When we were expecting, Greg and I wanted to be surprised with the gender of our child. As far as we were both concerned, it really didn’t matter whether we had a boy or a girl. Elly’s birthmother knew the baby’s gender and when she chose us, wanted us to know as well. While we had always imagined that moment of finding out to take place in a hospital room with a doctor exclaiming, "It’s a girl!", we were nonetheless quite surprised when we opened a card with a pink rattle on the front that inside held an ultrasound picture of our soon-to-be daughter. From that point forward, we were literally tickled pink.
Having a daughter is such a joy. Don’t get me wrong. We would of course, love a son just as much. Nevertheless, there is a particular delight in doing all the "girly" things that one can do with a daughter. I think you know me well enough by now to imagine this scenario... Flash-forward a dozen years or so, where can you better imagine me? Choosing a prom dress in Nordstrom’s with my daughter or spiraling a football to my teen son? I know. I know. Gender stereotypes are so last millennium. I can appreciate that girls can play football and like sports, too. Of course I will support Elly 100% if she wants to do those things. Sports is also what heterosexual uncles and lesbian aunties are for which brings us precisely to the "nature versus nurture" argument.
Nature versus nurture can’t help but be in the forefront of your mind when you are around children and observing their actions. Hoards of kids, falling into specific niches with almost programmatic accuracy, is fascinating stuff. At three, right now, it’s hard to imagine that Elly will grow to become a tomboy. While she does have excellent coordination (better than me), I can envision her more as a gymnast than the captain of the lacrosse team. But one never knows. As modern day parents, we made it a point from the time Elly was born to buy her toys that one would consider "boy" toys along with the "girl" toys. To an extent, we continue to do so.
Besides her dolls (that outnumber "Nineteen and Counting") and pocketbooks (that rival Project Runway’s latest Accessory Wall), she has a dump truck, a tool set and some Matchbox cars. Nurture? Check. Enter nature. Inevitably, the "boy" toys become vehicles for "girl" play. The dump truck is typically used to tote a doll around or to go shopping. Now there, my friends is a girl after my own heart! I’m certain that in her mind, she’s thinking,"A car can only hold so much. But a dump truck? Now that can haul a serious bounty!"
Elly’s girliness isn’t just limited to pretend. It encompasses all of her actions. When I’m getting ready in the morning, she pulls up her step-stool and stands by the vanity. There she intently watches my every move as I go through my routine. (Cue image of Joan Crawford with ice water and cucumber. Well, I don’t really do that but that image has been emblazoned in my mind ever since the first time I watched "Mommy Dearest.")
As I lather the shaving cream on my face with my shave brush, Elly asks,"Daddy, when I’m a big girl, will I shave?"
"No, sweetie, only boys shave," I respond, judiciously deciding to save the "some gals need to wax" discussion for a later day.
She continues to watch me, patiently waiting for what comes next. I take out my moisturizer (you know, the one with SPF 7000), and she asks, "Can I put on my ’moistulizer’, too?"
"Sure, sweetie," I reply and I pass her the travel size bottle of L’Occitane Gentle Lotion that I saved just for this reason. She carefully squeezes some out and proudly applies it to her cheeks as though she’s putting on Crème de la Mer. It’s truly adorable.
"Can I put ’deroderant’ on, too?"
"No, Elly. You can pretend; just not for real. Deodorant is just for grown-ups."
For nearly every lotion in the house, I have a story. One time, ages ago, when she was still in diapers, Elly got to the Desitin which was in with the changing supplies. That day, her doll Cindy got slathered in it from head to toe, along with the floor, the dresser and Elly’s arms and legs. By the time she had finished, her bedroom looked like a crime scene where the police chalk out the area where the victim laid. For those who are unfamiliar with Desitin, let me tell you something. It’s not the easiest thing to remove. It’s entire raison d’être is for it to stick to the skin. You can imagine that cleanup took a while.
And who could forget the time that she decided to Vaseline her heels? As I heard her hit the floor, I thought, everybody has to learn that lathering one’s heels makes for slippery walking. Today was Elly’s turn. Which leads me to my favorite story...
Lately, one of Elly’s favorite pretend games is to take a shower. One afternoon, as I was preparing dinner, Elly says, "Daddy, I’m gonna take a shower."
"All right, Elly, but remember, it’s just pretend. That means you don’t turn on the water."
"I know, Daddy. I won’t" she says, heading for the bathroom, stripping off clothing and leaving a trail of garments in her wake.
While chopping the vegetables on the cutting board, I kept an ear open to be sure I remained aware of what was happening in there. I heard Elly talking to Janice, her bath doll, "OK, Janice, now we’re gonna wash your face. Close your eyes." I smiled and continued to chop. The next thing I knew, I was absorbed in my task. Suddenly, this beautiful and sweet fragrance surrounded me. It was very floral and getting more prominent, while all the while remaining somewhat delicate in nature. Momentarily, I thought, "This is the fragrance that people describe when the Holy Mother of Lourdes is apparent." Chop. Chop. Chop. Nah, she couldn’t be coming to visit me. Chop. Chop. Good Lord, wouldn’t that be just my luck if she did?! Look at me! I look like a mess, I think dusting off my apron. Then in an instant, I’m brought back to my cutting board. BAM! I know that smell! It’s Elly’s conditioner. Simultaneously, I hear. "Wow. It’s so slippery!" I make a mad dash to the bathroom where Elly has lathered a half-liter of leave-in conditioner into her hair. Her hair is slicked to her scalp like a fifties greaser.
"Daddy, I did my conditioner!"
"Yes, Elly. I can see that." I smile, run the bath, and thank the Holy Mother of Lourdes that it wasn’t my Kiehl’s in her hair.
Elly being a girly-girl does not end with products. After all the potions and lotions have been aptly applied, getting dressed takes on its own lifeform. She is no less feminine in this arena. For example, I can count on one hand the number of times that she has worn pants in the past four or five months. Her shoes must be attractive. (Daddy’s partly to blame for that one.) This has become problematic as the weather has started to get colder. It has pained me to get Elly to understand that the time for strappy sandals is behind us until next year. She looks at close-toed shoes with such dismay and disappointment. I can see she the wheels spinning in her mind, desperately trying to verbalize, "These aren’t anywhere near as cute as the metallic patent leather thong sandals that I just wore last month." Or, "Daddy, Mary Jane called. She wants her ugly shoes back." So, a shopping trip became necessary to find some more attractive yet seasonally appropriate footwear for our little diva, along with the consolation of allowing sandal wear in the house.
Not to mention, what outfit would be complete without accessories? Elly doesn’t just love jewelry. She adores it. She almost never leaves the house without it. (OK, Daddy may have to take a little blame there, too. But,it’s not just my fault.) One of her female role models, my mom, loves her baubles, too. Rumor has it that Harry Winston is going to borrow some of her stuff for next year’s Oscars. So, we can’t be all that surprised that Miss Elly has taken to bling. There are bracelets, necklaces, rings, anklets - some bangles, some braided leather, some giant beeds. Each has its occasion. There are even old rosary beads that she’ll don from time to time. This look I refer to as the Madonna "Like a Prayer" revival tour. Each night, she lays out her bijoux on her dresser, readying them for the morning’s selection process.
Finally, I would be completely remiss to not mention the forty some odd pocketbooks that Elly has. These, too are carefully selected and taken out with us on shopping journeys, walks around the neighborhood, the gym, you name it. And, my little girlfriend carries them with an attitude! She wears them just like an adult woman would. Depending on the style of bag, they are either slung over her shoulder, clutched, worn across her body or dangling on the inside of her elbow. When I think of the number of people that she has made smile simply by watching her parade down the street, it makes me smile, too.
One morning, after all the primping was complete, I said,
"Come on, Elly, it’s time to go to school," quickly scanning her to make sure that one of her bangles isn’t some er, um, let’s say errant "male accessory of sorts." (I could just imagine that phone call from school. Then again, I’d rather not.)
In her full regalia, we start our walk to school.
"Daddy, will you paint my toenails after school?"
"Sure, Elly. I’ll give you a pedicure."
"OK. You paint yours too?"
"No, not today. I think I’ll leave mine plain. You know what, Elly, you need to pick out a Halloween costume. What do you want to be?"
"I want to be a princess!"
"That’s perfect. I think you’d be a great princess."
"And you and Papa should be princesses, too!"
"We’ll talk about it," I say thinking to myself how genius of an idea it is. Brilliant, except for one thing, I’m not stepping down as queen quite yet.