resembles me in many ways. She is tall for her age, as I always was. She has big, blue eyes, long limbs and a penchant for sweets. She loves to draw and ride bikes and swim. She loves me dearly, I know, and looks up to me, as any five-year-old does her mother, but it has become clear to me lately that she pines for another.
THE OTHER MOTHER
This other woman is everything I’m not. In the face of my big-bonedness she is soft, slender and slight. In contrast to my heavy, sometimes-clumsy step, she is delicate and graceful. Where I am dark in oversized denim and black or in mismatched thrift store scores, she is sheer in pale gauze and pastel capris. My hair is self-shorn in a short, sometimes-helter -skelter and always-low-maintenance style.
Hers is long, silky and painstakingly free flowing or, when up, it’s in that intentionally loose and messy kind of knot held in place with a single, perfectly placed chopstick. In this fairytale of life she is the saccharine sweet princess while I—by no means the ugly stepsister—am the giant, in the kind-but-bumbling utilitarian role. She, the dance teacher in pink slippers; I, the mom in brown Birks.
After Lucy’s dance class, as we buckle into the van, I hear her sigh luxuriously. I look to see a dreamy smile upon her face. “Don’t you love Miss Michelle?” she asks. My hesitation goes unnoticed and her adoration allows her to skip ahead without awaiting my answer. “She is just like Cinderella,” she fawns.
She drifts away from me and turns her head toward the window to prolong her fantasy. Her eyes glaze over and she is off to a magical ball where she and her princess dance teacher sail away to some enchanted kingdom wearing yards and yards of fluffy pink tulle and sparkling, high-heeled slippers.
Prior to the start of dance class we were informed by Miss Michelle that each student must buy pink ballet slippers and black patent leather tap shoes. In bold caps the instruction sheet stated that
DEPARTMENT OR DISCOUNT STORE SHOES MUST NOT BE WORN. SHOES MUST BE PURCHASED FROM AN AUTHORIZED DANCE STORE.
Though I find it a bit elitist I dare not let the start of my daughter’s first organized instruction be marred by disregarding direction, so off we were to Movin’ Easy.
THE AUTHORIZED DANCE STORE
On a steaming hot summer day I drag my eight-month-pregnant self and two sweaty children into the store. As we cross the threshold I immediately realize we are on foreign turf, one on which I had never before landed. Leotards hung in soft shades of blush. Tights and tutus of every insipid hue covered the walls. And the employees all wore wrap around skirts that would never wrap around anything of mine.
The staff and patrons alike all seemed the very picture of polish as they strutted about in that dancer way, with their shoulders back, their heads erect and their dainty feet pointed gracefully out, forever ready for their glass slippers. They were the royal court and I was truly the hulking beast—my gait lumbering and my skin and hair feeling suddenly dank and sticky all over.
My children too, acting their usual three- and five-year-old selves, seemed cumbersome and chaotic as they roughly caressed each thing they passed. And my feet….oh, my size 42 Birkenstocked feet….ones that have carried me for countless miles across desert, mountain and city sidewalk, seemed now to fall heavily and recklessly through the narrow dance store aisles.
“May I help you?” The clerk trilled from the top of his nose, as if there was really no help at all for our graceless selves and our ill ways. I pointed to Lucy accusingly. “It’s her! It’s her! She needs shoes!!”
And as the clerk put the pink slippers upon her feet, my discomfort was temporarily replaced by her excitement over the new shoes and the idea that this alien world could actually belong to a five-year-old dance student.
MY GIRLY GIRL
Since the time Lucy could speak she has shown a desire for all things ultra-feminine and trendy, sometimes even teetering on the edge of downright trashy: extreme make-up, high heels, belly shirts, Disney. When a hip shoe store/boutique opened at the end of our street, she—just-three-years old—begged to go there as most kids plead for trips to the toy store. Once inside, it was the four-inch stilettos or the super chic club shoes with their wildly high wedge soles and flashy colors that caught her fancy.
She scoffed as I eyeballed a pair of plain black Mary Janes with a half-inch heel but feigned some enthusiasm as the salesgirl wrapped them. In her eyes, it was a small victory that I was buying anything at all from this store and she grabbed the bag, her pride intact.
Poor Lucy, doomed to a lifetime with a way-too-low-maintenance mom. Already she is aware of our differences and gets excited at any glimmer at all of me upping my style quotient. A tight pair of jeans and she’s foaming, “Oh mom, you look great!” A little bit of extra makeup, especially lipstick, and she’s fawning.
And, after a big shoe store tent sale, I came home with a pair of red, slip-on sandals with an almost-two-inch heel. She nearly fainted from the excitement of it all.
But it was more than just the shoes, it was the thought that if you wished for something hard enough —really, really wished for it—your dreams just might come true.
Author’s note: My daughter Lucy is now a teenager and has a great style that is all her own. She has been a strong influence on me as a mom and from her I have learned much.
This essay was written for a now defunct Austin event, “Screaming in the Freezer” organized by Kim Lane of Austinmama.com
Bernadette Noll is a freelance writer and the author of the book Slow Family Living: 75 Simple Ways to Slow Down, Connect, and Create More Joy. She lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, Kenny, and her four children. Find her on Twitter @Slowfamilymama, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/slowfamilyliving . You can read more about her at Slowfamilyliving.com.