I ran away from home last week.
Riley had to be in California for work. I had a cousin with an open timeshare. One thing led to another (read: the wives insisted) and we all piled into our cars and headed on to Newport Beach one nugget and three year old break down at a time.
My cousin’s family is lovely. When I introduce them to people I call them my friends. (We can all appreciate how rare that is with family. Ahem.) They have three girls. A twelve year old, a nine year old and a six year old. I’ve always loved these kids but being with them for an entire week was amazing. Listening to them fight, watching them help one another when their mom wasn’t looking, hearing their stories and jokes…I felt like I was simultaneously experiencing my past and my daughter’s future. They are each already stretching – reaching for the places ahead of them while trying to maintain a grasp on their girlhood. It is a bittersweet kind of thing.
One day we decided to take the girl’s into LA. We told them they’d get an hour in The American Girl Store if we got an hour in the LA Farmer’s Market. A fair trade since that particular farmer’s market holds a falafel sandwich that just might be what makes the sun rise every day. Our daughters tramped from the car in descending order. Each of their walks is still utilitarian – a surefooted means of moving from one place to another. Not the sashaying stuff that comes later, when they are more aware of their bodies and the expectations placed on them. I tried to walk along like them, relearning the steps of my girlhood.
The outdoor shopping mall was all fitted up with Chinese New Year décor and I had the girl’s pose in front of a dragon. It’s funny how we sometimes don’t see things until they are framed by a lens. There were my gaggle of girls, each smiling widely, feet planted, dolls held tightly. Hovering above them was a billboard for Coach. A beautiful woman all soft hair and big eyes, she seemed bigger than the sum of all their parts. An illusion of paper and ink, sure. But there is power in the perception of perfection and aspiration. Our little girls standing in the shadow of idealized womanhood. The image caught the breath out of my throat.
“Mom, are you going to take the picture or what?”
I wanted to tell them what I’d seen. I wanted to make them hold on to their dolls, their childhood, their shared experiences as long as they could. I wanted to shout about standing taller than the expected and the inadequacies of softened lighting and perfect images. I wanted to cradle them away from the years of insecurity that always seem to precede the enlightenment of self. I wanted to scream it away, sing it away, dance it away. I wanted to save them from the person I had to be in order to turn into the person I was meant to become.
But instead I took the picture.
And we walked on.