After my bath, when I normally prepared for bed, I put on a green and white striped dress with a big sash that our housekeeper, Rosio, had pressed and hung on the knob of my closet door, party socks, and black patent leather Mary Janes. My mother tied my hair back in “half-up, half-down” (did everyone call it this?) and permitted me to wear a bracelet of green clover-shaped beads I’d made at school. She even let me dab a little bit of her perfume on my wrists.
“Ooh la la,” said my father, as I descended the steps, something he’d only once said to me before, on an evening similar to this one, when he’d taken me to the symphony at the Kennedy Center. I’d been baffled by the lack of performance on the stage (“but when do the actors or dancers come out?”), but was too floored by the novelty of staying up late and spending time with just my father and having him buy me a shirley temple and Junior Mints at the concession stand to care.
I was five and about to go on my first date. My mother smiled archly when she used that word, date, and so I scowled at its mention though I couldn’t make out its meaning. All the same, at 6:45 p.m., a silver Volvo station wagon pulled up the drive and my classmate Daniel came to the door in a miniature blue blazer and red bow tie.
His father escorted us to a performance of “The Reluctant Dragon” at the Kennedy Center. He even sat a row behind us — something I found bizarre and inconvenient but that seemed to tickle the adults around us, who looked on with bemusement.
Afterward, though the play of shadow and streetlight and the peculiarly rhythmic thuh-thump, thuh-thump of the car driving on Whitehurst Freeway could have lulled me to sleep, Daniel’s father took us to Swenson’s on Wisconsin Avenue, a restaurant long-since shuttered, for ice cream sundaes. The waiters smiled at each other and Daniel’s father knowingly. I ordered a scoop of bubblegum ice cream they served flat on a plate with a cone inverted on the top and fluffy whipped cream used to transform the dish into the shape of a clown wearing a birthday hat. “For the little princess,” said the waiter, and winked at me. I’ll never forget that, because it was the first of many times in my life where I have thought — in so many words, because I could not articulate why the gesture was so uncomfortable at the age of five — “I could do without the wink, sir.”
The evening felt special and yet illegible, the shape of its events portentous to adults but inaccessible to me. I had the sense that everyone was looking at the top deck and I was stuck down below. In short, I was ready to be returned to the comfort of my bedroom, to the familiar figure of my sister Elizabeth in her twin bed next to me, to the glow of the seashell-shaped nightlight by my closet, to the occasional static of my nightgown — quick, zappy lightning sparks — when I ducked my head under my covers and shifted around quickly. I laid there in the quiet, happy to be alone, happy to be a kid.
A few days ago, mini asked for “wipstick,” observing me primping myself in the bathroom mirror before heading out to dinner with her father. How many times I watched my mother doing the same thing. How deeply I longed for my own perfume bottle and my own mascara and my own curling iron, emblems all — to my prying eyes — of the elegant and enigmatic routines of womanhood.
In front of my own daughter, though, I cringed, momentarily. How did she even know what lipstick was? How had she absorbed this level of vocabular granularity? My two-and-a-half year old, already occasionally guilty of sassing me with her hand on her hip and capable of understanding when to repeat a joke for belly laughs from her parents even though she does not understand why she has made us laugh in the first place — asking for lipstick.
I am not ready for this.
Am not ready for the wink-wink-nudge-nudge of first dates, which feel like a hop, skip, and a job from the eventual purchase of a training bra, easily one of the most mortifying rituals of preadolescence and a milestone I am already dreading as a mother on her behalf. I am not ready to even conjure such concepts in relation to my baby girl.
I handed her a balm in the shape of a lipstick, and she giddily raced around the apartment, pausing to apply thick, smeary layers every few minutes, her cornsilk hair shellacked to her cheeks.
But then — “Dada needs wipstick,” she said, and Mr. Magpie gamely crouched and puckered.
I was thankful to him for this unthinking gesture, for not making the lipstick about anything other than a balm one occasionally applies to his lips. We have time yet before we need to introduce her via arch repartee or knowing glance to the shadowy import of beauty rituals and womanhood and date nights.
A few days later, I received a parcel from The Beaufort Bonnet Company (containing the sale items scored here) with a card that read: “let them be little.”
Yes. The response to my fumbling uneasiness with her request for lipstick. Let her be little for now. Let her enjoy the world unfettered by nuance, uncluttered by import.
If that means baby brother wears lipstick for a spell, so be it.
+In addition to the amazing deals here, I forgot to add that Maisonette is running an extra 25% off their sale prices! I have purchased so many darling pieces and discovered so many incredible brands from their site. I have especially loved CPC Kids thanks to them — this dress (now on sale, plus extra 25% off) was one of mini’s favorites this summer and micro has been wearing this a lot the last few weeks.
+Love this floaty, tiered floral number for an Indian summer wedding.
+This dress in the houndstooth print is so chic for work.
+Love this sleek little table.
+Stocked up on these for mini in multiple colors thanks to the Labor Day promo code.
+Into this smocked floral top.
+Children’s bedtime books I love. (Read the comments, too! And share your own, please!)
+Love this ripstop tote in the army green as a back-up bag for micro’s gear. Would be great for travel!