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

This coming Saturday, my daughter Olivia will graduate from Mount Mary University. I want to start this week’s blog by repeating a blog I wrote before she began college, and then I’ll add to it in the end.

From May 16, 2019, exactly 4 years and two days ago:

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.

And so, we did all of this, the driving, the unloading, the hanging. Over and over, for four years. We kissed her goodbye and we drove away, leaving our pink girl for her college experience.

In that time, she:

  • Had to come back home for online school because of Covid. Second semester of freshman year blew all of her college dreams and expectations right out the window, and she had to learn how to deal with online classes and interactions and being at home again.
  • In-person school resumed for her sophomore year, where she took on a job as the front desk receptionist in the dorms. Asked to fill out a daily form about Covid symptoms, she said her throat was sore, and she immediately was sent to a different dorm room, isolated, with no food, no water, no toilet paper, no curtain on the shower, no support. She wrote about that experience and won an editorial award.
  • There have been challenging classes and challenging instructors. One, in particular, looked down her nose when Olivia attempted to give her her accommodations letter. “Oh, you don’t need that,” she scoffed. Olivia found who to talk to, she stood up for herself, and her needs were met.
  • There have been new boyfriends and lost boyfriends. New friends and lost friends.
  • She created art. She wrote for the college literary magazine. She joined an orchestra outside of school, the Wisconsin Intergenerational Orchestra, where she continues to play violin.
  • Through it all, she kept her pink. Pink bedspread. Pink end tables. Pink desk lamp. VW Beetles on the wall.
  • Dean’s List. Top 5% of her class. Delta Epsilon Sigma national honor society.

All by the girl who wasn’t supposed to talk. The girl who wasn’t supposed to go to college.

In that older blog, I said, “There she was.” Now she looks at me, smiles, and all I can think is There she is! Oh, there she is.

Today, I am going in to Mount Mary to watch Olivia deliver her Capstone project, about developing safe places for the LGBTQ+ community. Tomorrow, I am going to watch her give a speech at the special Light Ceremony, the day before graduation.

And then I will watch her graduate.

(Next is grad school!)

She’s learned to raise her voice. She’s learned what her voice is. She’s developed her talents, her beliefs, her confidence, and she’s become so fully Olivia. She used to wear a shirt that said on the front, “I can and I will.” On the back, it said, “Watch me.”

I’ve watched and I’ve watched and I’ve wept and I’ve laughed and I’ve loved and loved and loved. Do I even need to say what my moment of happiness is?

There she is.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Olivia. 2 years old.
Olivia. 5 years old.
Olivia’s little hands on the violin. Photo by her instructor, Marie Loeffler.
Olivia. Senior in high school.


First day of freshman year.
First day of sophomore year.
First day of junior year.
First day of senior year. 
Always my girl. (Olivia at the immersive Vincent Van Gogh experience)

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