So, today was one of those days that I fear Selam will remember as being typical of her childhood. I can just see her on some therapists’ couch recounting Sundays where she was up at 6, out the door at 7:45 and after hours at church subjected to store after store after store, returning home at 5, with her church dress wrinkled and stained.
It was a long day. I didn’t intend to be out so late, but there was construction on the way home so I made classic Susan error: I took a shortcut, which means that I got lost, and by the time I turned on the GPS to try to figure out how to get out of my mess, we were actually headed toward New York City.
Less often now with GPS but it still happens.
Anyway, we just had to run a bunch of small errands, each involving a different store. All but one of these errands was in the same strip mall.
After getting a T-shirt for an arts and crafts project, a part for a broken drawer, and birthday gifts for a few upcoming parties, I took her to a “Mommy store.” I brought a whole bag of toys with us (ever buy anything from Sephora? you know those little black cloth bags? She loves them. I always wondered what those were for.)
I have spent the summer sort of Little House on the Prairie Style with just one church dress. On Saturdays I wash it in the crick and heat up the iron on the fire and get it all fit for meeting. Seriously, I’ve worn the same dress to church all summer.
It’s the only one I have that is a) cool b) comfortable to move around in (sit on the floor for kids sermon, etc.) and c) professional looking. I have another summer dress that would work for a wedding, and an Easter dress, but no other church dresses. While this might sound a little sad, remember that I wear a robe every Sunday (they are air conditioned) so people only SEE this dress before and after church.
But, I got a 20% of any sale item coupon in the mail. And sure enough, dresses were half off. (And this isn’t that pricey of a store to begin with). So indeed, I was looking at 23-28 bucks per dress. Not bad.
But dresses are something that one really ought to try on. Yoga pants and T-shirts can be thrown in the cart. A dress, well, that involves the dreaded dressing room. So in we went, Selam, me and her Sephora bag full of birthday party trinkets that she’d totally forgotten about and thinks are new. I pull the church dress over my head and frown. I put the green dress on and frown. I move this way and that, examining all the bulges and bumps and rolls. I look in the mirror and try to figure out what kind of scaffolding I have in my repertoire that might make this thing worth the 23 bucks they were asking for it. I wonder if a cardigan might conceal some things.
Selam plays on the floor with some kind of a spinning toy that makes it look like Woody has been genetically mated with the Tazmanian Devil.
She looks up. Her face opens up wide. “Mommy, you look BEAUTIFUL.” She stands up, touches my face, fingers the green fabric. “You look like a princess.”
I decide to buy the dress.
We move on to a drug store that carries a wide variety of cosmetics. I sit on the floor and examine the options. I need blush. I set Selam up with another Sephora bag.I am vaguely aware of her pulling a stool down the aisle. I look over, and watch her set it up opposite the display of stand mirrors. She climbs atop it and moves side to side, smiling widely. “I’m beautiful, too, Mommy.” she says, breathless with her own admiration.
I have drunk the feminist koolaid. I am determined to have a child who is valued for her character and her ideas more than for her looks. I love this article. I cringe sometimes at all the attention she attracts in public. Perfect strangers feel the need to tell her that she is pretty. She is, but I don’t want her to think that’s all she is.
And yet, and yet.
I want her to bottle up this experience of herself. I want her to see herself as gorgeous. I want her to swim in the knowledge that she is God’s marvelous creature. I hope she knows that she is stunning, without letting that define her. I don’t know exactly how to do that.
So for today, I got up off the carpet, went over and grabbed her in my arms. “You ARE beautiful,” I say. And I pick up the Sephora bag and my pocketbook, and together we stride toward the door.
The sales clerk rings up our purchases. “Aren’t you pretty!” she says to Selam.
“I think you’re pretty, too,” Selam says.
“and mommy, too. and everybody. Everybody is just so pretty.”