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.)