And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Last week, I worked with a client whose scene in a novel just felt heartwarming and dead on, and just so basic and familiar with memory, it could have been a photograph. It’s a fantasy novel, and his main character, a young girl, puts on a dress for the first time ever. Her life and her personality haven’t been such that she would ever wear a dress, and in this scene, she has no choice. It is the only thing clean to wear.

After the dress is pulled over her head and settled on her body, the girl looks down at the fabric flowing loose from her waist to, if I remember right, her knees. She looks for a bit longer, then, in a barely there, oh so subtle moment, her hips swivel. Swish, swish. And the dress swirls in that wonderful way fabric does with this gentle and feminine movement.

Swish, swish.

Anyone who has a girl, anyone who knows a girl, anyone who is a girl, knows this moment and this movement. It doesn’t matter if she never wanted to wear a dress or if she’s always wanted to wear a dress, there is just that breath of a moment. Swish, swish.

I praised my student for getting it exactly right.

I thought of my own daughters, Katie and Olivia, 13 years apart and total opposites in personality and passions. Katie teaches math at the University of Louisiana – Lafayette.  I used to buy her used math textbooks when she was a child and that was how she kept herself busy. She had a calendar where each month showed a fractal, and when she moved into her own apartment in Florida to get her Masters in math, I carefully took all those pictures out of the calendar and formed them on the wall behind her bed, so she could have a fractal headboard. Olivia, in the meanwhile, cries her way through math. She was required to take a math class and now a statistics class in college and she hates both of them. But give her the opportunity to create art, or write, or play one of her four instruments, and she’s happy. Katie played the flute, but I don’t think she’s picked it up since graduating high school. Katie danced – ballet, tap, jazz – and would dance still, if given the opportunity and if COVID would ever go away. Olivia danced for a bit, because her big sister did, but then gave it up.

And as for dresses, Katie wanted to wear them all the time. All the time, every season, every day. Olivia could only wear dresses in warm weather when she could go bare-legged, because she hated the tights required in winter, so as a result, she preferred leggings and t-shirts or sweaters.

But both of them, when they pulled a dress over their heads, would stand for a moment, look at the fabric, and swivel. Swish, swish.

Whether the dresses were for fun, for school, for dances, for dates, a choice of their own or a requirement from Mom…swish, swish.

And I remember swishing too.

The day I talked to my student about his scene, Olivia messaged me on Facebook. She told me she had a sudden craving for a long-sleeved dress. “I only have one,” she said, “and it’s ¾ sleeve.” I hesitated to mention that she didn’t wear dresses, so instead, I said, “It’s winter, and you don’t like tights.”

“Oh, I can wear tights now.”

I’ve been amazed at what she’s learning in college. Tolerance for tights measures right up there.

Wanting to avoid the malls and the stores, due to COVID, of course, I suggested we go to Goodwill. I also had an ulterior plan – if we bought a dress and she never wore it, it wouldn’t cost a fortune. Olivia also has one stunning dress from there that we purchased when she started high school and needed a black dress for orchestra. It has an odd puffy hemline and zippers and buckles and Livvy wears it with fishnets and combat boots. She looks like a heavy metal violinist. Somehow, she could handle the strings-between-the-toes of fishnets, but not the leg-hugging tights. When we got the dress home and looked it up, we discovered it was actually the work of a very exclusive designer. Livvy wore it for her graduation photos. So maybe we would strike gold again.

We did, or at least, I did, but not with a designer. I sat on the bench of the dressing room while she tugged on the dresses. My job was to put the dresses back on their hangers after she pulled them off and tossed them over her head at me. And with every dress, every single one, whether she liked it or not, she would stop after pulling it on, look at the skirt, and then ever so slowly and subtly, swivel her hips.

Swish, swish. Swish, swish. Swish, swish.

I think she tried on 10 dresses, and I watched, mesmerized. Every image of both of my girls, every dress from toddler to adult, every moment watching the girls grow up, floated before my eyes. Then and now.

And I saw myself too.

Swish, swish.

What a lovely afternoon. Oh, and we bought five of the dresses, I think.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

This photo encapsulates the differences between my two girls. This was at the Nutcracker, I think Olivia was in the first grade. Katie, stylish and classic little black dress, sophisticated. Olivia, sweater, tights, sitting on the floor, wahooing.
Katie the math professor. In a dress.
Olivia dressed for Homecoming in her senior year of high school. She definitely swished – but under that long dress, no tights, no stockings. Bare legs.
The Goodwill find, and one of Olivia’s high school graduation photos. Photo credit: Ron Wimmer of Wimmer Photography.

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