And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
Many years ago, when my daughter Olivia was four years old, I took her to a shoe store in search of pink sneakers. For Olivia, the world was pink. Her room, her clothes, her stuffed animals, her ponytail holders, her backpack, her bedspread. The day before, she was in an art class where the teacher had the kids creating their own kid-versions of Van Gogh’s Starry Night, a painting filled with a myriad of rich, rich blues. Olivia studied the painting, studied her paints, and did it in pink. The teacher sighed as she handed the finished project over to me. “We tried to get her to use blue,” she said.
“Why?” I asked.
She looked at me like I was crazy.
In the shoe store, Olivia quickly grew bored with the kid aisle and so she skipped around, looking at women’s shoes. I wasn’t worried; we were the only ones in the store and Olivia kept up a constant chatter that always let me know where she was and that she was okay. Nonverbal until the age of three, at four, Olivia was a fountain of never-ending conversation. She made up for lost time by speaking to everything and everyone – our pets, her toys, the walls, strangers on the street, herself, and at night, in her sleep, she spoke out loud of her dreams. Now, she talked to the shoes and I pondered pink sneakers with white rubber toes, sequins, and cartoon characters. And then I heard, “Mama! Mama! Lookit!”
Around the corner, she careened, her pink-socked feet tucked into a pair of brilliant silver women’s STILETTOS. And she was RUNNING.
Instantly, I pictured a twist, a fall, two broken ankles, a concussion, a broken nose, an unconscious pink child. At the end of the aisle, the store manager stood with both her hands to her mouth, her face a mask of horror as I’m sure she pictured a lawsuit. Olivia skidded to a stop in front of me and then stood, proud, perfectly steady, popping a hip and tilting her nose to the ceiling, her mouth a model’s sneer.
“Those are just lovely,” I said to Olivia. “But we need to get you sneakers. Go put those away, okay?”
“Okay, Mama,” she said. “I just wanted to show you.” She strutted away, hips swaying, and she gave a queen’s wave to the manager.
The manager and I looked at each other, both of us letting out a breath. “Ohboy,” I said.
My life with this child has been 18 years of ohboys.
Tonight, I am taking Olivia shopping for shoes to wear with her prom dress. Prom is in two days and we just discovered that the shoes we thought she was going to wear are not tall enough to lift the skirt from the floor. While the dress, a two-piece, isn’t bright pink, it does have a pale pink cast to it, and soft pink flowers on the skirt. The sequins on the top are rose gold. Last week, my pink child said to me, “I want a crown to wear to prom.”
A crown. Ms. Pink Van Gogh wants a crown. Well, of course, I found one. A rose gold tiara. The night we realized the shoes were too short, I had Olivia get into the full outfit. I placed the tiara on her head, and there she was.
There she was.
I thought about all the things you read these days, about putting girls into STEM, about rejecting princess-dreams, about, well, all of that. I have a girl who has always loved pink, who loves to draw and paint, who writes, who plays violin, guitar and ukulele, who does well with math and science, but doesn’t embrace them, who ran in stilettos at the age of four, and who wanted a crown for prom. She stood before me, tall, shoulders back, head upraised, surrounded by soft pink, topped with sequins, and she was the picture, the definition of strength. Of courage. Of determination to be who she is, no matter what the world proclaims is the right way to be.
I called her father upstairs to see. He looked straight at her and said, “You’re beautiful.”
Before he went downstairs, he turned to me, and I saw his eyes were filled with tears.
On August 21, we will take our pink child to college. We will unload all of her pink necessities into her room and we will help her hang posters of VW Beetles on her walls. And then we will kiss her goodbye, get in our car, and drive away. I’m not going to think about that now.
But I am going to hold that tall, beautiful, confident, I’m-not-afraid-to-tell-you-who-I-am pink young woman in my heart forever. That moment with her, echoing the four-year old who stood before me in stilettos, gave me enough joy – and ohboys – for a lifetime.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.