Saturday, January 27, 2007

Tiny green shoots of femininity . . .

It was a rainy summer night. I was in my boyfriend's living room with my then eleven-year-old daughter. He lived in an apartment in a place where you could walk to things, like a bagel store and Carvel.

"Let's go get ice cream," I suggested. EJ immediately thought that was a good idea. She loves ice cream. At age four she had gotten so excited at the promise of an ice cream sandwich from the freezer that in her jumping up and down she had slipped and smacked her chin squarely on the floor. I can still feel the impact 20 something years later. She had eaten the ice cream sandwich cuddled in my arms, big bruise on her chin.

She ran to get her yellow rubber boots which she loved. J and I inspected his closet for umbrellas and found a couple. We were prepared to walk out when EJ did a completely uncharacteristic thing and pulled a hair brush out of her bag. Then, while we waited, [and as I tried to close my mouth] she spent several minutes carefully brushing her long hair into a neat, smooth fall. Wow, I thought, was this the kid I'd had to throw into the shower a couple of years ago after a solid week of refusing to take a bath?

I didn't say anything. I figured this was something new and age-appropriate. She was becoming a young lady and I was pleased that she cared about her hair. We left the building and started the three block walk.

Midway to our destination, we ran into a series of big puddles on the sidewalk. Without hesitating, EJ ran ahead and leaped into the middle of the biggest, making a lovely, satisfying splash. I burst out laughing. The contrast between the necessary hair brushing and this kid who jumped into puddles was so beautifully drawn.

It was also comforting that my daughter could be girly, but remain a kid in some ways, and not feel embarrassed to be exuberantly joyful about splashing in the rain. I found this to be a healthy sign that maybe she could manage to be feminine without the self-consciousness and exaggerated ‘female’ behavior that afflicts so many young girls.

The years that have passed have revealed this to be so. A slender-but-never-skinny, beautiful young woman with a healthy appetite who is highly skilled with make-up and hair, she does not use her femininity, ever, to manipulate. People tell me she is beautiful. I always counter with "She is a really, really good person."

She considers herself 'one of the guys,' and has always had male pals. One year, while working for a sports radio station, she befriended several pro football players. Always careful about how she did her laundry, she called me one Saturday night from the luxury digs of one particular friend -- a huge, scary-looking guy with a warm smile and compete respect for both EJ and her mama -- to wash her clothes in a spotless laundry room [heavenly] and watch videos of games. Only my kid, I thought.

The tiny green shoots of girlhood have grown into a breathtaking yin blossom of a woman, but with enough yang strength and toughness to assure the flower of a long, healthy bloom.

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