I won’t do this ever again. I promise. But I originally wrote this for my Tiny Letter newsletter because apparently it’s all early aughts again. Anyway, it’s where I’m compiling links and updates to all my writing, interesting things on the internet, short thoughts and .gifs. I’ve titled it Eff, because it is themed with F words. ALL OF THEM. This one was titled “Fancy.” If that sounds fun, you can sign up here. You also view view the archives here.
My daughter had her first recital on Sunday. She is four. She has been begging for dance lessons since she turned two. What happened was, I made the mistake of reading her Angelina Ballerina books and she looked at me with wide eyes, “You mean, I can take a dance class?”
I never set out to have a fancy daughter. We didn’t find out her sex before she was born. And all my in-laws told me that LENZES HAVE BOYS. So, I mostly expected a boy. And then, here she came–all plump, blue eyes, blonde hair–this happy little baby girl. I was immediately inundated with bows and tutus. I sent most of them back. I returned them and exchanged them for blues, purples, neutrals, ironic onesies, boys clothes, and whiskey (you can buy liquor at Target in Iowa, be jealous). I gave concessions to grandmas on holidays, but for the most part, I did my best to keep her unfancy. Hell, I even gave her a boy’s name. The male name Emily Bronte published under, when she couldn’t find acceptance as a woman writer.
I did this for so many reasons. I am one of five girls and like so many girls, I’ve never felt at home in the world of “girl.” I was that girl, at 16, telling all my friends that girls are terrible for their “drama.” Saying that I “like boys better.” And I’ve learned a lot since then about internalizing sexism and privileging what is stereotypically “male.” But, I was determined not to ruin her. So, we had no princess things in the house. No books. No movies. No TV shows. Nothing.
But one day, right after she turned two, my daughter came down the stairs draped in my scarves and declared herself, “Princess Ellis.” I still don’t know where she got that. But from that day on, my life has been a cavalcade of tutus and dance and tiaras and princesses and fancy.
I suppose, I’m the mom, I had a choice whether to “let” her do that or not. But if I’ve learned one thing about femininity and feminism and well, womanhood, in the past 32 years is that no one has the right to define your experience as a woman. If this is what what my daughter wants, I will always give her other options, but this is what she can have. I refuse to demean pink, or tutus, or ruffles, or all the ways she is fancy just because I don’t like them. It’s taken me years to define what it means to be a woman on my own terms. I want better for her. I want her to define herself on her own terms, even if that means a tiara.
So, when she was old enough, I signed her up for dance. There is so much about being a dance mom that I hate. The ruffles. The hair. The “Well, everyone else is getting a recital shirt, so you should get one for Ellis too!” Or the “We need deep pink lipstick, that is light pink!” That kind of garbage. But I love being Ellis’ mom. So, going to this recital, seeing her on stage, knowing that it was all her, well, I damn near cried. She wanted this. She was loving this. Her wide eyes when she came out for the final bow. Her huge smile as she tromped around on the stage. Her little happy tears when I gave her flowers. “For me? Fancy roses of my own?!” I am so proud of her and of the little woman that she is becoming. And she is doing it all on her own terms.
Babies begin their lives joined with their mothers. The sleep. The feeding. It’s hard to know where you begin and where your baby ends. It’s this big muddle of dependency that suffocates and enrages and buttresses. And we all have these ideas for who our kids should and ought to be. But watching her today, I realized that she is me and she isn’t. She’s so wholly mine and so entirely her own. And whatever she loves, I will love. Whatever she needs to be the person she needs to be–whether it be a sex change or a tutu or a lifetime of writing books about how awful I am–I’m there for her. Where a mother sees a wall a daughter sees a window. We may fight. We may argue. But I hope she always breaks my walls to show me the beauty beyond.