Sunday, September 27, 2015

My mullet and me and other childhood traumas

Lily comes out of her bedroom at 7 the other morning. All dressed for the day.

A gypsy-style brown skirt with multicolored embroidery and a brown T-shirt with a hula girl on it. On her feet are a pair of glittery purple sneakers featuring a couple of princesses – maybe you've heard of them – Elsa and Anna, and fluorescent orange jack-o-lantern socks.

I don't know what it was – maybe that she's all skinny legs and knobby knees these days, maybe the complete look of pride she had on her face about the ensemble (she's been wanting to wear those socks for months) – but it made me smile. Made me happy. 

She's 5 and so lovely. So joyful. So self-assured. So fully herself.

And I found myself feeling a little envious. I don't remember a time in my life where I've had that confidence. 

Mom recently emailed a black and white photo of me circa first or second grade. I'm staring into the camera sucking on my lower lip like a turtle. My hands are crossed under my belly. 

My hair ... my hair is thick, coarse and unwieldy. An uneven line of bangs hangs over my somber eyes and it pokes out on the sides and in the back. 

I have a mullet. I'm a 6-year-old girl with a mullet.

My cheeks are round and pillowy and my arms are full and fluffy. It was the period of my life when my older brother called me Refrigerator Perry (or just Fridge). Sometimes I was Piggy Sue. 

That I loved food was something I don't think I was ever ashamed of. I'd tell my brother I wasn't fat, just soft. And I was.

I'm wearing this dress my mother made me. It was my favorite dress. Kelly green with a fine floral print, those puffy sleeves and the giant, white collar featuring a pair of bunnies my mother had embroidered. What I loved about this dress were the ruffles on the skirt. They made me feel beautiful. Like a princess. Those ruffles were magic. I wore that dress almost every day. Until the fabric was so thin, it was near tearing. 

My mom told me this is one of her favorite pictures. But when I stare at it now, at 33, it is not one of mine. I groaned when it showed up in my inbox. 

For me, it feels like a reminder that I've always been this kind of awkward, odd-looking little person. With out-of-proportion features and out-of-control hair. And though I've long outgrown that green, bunny dress and its glorious ruffles and I don't have a mullet or that baby fat – this is the person I will always see in the mirror. It's who I've always been and always will be. The truest picture of me. 

Gabby, Jovie and Jovie's mini mullet.
But maybe this is Mom's version of Lily in her pumpkin socks and purple sneakers. A reminder of this split-second moment in time when life was uncomplicated and sweet. The softness of Jovie's skin after a bath. The contagiousness of Lily's giggle. The moment when two small hands reach for each other. For her, the unruly hair and the ample tummy and the big cheeks are what makes it wonderful.

We spend our entire adult lives searching for this perspective. This happiness that we were born with as children. Sometimes we're looking so hard for it, that even when it shows up in our inbox, we miss it.

Last week, I got this text from Brad, who had taken Lily to her third dance class:

It wasn't especially shocking that she had an accident. The conditions were ripe for such an occurrence – the fact that the class is at night when she'd usually be taking one last pre-bedtime potty break, the fact that she didn't know where the bathrooms were at the dance studio and is probably still to shy around the teacher to ask; the fact that the leotard and tights are not designed for emergency potty situations.  

My heart broke for her. I thought she'd come home in tears. Embarrassed and crushed and reluctant to dance ever again. I was ready to console her with a hug and tell her it was OK and that these things happen. 

But I didn't need to.

Lily rushed into the house, anxious to show me how she learned to walk with her shoulders back and head held high. She was excited about the black leotard with the skinny straps her teacher had loaned her. She did mention that she had an accident, but there was no undertone of shame or sadness, really. Maybe she was a little embarrassed – as embarrassed as a 5-year-old can get anyway. 

What Brad and I thought would be this monumental event in her young life, was just a footnote to the day. The opportunity to wear a fancy new leotard.

As she sauntered out of the room, she paused to look in the mirror. Smiling at her reflection. 

Because, when she looks in a mirror it's not to search for flaws but to admire herself. Smart girl. 

Every day, my children teach me far more than I will ever teach them. Despite unforeseen circumstances and challenging situations, Lily decided to stay on the dance floor, so I will, too.

That's me on the left. Normally, I hate pictures of myself. But I really like this one.
I always have loved a great dress. Maybe this is a truer picture of me.

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