Unladylike ladies

Neither Stella nor I are particularly dainty. Except when Stella runs on her toes, which is quite graceful and precious. (I do it, too, even when playing basketball, but it doesn’t have the same effect.) She looks like a tiny fairy ballerina prancing about, excitedly granting wishes, instead of a toddler, running around wreaking havoc. It’s a good cover.

“Ladylike” is not a word usually associated with me, for sure. I’m pretty sure I often eat with my mouth open. I sometimes sit with my legs sprawled. During important work meetings. I don’t do the kind of heavy-lifting, when it comes to socializing, that people expect from true ladies. You know, those women who instinctively smooth out every social situation with such grace, especially in regards to men who lack their skills, making everyone feel wonderful and engaged and the center of attention, all while re-filling their glass of freshly squeezed lemonade and maintaining constant eye contact. Not me. I halfheartedly try, sometimes, but my energy is so quickly drained by extended attempts at extroversion that soon I’m the one alone, in the corner, at my own party. And I’m fine with it.

It’s too early to tell what her true inclination is, but at the current moment at least, Stella is a bit of a tomboy, like me. The last time I put a dress on her, she almost tore her arm muscles in a futile attempt to rip it off. Her eyes were popping out of her head from the strain of the effort to remove the flowly, intrusive garment by simply pulling it directly away from her chest. (After just a moment’s entertainment, I took it off, of course.) She won’t let me put clips in her hair. She immediately ruins all her pretty, expensive shoes with massive dirty scuffs. I always find it puzzling that so many toddler boy shoes have protected or reinforced toes while little girls’ footwear is left with butter-soft leather on the toe. Might as well throw a heel on it as apparently, shoe manufacturers don’t expect little “ladies” to be as active as boys. And don’t get me started on sippy cups. So boys get to gaze at dinosaurs and imagine about and perhaps imitate what these prehistoric creatures  may’ve been like while girls get to look at bright pink flower and dot patterns? Humph. I purchased the dinosaur cup but haven’t been so bold as to opt for boy shoes. Soon, she’ll make that call. But I digress.

You could not describe Monday’s incident as ladylike. We were at a friend’s house, attending a get-together of about seven of Stella’s peers and their parents. Music, both kid- and parent-friendly, filled the air. People noshed on lentil stew, veggies and an assortment of cookies. Kids played happily all over the joint. The vibe was jovial. When all of a sudden, the loudest, most blood-curling scream in the history of anger pierced the air like a butcher knife. Everyone’s eyes bugged out, jaws dropped, wide-eyed children froze in fear, and soon all parents within a ten-mile radius had rushed to the scene to administer CPR or otherwise address whatever life-threatening injury had been sustained, to hopefully keep the toddler alive until paramedics arrived. Okay, EMTs weren’t summoned, but I’m pretty sure I saw someone grab their phone. I, on the other hand, didn’t move. I waited until the sustained, eardrum-shattering, horror-movie-style scream at last ended, because I needed to collect myself. It was Stella. She was not dying. Her pathway had been partially obstructed by a chair.

Deep. Breaths. I’m pretty sure that any time Stella feels boxed in, her frustration skyrockets immediately. She expresses it with a primal scream. This has happened in response to the fit and snag potential of dresses. Those with an empire waist can fit snugly around the middle, which she loathes. My mother recalls very clearly that I too raged against remotely tight-fitting clothes, so really, Stella’s behavior may be simple karma. Anywho, this “boxed in” theory of Stella’s frustration has als0 been proven at Gymboree. Once, she stopped mid-slide to just hang out there observing Gymbo’s antics, and some sweet kid has the audacity to try and pop a bubble at the bottom of the slide. She screamed and kicked at him, and I swooped in to prevent her from making contact.

Yes, she got it from me. I have unladylike responses to frustration. (Cody is almost impossible to frustrate, which is infuriatingly frustrating.) But exactly how was this inclination transmitted from me to her? My outbursts during her feeding aversion probably didn’t help. Her frustrating 32-hour birth, wherein she basically got stuck because her head was sideways, wasn’t a great way to start life as a content little lady. Going back further, all the very unbecoming road rage I experienced while pregnant could be the problem. Maybe all that beeping led to all this screaming. Pretty sure I could find a study to confirm this in five seconds of googling. But the other likely cause is toddlerhood. Toddlers, both girls and boys, do scream. Not surprising for her age, Stella’s very active and feels way more comfortable when she has a lot of space. I have to say that she’s not always doing flips and wind sprints–she is also social and sweet, darn close to ladylike. She gives a good hugs, and often puts her arms around her playdate buddy, Cooper (they hugged each other this week, actually–a first). Those two dance together (okay, sometimes Stella tries to drag him to the dance floor, but still). They get excited about seeing each other! But God forbid he ever get in her way. I bet Cody (my husband) knows how he feels.

So, it was with trepidation that I purchased a truly beautiful, only-one-of-its-kind dress, designed and sewn by a local woman from cheerful, mostly floral vintage handkerchiefs, for Stella to wear to this coming weekend’s wedding in NYC. Cody’s cousin is marrying her charming British beau. The bride just so happens to help create the beauty that appears in the pages of Martha Stewart Weddings. That’s right. She works for Martha. She helps envision beautiful weddings for a living. So. I was not going to let Stella wear fleece pants and a dirty onesie to this particular event. I was also not going to let myself wear stained jeans to this fabulous occasion,and purchased a comfortable but stylish vintage-inspired shift dress (say that ten times fast) for myself.

My hope was that for one night, at least, we could fake it. I’d chat up strangers, cross my legs, and chew with my mouth closed. Stella would wear a compliment-magnet of a dress and gracefully and quietly navigate her way around chairs and people, and we would look back at the pictures one day and marvel at what pretty ladies we were. If only for a moment.

So imagine my surprise when I put on my own dress, and Stella took notice immediately. She perked up and grabbed at the hem, as if to admire the fabric. “Dress” instantly became part of her exploding vocabulary. I seized the moment and asked her if she’d like to try on her very own dress. She put her arms up, ready for it. I pulled it over her head, zipped it up and tied the bow in the back. She smiled, and pranced away while tilting her head to the side, the very pleased way she does when she looks in the mirror, a move that translates to, “Aren’t I adorable?” I figured it was a fluke and took it off a couple minutes later, wanting to preempt a frock fit. She demanded it be put back on. WHAT? Perhaps I sold the dress thing a bit too hard. Remind me to applaud when she asks to wear jeans. You know, for the sake of balance.

But. Our flight to JFK was canceled on Thursday. Then it was canceled again today. I was not surprised at all, because our flights are canceled about 75% of the time. This is not exaggeration. Our terrible travel luck is the stuff of legend. Further, the more prepared and excited we are, the more likely it is that we’ll be staying put. Here’s a typical pre-trip email conversation: I write, “Hey, family! We’re on a direct flight on Alaska Air. Can’t wait to arrive on Sunday!” Family: “Great! See you Tuesday, if at all!”

So, we will not make it to NYC for the wedding. I’m so sad to miss the chance to both celebrate the very happy nuptials of a wonderful couple and to spend time with our extended family. But it’s out of our control. I should probably just return Stella’s pricey frock, as she’ll surely outgrow it before she has an occasion to wear it. Part of me wants to keep it and let her wear it to Gymboree and the playground. Something about a dress of flowy vintage handkerchiefs on a tomboy rolling in a mix of dirt, sand and wood chips is incredibly appealing to me. I could wear my shift dress and gold heels while chasing Stella around the park.

Due as much to my demeanor as my apparel, there have been many mortifying incidents wherein I was mistaken for a boy–even into my teens! And unless Stella’s wearing head-to-toe pink, people tell me how cute “he” is. (That’s a whole other post.) So maybe we’ll make a statement next time we’re out. Ladies? You want us to be ladies, world? We got dresses and we’re not afraid to use them. We’ll show you how REAL ladies roll–and skewer your rigid gender stereotypes. Believe.

One comment

  1. olga · February 26, 2010

    HAH!!! don’t get me started on the boy-girl bullcrap in this country (my dad, who upon becoming grandpa has turned into a stick of butter left out too long, brings lovely stuff for the kids from berlin: girl clothes in…red. brown. navy.). and let’s not talk about shoes — even nordie’s is a let-down (ok, do you have anything for girls that works in *mud*?)
    i too love the image of stella tearing around and climbing trees in a dress. it works.
    (and i *heart* boden. pricey, but what can you do…)

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