I have two kids. They couldn’t be more different.
This lovely young person has never given us more than five minutes of trouble in her life. Now 19 and a half, she has always been the least teenagery teen you can possibly imagine. She is wonderful. A delight.
She’s in college now, a sophomore. She calls me on her way to a Tuesday-morning class every week. We talk about her weekend, plans for the day, her complex social life (she came out as a lesbian in her junior year of high school, and she’s doing well: more girls are interested in her than have been interested in any man you know in his entire life). But mostly we talk about her classwork, which really seems to interest her right now.
The kid writes a lot of papers. She’s a film and lit major, and she loves speaking up in class, as The Gay Kid. I have warned her that eventually, the novelty will wear off. (“Like when you move back to San Francisco,” I remind her, helpfully. “Everyone’s gay here.”) But for now she’s doing well.
How well? Gonna-be-a-TA-next-spring, kind of well. She’ll be teaching. At 20. “Yeah, no one really cares that I’m two years old,” she shrugs.
Then there’s Kid Two. Sigh. Two:
She’s just turned 14. Five feet nine, and then some. She weighs, as you can see, 15 pounds. And her current Vision Quest? A red cocktail dress. (Said dress, which was originally meant to be white, has recently gone to red, since her incessant chatter about white dresses resulted in a First-Communion-style rush on white-dress-buying among her classmates.) This dress is for her eighth-grade, pre-graduation dinner dance, which as of this writing is “the most important event of my life”.
For those of us who have been there, this means “the event I will forget four days later, when I begin obsessing about summer camp.”
We have gone everywhere looking for this godforsaken thing. We have searched for it in boutiques, department stores, on sale racks and at full price. She’s taken her father, her mother, and me as hostages on the search. Now (not unlike Israel) she has exhausted both resources and goodwill. She’s alone, with neither dress nor transportation; and time is running out.
The problem? There’s not just one:
Everything looks good on her. The kid could wrap a piece of cloth around her waist, grab a skinnier piece and tie it around that, and call it a night. When she was small, she did this every day. She once walked into Les Halles in Midtown Manhattan with a swath of pink tulle over her skirt and a green one around her head. A passing waiter stared. “Cool!” he said. It was 2002, and she was six. (Eight years ahead of you, Lady Gaga.)
The things she likes cost quite a bit. Our younger kid has her dad’s champagne taste. Me, I’m Secondhand Rose. But despite this kid’s fondness for Forever 21, she prefers the high-end to the chaotic emporia of the hoochie. She’ll try on the cheap stuff, but the dresses that haunt her are the $400 numbers at Betsey Johnson. Which she’ll try on. Because she’s perverse.
She believes the perfect dress is out there. I think we’ve convinced her there’s a chance the dress might not be red, but she persists in every other element of the fantasy. The clouds will part and light will shine down upon this thing. The price, the fit, the length – even, I think, the music in the dressing room – will be perfect. Signs on the day of the purchase will point her in its direction. And thus will they become one, Girl and Dress.
She argues strenuously against every dress that is not IT. And so many dresses are not it – including many that may qualify. “Too poofy.” “Too pink.” “Too casual.” “This part here doesn’t fit,” she says, poking at an impossibly beautiful bodice. All around us, shorter, older women – women who look more like me – try not to glare.
KID, I want to say, YOU ARE ELEVEN FEET TALL AND A SIZE ZERO. YOU GROW TWO INCHES EVERY NIGHT IN YOUR SLEEP. DESIGNERS WOULD FALL TO THEIR KNEES AND CRY IF THEY SAW YOU. (And cry harder when you grow, and they have to recut the garment.) SHUT THE F**K UP.
I don’t. I am super nice. I am Saint Anne of Stepmoms.
And why? Why?
Because I’m really hoping she’s gonna be this way about boys.