I’m chatting with three other moms at the school’s annual Fall Picnic. These three moms are my kind of people, by which I mean they are otherwise gracious women who understand the power of a spare, artfully-placed F-word. I am delighted to have found the three of them standing together.
The discussion topic at hand is clothes. We are waxing nostalgic for the good old days when our children would wear whatever item of clothing was purchased for them. Fourth grade is shaping up to become the Year Of Their Opinions, we lament.
I tell a funny story about the time I realized I could convince Dora to want a dress I loved by pretending to hate it. Someone else tells a story about biting her tongue when her son walks out the door wearing plaid on plaid.
Someone offers another story, but this is the only part I hear:
“…so of course when she comes downstairs all dressed for school…”
At the end of her story, I say, “Did I hear you say that Kayla gets dressed by herself?”
All three of the mothers turn to me, in concert. Their utter surprise is alarming.
“Of course,” says Kayla’s mom, “Doesn’t Dora?”
“Yes, ” I say, a full beat too late.
One of the moms whisks the conversation along past the scene of the accident, but here is what I think about for the rest of the week: Dora’s nine and ten year-old classmates dress themselves without multiple reminders, without occasional physical assistance, and without the promise of reward.
“Honey,” David says, clearly exasperated with my concern, “Dora’s her own person. Do you want her to be like everyone else? She’ll get there in her own time.”
A month later, Dora brings home a self-portrait that physically takes my breath way.
The assignment, she says, was to paint the image you see in a mirror. The result is almost another teapot moment; an uncanny rendering done with Dora’s usual sharp eye for detail, right down to the backwards “Abercrombie” on her shirt and the slim shadows in its folds. In the painting her gaze is challenging. Unyielding.
I can tell she knows it’s good and I’m glad of it. I want her to know it forever.
I frame it immediately and hang it in the hallway so she never forgets that I really do see her.