Strange unsolved mysteries


Tonight’s the big dance for the seventh and eighth graders, and my younger daughter is there right now, which a couple of weeks ago I would have found surprising, but now I totally get it. I was under the impression that this dance was a huge deal (and it is, in a way), and that the girls got totally decked out (some certainly do) and that my daughter, who planned not to dress up at all, who would in fact be wearing leggings and a “nice shirt,” would feel somewhat out of place.

This is a girl who created a spider web on her wall out of tacks and some string (which lasted exactly one day before it was torn down by a rambunctious young cat we happen to live with) and who has attached a ribbon between her bed and her doorknob so that she can simply pull on it to open and close her bedroom door for the cats who like to go in and out of her room on a near constant basis (was this the height of laziness? I wondered, before realizing that it was a truly ingenious setup).

So it was really more my feelings, wasn’t it? about how she might feel being so casually dressed at a fancy dance. She felt perfectly fine about it. And none of her friends seemed to have a problem with it either. What was I so worried about? This is a girl who has always been exactly who she is.

My best friend in seventh grade had long tangled brown hair, so tangled that sometimes you’d really have to call it knotted. She wore towel skirts (skirts that looked like towels) (I’m not sure what they were actually called) with sneakers that always seemed too tight and made her walk in a bouncy sort of way. She was teased for all of these things by our classmates and also her habit of crying too easily. She was smart and weird and had a wickedly morbid sense of humor. She shared her Strange Unsolved Mysteries books with me, which we read over and over. I was lucky just to know her. I still feel lucky knowing her, my friend of over 35 years.

Last night, my daughter happened to mention to me that the leggings she had planned to wear to the dance had a big hole in the knee. Where are my other leggings? she asked. I stared at her, horrified. What other leggings??

But then a bit later I had a sudden inspiration. I would go to Target before work today and buy her some leggings (which reminds me that lately, I have found buying some grocery items before work and then keeping them in the work fridge for the day to be a very satisfying experience. I was inspired by one of my favorite Peep Show episodes and have never stopped feeling pleased about it.).

And so, this morning, I found myself at an almost entirely empty Target, talking to a woman who was very happy to show me where the leggings were and to discuss with me the problem of how children always wait until the last minute to tell you important things that they need. After the woman left me (I had almost forgotten she worked there and wasn’t just, you know, chatting with me), I spent a long time trying to figure out which leggings my daughter might like and then, just staring at all of them.

There is a kind of time vacuum that happens to me every time I enter Target. And it’s not so much that I’m frantically shopping and don’t realize how much time has passed. It’s just that everything really does seem to slow down there. I was standing in front of a huge display of leggings and tights and I couldn’t seem to tear myself away. Somehow I made it out of the store. Many hours passed. The leggings, when I got home, were well received.

When my older daughter was very little, she was always that kid who climbed to the top of the monkey bars, just as high as she could possibly go. I found that when I felt nervous about how high she was getting and how potentially far she could fall, I would turn my back to her so I wouldn’t have to watch. I trusted that she knew how to get up there and that she didn’t need my worrying to ruin things for her. And as it turned out, she always made it just fine.


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