I had this jacket when I was a kid that I loved more than anything. It made me look so grown up and glamorous, like a movie star or a high school girl. That jacket was beautiful, puffy blue satin, with pink and white ribbing at the waist and wrists, and a metal zipper that made the most satisfying "ziiii-iiip" sound, up and down, all day long. The best thing about it though, were the beautiful glittery silver cursive letters across the back, "Boy Toy". I mean, cursive is so fancy. And silver glitter, that's the perfect touch to any outfit.
I found that perfect, practically new, nearly unworn jacket at a garage sale at the beginning of summer and paid for it with my own money. Fifty cents. And another quarter for my other big find that morning, a perfect little avocado plant, straight stem bursting up, out of the pale pit, suspended over water in a mason jar by three toothpicks. All the money I had in the pocket of my jeans, but wearing that jacket and carrying that little plant, roller skating home in loops around my mom and little brother, I knew I was something special, and everyone could see it if they just looked at me.
The avocado plant thrived for years, until we moved too far away and it was left behind, with one friend or another. It was big by then, in it's second or third pot, all glossy dark leaves and a will to survive what haphazard care a kid could provide. Ilost the jacket that very same summer though, right before school started, and I had to start fifth grade like a normal kid in normal clothes instead of like one of Charlie's Angels, shimmery and shiny and all grown-up.
I never found out for sure what happened to it, and maybe I did lose it on my own, but I have my suspicions. "You probably left it at the beach," my mom said when I couldn't find it anywhere, "it's probably washed out to sea by now." I've been a mom long enough now to have perfected my own methods for losing children's objectionable belongings, and sneaking a disappearance casually in the midst of an exciting life event is a classic mom move.
My mom was the kind of mom other kids called "pretty", "young", and "fun". She rarely wore makeup, her hair was wash and go, in a low ponytail or loose and dark. Weekends saw her sporting cut off jeans, Birkenstocks, and t-shirts with slogans like "a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle" and "never underestimate the power of a woman". She was the kind of mom who crossed out male pronouns in our picture books and wrote in female ones, and vice versa, so that we'd know girls could be scientists and doctors and boys could be nurses and teachers. She changed the lyrics to our lullabies so that the made up mamas did everything, just like our real mama did- bought the mockingbirds and looking glasses, hunted the buntings, rock-a-byed the babies, made everything right, every day and every long night.
So it's not that shocking to think she may have thrown out that ridiculous jacket. It's more surprising, really, that she ever let me have it in the first place. I can't imagine why she did, nor how she spent most of a summer with a ten year old tag-along at the food co-op and women's consciousness meetings in a jacket that proclaimed her to be a "boy toy". Why did she draw the line so far from her own comfort zone?
It matters to me, to figure it out, because I have a daughter of my own and I'm trying to draw these lines for my own family now. Her dad and I- we're modest people. Skin covered people. Her brothers are too. We're not really sure, any of us, what to do about this twirling, glittery, pink thing in our midst.
The boys have been easy. Their clothes, off the shelf, are comfortable, long enough, sturdy, ready for play. They're cut straight, not made to emphasize tiny waists and curves that aren't there and won't be for ten years or more. The few conversations we've had with them about appropriate clothing choices have been about rude language and drug motifs, not skin. If they're confident in their bodies it's because their bodies are not ever at issue. Their bodies are never considered inappropriate.
With a daughter it gets uncomfortable fast. She has her own ideas about what makes an ideal outfit, of course. We don't want to create insecurity by making her self-conscious. We don't want her to be ashamed or think her body needs to be hidden just because she's a girl. We're wary of passing any hint, to her or her brothers, that the terrible things that happen all too frequently to girls and women have anything to do with how they're dressed. We don't want her to ever doubt that her body is hers alone. But we want her, like the boys, to attract attention because of her brilliance, not her flashiness. We want her actions to determine her way in the world, not her booty hugging shorts or the cut of her top.
So, what to do?
We don't know, not really. But we slip her brother's hand me downs in with her other, prettier clothes. We talk about how well different clothes function for different activities. We let her dress herself, and never bat an eye when her outfits are outlandish and completely over the top. We lay out measured choices for her when it matters, and always shop with an eye to cut and sizing. We talk about body autonomy and privacy. We cull items we don't like before she has a chance to see them or as soon as her attention wavers.
We live far from the ocean, and it's harder to lose things here, but I wouldn't discount a trip to the beach, either, if things were as bad as a certain blue satin "boy toy" jacket. Mostly, though, we try not to twist ourselves in knots worrying either way, and she's good at showing us she's coming along okay. Pinker and frillier than my mother would have chosen, sparklier and more attention grabbing than we would have, but she's force of her own, even so.
This is the same child who loved a certain white T-shirt with glittery gold letters across the front, until she asked what they said and immediately decided she could never wear it again. Because how could she wear a shirt that said "my heart belongs to Daddy" when obviously her heart belongs to her? "I love Papa," she said, as we stuffed that offensive item in the trashcan, "I love Papa, but I'm in charge of my own heart. It belongs to me. I get to choose who to love."
So we follow her heart. Her shining, glittery gold, fierce little heart, and we hope. We hope that a four year old who knows that her heart is her own grows to be a ten year old, a sixteen years old, a twenty two year old, a thirty six year old, who knows it just as clearly. And knows too that her mind and her body are also hers and hers alone. We hope that she always gets to choose, freely and confidently, whom she shares any part of herself with. And we hope that disposing of anything that clouds that choice is always as easy as finding a garbage can. There's enough trash in the ocean as it is.
Yalisha Case has been accused of over thinking things, but isn't sure that's the whole story. She'll let you know if she figures it out.