Skinned knees and taffeta


The phrase “7th-grade formal dance” makes about as much sense to me as saying “toddler driving lessons.” That aside, it seems to be the norm these days and who am I but a lemming like follower of the masses?

I have no need to ostracize my daughter from her peers in such a basic way as forbidding attendance at an innocent dance. I prefer public humiliation, random acts of embarrassing writing and routinely attending morning drop-off in my pajama pants for adolescent come-uppance.

I stick with what I know. Last week Mr. Wonderful and I were both entranced by a toddler on the sidelines of a soccer game. While our own lanky, leggy child streaked across the field, I watched an adorably chubby toddler, arms held aloft, as she toddled back and forth in front of us, laughing all the way.

Thinking back those ten plus years, I could not take my eyes of this adorable child who was not mine. Perhaps because I could swear my child was just that age and size last week?

It never ceases to amaze me, watching the athlete our daughter has become, that I was there the day she carefully, haltingly, pulled herself upright and took her first steps. This triumph was followed, almost instantly, by a face plant into the carpet. Who knew she’d grow up to get that whole running thing down so well?


A day after I pined for the toddler-who-was-not-mine, I cooled my heels outside a department store dressing room with three dear peers (my moms in arms). We were all waiting for the that moment when our darling daughters, joy of our lives and heart of our hearts would find “the” dress. When our four athletes of the bruised shins and knobby knees would transform into princesses.

One by one the girls emerged from the dressing room. Into the void had gone gangly girls in jeans and sweatshirts. Out came glorious, glistening butterflies. Still, they looked like little girls in party dresses. They goofed for the camera in gawky poses, athletic socks not quite setting off the splendor of their dresses. We laughed.

A week later the dance was upon us. There was a swirl of glitter, lace and taffeta. There were ringlet curls and elaborate up-dos. Noses were powdered and lips were glossed.

Through it all ran the heady scent of “real perfume.” Not the kiddie stuff made of some strange, sweet elixir of Windex and Circus Peanuts, as our daughter calls it.

Four of the girls were going together (seventh grade being much too young for “dates.”) They met at our house and assembled on the stairs. No longer gawky. No longer knobby. The butterflies had truly emerged this time all polished and poised.

Clad in demure knee-length dresses and minimal makeup, they shone like the gems they are. We gasped.


Not too many years ago we sat together in a slant of sunlight on our porch, my daughter and I. Her forehead pressed into mine as we both bent over one impossibly tiny, perfect seashell of her toenail. I carefully swiped on pearly pink polish and she sighed, “so pretty mama.”

A decade later she swept out down the stairs and out the door to her first formal dance and I felt like I had a whole different girl. I love the young lady she is becoming even as I mourn, somewhat, the loss of the cuddly, scrappy toddler that came before.

It’s the oldest cliche but still holds true, I feel like it was just yesterday I was carrying her in my arms, balancing her on my hip, and, most importantly, watching my husband dance her around the living room balanced on his shoes.

Parenting is a job that — done well — one eventually promotes themselves right out of. I’m not ready to retire quite yet.

Walking through our eerily silent house after the girls had been packed off to the dance, I came upon the bathroom. It was, as always, a true CSI (Child’s Scene Investigation). Bathtub toys and teddy bear towels have been replaced with creams, lotions and hair gels. A fine mist of glitter hairspray had settled over everything.


Amidst the gloss and the powder and the brushes to apply it all sat a caramel apple lollipop, balanced on the rim of the sink. She had saved it for later, when the lure of a lollipop would once again outweigh the joy of being a girly-girl.

With that I realized that under the sparkle, shine, taffeta and lace beats the heart of my child — still a little girl. I don’t think I’ve ever loved a lollipop — or a little girl — more.

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