My daughter, Zoe, is on her cell phone again in the back seat of our car.
I try to tell her that we have almost arrived at gymnastics, but she shushes me with a combination death stare and pointer finger in mid-air. One minute, Mom, that finger tells me. Can’t you see I’m busy, the look signifies.
She’s blabbing away to Tanner Oberstein, her boyfriend.
“Yes, Tanner,” she coos. “I miss you too, Tanner.”
I roll my eyes into the rear-view mirror, hoping she’ll take the hint and get off the phone.
As we pull into the parking lot, she makes her goodbyes. “See you soon, Tanner Oberstein.” There is a pause as she listens. “What’s that? You want to marry me?” Her eyes light up and she giggles before snapping her blue plastic Cinderella phone shut. Zoe gazes out the window, past the grey sky and asphalt, into the rainbow-hued Disneyland of her imagination, and sighs contentedly.
I don’t like to stereotype, but my 4-year-old daughter is such a girl.
Some of it is totally my fault. Like the fact that she enjoys getting her nails done. I confess: I introduced her to this activity, mostly out of desperation. How could I get a much-needed pedicure on a Saturday afternoon, with child in tow? Why, have her pick a color and get her nails done too!
I swear, I only planned on taking her the one time. That was it. It wasn’t supposed to become a “thing.”
But the women in the salon loved her and told her she was so cute. They complimented her clothing choice and they painted pretty flowers on her thumbs.
No one ever offers to paint flowers on my thumbs.
And I thought her self-selected outfit was kind of tacky, thank you very much. What other girl wears a pink and purple costume tutu over Capri-length blue leggings? With a sparkly tank top? I mean, besides from Madonna, circa 1984? It’s embarrassing. Adorable, they said. Your daughter is too sweet.
Zoe left the salon feeling like a million bucks. I walked around the room shelling out about a million bucks in tips to all the nice ladies who made Zoe feel like the princess that she’s pretty sure she is.
I used to worry about what people would think of me if I let Zoe march around in whatever zany combination of clothing she wanted to wear. Would they think I was negligent? Or worse, color-blind? Would they see us together and whisper, “What a shame. There goes a woman who cannot get her daughter to listen?”
But after a few tearful fights about wardrobe choices, I backed off. I won’t say which one of us ended up crying, just that Zoe always gave me tissues when I needed them, and patted me on the back, saying softly, “It’s okay Mom.” Then she went about her business of getting dressed as much like a sideshow attraction as was humanly possible as I re-applied my mascara and looked forward to preschool drop-off.
Sometimes I’ll just watch Zoe and wonder, where does this somewhat frightening – albeit cute -- behavior come from? How much of her girlitudes link directly to me, and how much is passed down through the ages?
Like the Taylor Swift Mylie Cyrus Phenomenon. I’m no geneticist, but I’m pretty sure there is a hot pink, sparkly genetic marker in Zoe’s DNA that causes unrestrained love for these female entertainers. I can’t explain her obsession (and that of many of my friends’ daughters as well) any other way. She was born with it.
While listening to Hannah Montana in the mornings, after she dresses, or before, or right in-the-middle, Zoe puts on her make-up. This involves Q-tips and blush brushes and a great deal of privacy. No one is allowed into her room while she’s getting ready.
There’s even a sign on her door that says so.
When Zoe looks at me as a female role model, what does she see? I hope I inspire more of a foundation in her life than the correct application of foundation.
(The other day, Zoe was scribbling furiously in her notebook. She told me she was writing an article. Now that’s more like it!)
But don’t even get me started about her shoe fetish.
It began, as many stories do, with a pair of espadrilles. It ended, as many stories do, with the following pronouncement: “They hurt my feet, but I love them.”
Now, who hasn’t said that about a great pair of toe-pinching, heel-rubbing, Band-Aid-needing shoes? But, I ask you, how many people say it at the age of 4?
Should I laugh, or should I worry?
I’ve settled on a little bit of both.
When Zoe “flirts” on her pretend phone with her pretend boyfriend, I worry that, someday, she will get her real heart broken by a real boy. I see in her my own enthusiasm for love, which, combined with an active and romantic imagination, can really backfire. Growing up, it was easy for me to assign wonderful traits to boys who really were not so wonderful or deserving of my attention. I hope Zoe is wiser than me, and that she doesn’t fall so hard, so fast. Unlike her mother, I hope she spends more time studying mathematics and less time doodling hearts on her notebook paper.
And I worry that our little power struggles will only grow as she grows, until she’s 12 and she slams the door on me and I yell at her and she yells back at me and I’m on the verge of moving out because we’re living in one of those horrible teenaged TV dramas. I worry that someday she won’t talk to me about her life any more, that she will roll her eyes at me when I ask how her day at school was. Maybe she won’t want to get her nails done with me anymore, preferring her friends’ company to mine.
But there’s still plenty of time before all that happens. If it ever does, that is. (Turns out, I have some Disneylike fantasies of my own, complete with mom and daughter Happily-Ever-Afters.)
So I take her to get her nails done now because I can.
At the salon, I study Zoe’s reflection in the mirrors lining the wall opposite us. Her feet swing far from the ground, her hands barely reach across the table to the manicurist. Today she has decided on two colors, and she instructs the manicurist to paint every other nail blue or purple, accordingly. “Just file, not cut,” she adds with authority.
Then Zoe turns to me. “What are you looking at?”
“You.” I shrug. “And me.”
“Okay.” She smiles, letting me.