Being a mother to two little girls is a flower garden, dance in the rain sort of undertaking. It has changed me. Some of the changes have been on the surface of my understanding. I know all the best places in our neighborhood to look for fairies. (They always fly away right before we see them!) I could write a dissertation on the differences between a crown and a tiara. And if you happen to be interested, I can tell you the origin story of characters such as Fancy Nancy, Pinkalicious and Angelina Ballerina.
Some of the changes have gone deeper. They have snuck in and rewired my being, altering the course of my veins and changing the things that make my heart beat faster. I wake up thinking about little hands and big days. I go to sleep worried about bumped elbows and Riley, do you think I sing the ABC's enough with the kids? And anytime I walk out the front door, I look at the world through the eyes of a mother. The women moving about my days are just my daughter fifteen, twenty-five, fifty years from now. They are still afraid of the dark, hate to be only the kid not picked for the kickball team (or the blogger party/girls night out/book club), and most still wish they had really grown up to be a princess.
I went to Vegas two weeks ago with my sister and my mom for a dance competition. (For a lighthearted post about the experience read here.) We got to the hotel at around two in the afternoon. The casino was already chiming and flashing and the conceirge made sure to tell us that we had time to hit a few slots before the valet brought our bags to our room. Good, because I was truly worried. We skipped the slots (Oh, the agony) and walked into the elevator that would take us to our room, along with a group of
children people celebrating a 21st birthday.
The boys in the group had wisps of facial hair struggling to cover up the last bits of teenage acne. They stood straight up with their shoulders squared and feet apart. Their posturing would have been comical if it hadn't made me so angry. I knew just what they were thinking. Everything before this weekend had been child's play. But today, today after the drinking and hollering and grabbing, today they would be men. And the girls. Oh, the girls. Only two hours into the afternoon and their eyeliner was thick and their dresses were short. Their shoulders bowed into their chests and one foot leaned into another. They were there to be seen by the boys that would be men.
There was one girl in particular, with long dark hair and big wide eyes. She wore a gold strapless dress that was just long enough to let you know exactly where so much of her stopped and the rest began. She stood in the corner of the elevator and her hands moved about the dress. A tug at the top just to cover a bit more, just a little bit more. A flutter at her middle, the dress was tight and she pulled her stomach in. Finally the soothing of the hem, just stay there, don't come up. Please, please, just stay there. I have never seen anyone so desperate to hide so much in so little. She smiled nervously and when a joke was made she laughed after everyone else had started talking about something else. My heart broke. I wanted to tell her how beautiful she was. I wanted to tell her she didn't have to wear, do, or be anything that made her scared or uncomfortable or feel like less. I wanted her to know that while she had nothing to hide, she also had nothing that should be given away. I wanted to tell her I loved her. But the elevator stopped and I watched her walk out, tottering on heels that she must have borrowed from someone else. They were too big.
In the air conditioned, paint by number (My! That really is what a sunset in in Venice must look like!) casinos it is easy to forget that Las Vegas is in a desert. The kind of desert where the only color comes from a blue sky and the flash of neon at night. When we left the hotel that first day to walk to dinner the heat reminded me of exactly where I was. The sidewalks were full of the uninitiated, the homeless, the young, the old, the hard, the hopeful. There were men with six packs of beer and families with bewildered parents and hot, sticky children. And there were handbillers. A collection of men, women and (when the police aren't looking) kids that hand out calling cards for escorts and prostitutes. On each card there is a picture of a girl, some hold their breasts and look out from the paper, while others look into the distance, their bottom up and legs apart. Each one has a phone number and a promise, The best girl in the business, This is the real deal, A night you will not forget! The handbillers stand along the strip in bright orange shirts GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS while smacking their cards, against each other. Clap. Clap. Clap. They hold them out to the crowds that pass by, many of the people walk on with their heads averted, some take what is offered. By seven o'clock on any given night, most of the cards have been tossed aside and the ground is covered in the faces and bodies of hundreds of girls.
We walked along the strip just like everyone else. And like everyone else we turned away our heads. And like everyone else we eventually escaped into a manufactured land of coolness and color. Dinner was lovely. We forgot about the places we walked through to get there. And then after five courses and happy conversation we went back out into the heat. Once on the elevator on the way up to our room, my mom shook her head,
I hated walking with you girls on that street. My daughters do not belong there. And then a pause, another shake of the head and a catch in her voice. And those girls, I could see the cards on the sidewalk and in the gutters, I hated walking on those girls.
And my heart broke.
Not because we were so different, but because we - me, the girl in the gold dress, my daughters, the girls on the cards - are all the same. None of us is far removed from the little girl that needed to be sung to sleep at night, hoped to grow up to be a princess, believed in happy endings. We do not belong in corners and heaven knows, not one of us deserves to be walked on and swept into the gutter. We have to remember we are beautiful. We need to know we don't have to wear, do, or be anything that makes us scared or uncomfortable or feel like less. We must realize we have nothing to hide, but we also are too good to be given away. And finally, we must learn that we are eternal daughters of an eternal God who loves us unconditionally.
When I got home two days later, my girls met me at the door. Margaret was wearing a tutu on her head and shouted MOMMY IT IS PRINCESS HAIR! DO YOU LOVE IT? I MISSED YOU! LOOK AT MY PRINCESS HAIR! Viola cooed and nuzzled into me, her little pink mouth in a shy smile. I held them close. My girls. There is so much they need to understand before they leave me.
I hope, I pray, I plead that I will be able to teach it.