On Watching Girlhood Fade


I believe in patent leather shoes. Cartoon band-aids. Sleepaway camp. The long, coast after you shed your training wheels and before your first lesson in driver’s ed. 

I have been an agent of Girlhood, splashing around in the 3 ft. level of the pool, fully immersed in the game, crying out and suddenly realizing no one was matching my Marco with a Polo. I glimpsed Girlhood riding off on the horizon for other girls. I was clinging to it, playing school in the basements of my friends, passing notes and trading secrets in our own little huddle.

I remember when everyone’s bathing suits started to change, the filling out and filling in and the tuck and the plunge and I was no kind of ready. My growth spurt was never up, it was only out.

Now, I am watching The Girlchild who lives with me board the growth spurt train. I add an extra bathing suit for her to the online Target cart. She will need two for sleepaway camp. She favorites one; I explain the plunging neckline and how it may not be the most comfortable for her. As if comfort were a major theme of becoming a young woman. I tell her this - all this - will not necessarily be comfortable, but it will be manageable, and I mean it.

She has questions about herself and there is acrylic paint all over her legs. Her dreams are so big and she swings between one and the other and oh, yes, her eyes alight at that other possibility there covered in paint. I am willing her dreams to be as outsized as she will allow them. I am willing her a future unrestricted by jeans size or the number of followers or likes. I will wrestle the world’s measuring stick with my own bare hands if I must. I will hide it from even myself.

The other night we were riding the subway home The Girlchild and I. In my wisdom, I had told her to bring a book in case we were waiting at the station for awhile.

A woman sitting across from us was YELL-INGG. I trusted that I would get to hear EVERY-THINGGG that “Bro” kept calling her about even after he (allegedly) hung up and called back. The YELL-ING lady kept repeating it wasn’t her problem (it was) and she was trying already (allegedly), trying to get her $*#!ng card to work but nothing would $*#!ng work 

Meanwhile on the other side of the car the guy with the ear buds and the tattoos lamented on his phone that he couldn’t find Anybody EN-KNEE-BUH-DEE on Facebook anymore.

The Girlchild was reading and thumbing the same page of Percy Jackson. She said it was her first time reading the book, though she had listened to the audio version already. She admitted she was glad which she had, since she knew how to pronounce the brother’s name properly, Chiaron, pronounced “KEER-an.”

It strikes me now that this is one way we navigate the transition of our lives, the transferring from the girlhood train to the one that only women are fit to ride. We look and we listen and we absorb; the world presents itself as a text. It is a mercy and a gift that we then get to write our own chapters, though sometimes casting a different set of characters in a completely distinct setting than the one chosen for us.

I had felt fearful, even as near as the beginning of summer, for The Girlchild to turn the page. Fearful of what she might discover about the cruel world, about her incompetent parents, about her unadulterated self. I am reminded once more that we are reading and writing this text together, riding a rumbling subway, absorbing the input, synthesizing what all will become the story of how this momentum continues, with a denouement that is well beyond our sightline.

I still believe in the sanctity of Girlhood, and she still exists in peeks these days like the fireflies that the Girlchild spent so many summer nights chasing after. (And I hope she always does.)

But how do you order the cotton candy?

My quasi-cousin Kore and I met up at an impossibly chic taqueria on Sunday and I’m still puzzled how the Minivan Mafia let me get away with this one, how I didn’t get fined (yet?) for wearing Not Nearly Enough Black, and how it appeared I was the only one whose skull was completely blown to bits over this cotton candy novelty served apres dinner.

This cotton candy? Arrived in a big bountiful arrangement. The same big bouquet shape you’re used to seeing at the fair. Only it was placed on tables around us like a fetching centerpiece. Now, I’m not so daft and irrelevant that I’m unaware that cotton candy for growns is a HUGE thing in foodie places like Vegas, etc. I mean I might own some mom jeans but I know my way around a Sephora counter and I know that contouring is a thing I need and a boy brow is a thing I shouldn’t attempt at home. I am current in most of the ways that matter. But the cotton candy was a surprise at this urbane eatery what with its neo-gothic stained glass windows and wrought-iron sectionings.

Here’s the rub. We couldn’t figure out how to order it. It wasn’t on the menu. Maybe there was a secret password or you had to know a guy, a cottony confectionary kind of guy to order. Kore and I aren’t delicate lilacs afraid to assert ourselves or ask difficult questions like FLOOFER SUGAR, WE CAN HAZ SOME? But! Hark! Just as we asked for the check, a bloom of blue cotton candy was placed in our midst. Unbidden but definitely not unwanted. We pulled at wads and tasted an unexpected fruity flavor. This was not your sad clown cotton candy in a bag that you begged your dad to get you at the Ice Capades mostly because everyone else had some. Kore was the first to make the discovery: this cotton candy was sprinkled in Pop Rocks. For the love of Screech and Lisa Turtle, what a pair. Delicious and frivolous. Suddenly our table with a couple of cackling hens was transformed into the table that was having the most fun party for two, and I totally hope it made everyone who didn’t yet know the cotton candy secret insanely jealous.

I’ve thought about that cotton candy in the days since and I realize it’s less about the spectacle of it, and more about the moment that it arrived. You guys, I swear I heard windchimes when they set it down in front of us. Kore and I had been fine to wrap up our meal without ever solving the mystery of the cotton candy, perhaps investigating further on another cotton candy research junket (as one does). But then the restaurant said, Oh. No. Don’t leave yet. You haven’t tried this blue treat of ours. Your stay here isn’t complete until we set a bouquet of sugary goodness before you.

Even though the Pop Rocks as sprinkles was a new concept for me, I have sat at this table before. The one where I’ve been given the enviable thing without having to ask for it. The one where I’m sitting with someone who accepts me and yet challenges me to pass on the baloney when it comes around. The table where I didn’t make the reservation, where I probably didn’t even abide by the dress code of the place, but was treated kindly. And given the dessert chaser.

I keep returning to the moment, because it was all so fresh for me: the reward no one deserves but which the restauranteur wants its patrons to have; the feasting eyes from other tables; the wondering, the menu scoping. I am going to be spending some more time in this moment where we realize we are getting something we very much wanted and didn’t know how to ask for, and being glad and present for when someone who just wants to delight in our delight says, Oh, why. Here you go.


I think this is the magic we don’t have nearly enough of in our world, and for which we should strive to create more for the people we love and others we may not even know. Because these are the moments where our expectations are suspended and our childish hopes met. Show me the folks who are mad about that. Then sprinkle them with a generous portion of Pop Rocks and see what happens.

On dressing mannequins

Ann Taylor occupies two floors in Boston’s Faneuil Hall historic shopping plaza. On the second floor, there are narrow shafts for window displays that are only wide enough for my 23 year-old petite body to stand very still. Problems ensue when I am tasked with dressing one of the mannequins (size 2, all of them, because when have you seen a mannequin holding a hamburger?). My managers at Ann Taylor never say, “Oh, Kendra, can you go simply drape this fetching scarf around the neck of a mannequin upstairs?” They never ask, “Could you be a dear and quick like a bunny change out the broche on that one’s blouse up there?” They are prepared to exploit me for their big window dressing asks, like a child with tiny fingers taken out of school to sew sequins onto gowns. Only I am being paid a fair wage. And am not denied an education. (Forget the child labor comparison. I was being hyperbolic.) My managers see that I am scheduled to work and order the full rack of tweed blazers steamed and for the mannequin in the upstairs windows to don the new angora turtleneck and wool pants with no zippers.

Photo by  Fancycrave  on  Unsplash

Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash

I am a visual assistant at Ann Taylor in the hours before the shop opens. Except I am not assisting anyone, per se, besides the mannequins out of their naked Barbie doll ignominy and into the season’s latest couture. This early shift is an absolute idyll for an introvert. It’s so peaceful up in the window shaft. I get to watch the cobblestone paths of this Boston tourist destination come alive. From the second floor window, I see a queue of New Bostonians preparing for their citizenship swearing in outside of Quincy Market. I observe flocks of pigeons pecking at last night’s stale popcorn. I wrestle the mannequins and watch the sun come up. The best and worst part is: not a soul bothers me.

So when I get stuck in the window, no one can hear me banging. The door to the window shaft has suddenly swung shut and I cannot seem to bump it open. I knock on the window, but no one looks up from below on the cobblestone because it is mainly just pigeons and a hungover security detail. Actually, no. That guy doesn’t work security. He’s a leftover from Cheers last night. No one inside the store can hear me yelling, because it is just the manager and I and she is a volunteer gospel choir director, so she is most likely opening up the cash wrap downstairs and practicing, “I Surrender All” while I am upstairs singing, “Here I Am, Lord!!” and hoping that a merciful god/manager lets me out of here soon. I begin to think about how little air there really is in this window shaft and how sad that I may spend my last Christmas on earth with the Madame Tussaud’s rendering of my junior high nemesis and just as I begin to feel tears pooling, Nestor, the custodian, just happens to be swapping out a broom upstairs and hears my plight. Nestor does not speak much English and my Spanish is mostly garbage, but!! That day, Eso dia! He heard my cry for help and answered the call perfectly. I won’t be spending Christmas as a mannequin in rigor mortis after all. Praises be!