My mom always told us we could grow up to be anything we wanted to be. When I was little I believed her without qualification. Five year old me truly believed I could grow up to be a princess, a singer, a writer. Sure life was big, but someday I would be big, too. And big Meg (and yes I really remember five year old me thinking of my future grown up self as Big Meg. Sounds like a hairy medieval hit woman), could do anything she wanted.
I don't really know when I decided she was wrong.
Maybe it was when I realized that in order to become a princess I would have to marry a prince. Perhaps it was when it occurred to me that to be a successful singer it would be necessary to have a good voice. Or it might have happened the first time I sat down to write the next Great American Novel. I was all of fifteen years old. My room was clean, my desk neat and I had a stack of crisp white paper and a black pen. (I thought handwriting The Great American novel was much more writerly than typing it. Computers, yawn, so pedestrian. What an idiot.) I sat at my desk and stared at the paper for about thirteen minutes when I was struck by a horrifying realization. Writing a novel meant actually, you know, writing. For hours. And years. And when I was done there was no guarantee that the thing would be read. Or perhaps it would be read, but the person that read it would have to show me what I couldn't see in all the pretension and smeared ink. That it was awful, horrendous, an exercise in everything that should never be done to an innocent blank piece of paper. So I think I filled the first blank page with my name followed by movie stars last names (Megan Dicaprio surrounded by curlicues and hearts) and then went downstairs to eat some ice cream and potato chips. You know. Winner's food.
When my mom was a little girl she wanted to be Judy Garland, singing and dancing across a technicolor Hollywood set. I grew up listening to her sing Judy Garland songs as she combed my hair, cleaned the kitchen and drove with us to and from church. That I decided, was a good representation of what life held. I would go about doing the things that truly matter, wife, motherhood, following my faith, and pretend at all the little things I hoped for before I knew better.
Man. When I am wrong, I am so cussed wrong.
Last weekend I went with my mom to her first ballroom dance competition in Las Vegas. On the drive down my sister, Jaimie, sat in the front seat and I sat in the back between my mom's two ballroom dresses. One was scarlet and the other was black and cut down to, lower, lower, lower....yeah, there. She spent weeks hand beading both dresses with thousands of tiny crystals. When the sun hit them the ceiling of the car broke out into stars.
The next morning Jaimie and I helped my mom get ready for her grand debut. We ran from one end of the room to the other carrying false eyelashes, scissors and heels. Truly intense and, when the scissors were involved, dangerous stuff. With her last lash applied and the red dress floating above her heels, I stood back and looked at her. Hot damn. She looked fantastic. It was time to go.
The competition was home to many things I expected. Dancers stretched in the corners, the judges were appropriately tan and I counted at least seventeen bottles of hairspray perched on tables, ready for a last minute teasing. But there was something that I didn't expect, not even a little. I really loved it. And not in the ironic, isn't it fun to people watch kind of way. No, I loved it in a if I could have found a dress I would have been out there doing the samba, where do I sign my girls up for classes sort of way. The women competing were every age and body type. Teenagers, mothers and grandmothers glided, trotted and leaped across the dance floor. Some of their dresses were tastefully tacky (yes, that exists) while others wore outfits that resembled what I imagine a peacocks hallucinogenic induced dream must look like. But in a time when expressions of traditional femininity can be viewed as a weakness, these men and women embraced it. In every dance the woman was the man's object. He led when she wished, followed when she beckoned and walked side by side with her off the floor, his hand on the small of her back. Each heat of the competition was hard work and the sweat that dripped from every competitors face removed any notion of women as wilting flowers that simply need tending. It was a heady mix of empowerment and women who were unashamed to be womanly.
Watching my mom dance I saw many things I expected to see. She was beautiful, just absolutely radiant. The woman danced like she was born to it and won first place in fourteen of her seventeen heats. And then as I watched her twirl across the floor, her red bright against the greens and purples and blacks, I saw something I didn't expect. Not even a little. I saw Judy Garland. Not the Judy Garland that acted for moments in front of painted sets and not the Judy Garland that lived and died heartbroken. No, I saw the Judy Garland of my childhood. The one with red lips and a song on a trolley. My mom really had grown up and become exactly what she wanted. Her life was the stuff Ms. Garland's movies were made of, love and adventure and colorful dresses. She has a boy that loves her and a little family. She creates beauty and once in awhile slips on a sparkly dress so she can dance across a big stage. When she sings Somewhere Over the Rainbow it is not a tribute to a dream she once had, it is simply one more song in the soundtrack of her life.
I was surrounded by hundreds of people that were actively becoming one of the things they wanted to grow up to be. And, this may have been all the glitter I inhaled talking, but it occurred to me that I might be able to do the same. I have the things that truly matter to me in this life, my husband, my children and my faith, but maybe I don't have to just pretend at all the other little things I hoped for. The princess thing is out and last time I checked my voice is only suited to lullabies in my kids' room. But writing a book? Maybe. The Great American Novel, certainly not. A little something I can be proud of, that I would like to put my name on? I think I can do that. So there amongst the music and flashing lights, I pulled out my computer and began to write. Nothing momentous and I am sure in the end one out of fifty words will survive. But for me, right now, that beginning is enough.
What do you want to be when you grow up? What will you do today to take you one step closer to that happy little dream?