It's a horrible thing, that moment that you become aware of yourself, that you suddenly realize in a brilliant flash that you are different. It shouldn't be. I wish we could celebrate that moment as a coming of age, with streamers and a cake and hugs all around. Instead we tuck it in to a deep place where we hope no one will notice.
When I was in elementary school, I went through a phase where I decided I wanted to walk around in grand elegance like a Tennessee Walking Horse. Obviously I had no idea how the horses walked that way, and wouldn't we all like to believe they were just born with that elegance? But like their compatriots, the colt-legged supermodels who stomp down the runways of Milan, they are not, and of course, neither was I. It was a strange compulsion that ended quickly, for which I'm sure my mother was thankful. Although now, being a parent, I realize that would have been the least of her worries--You want to walk like a horse? Fine--just put on your shoes, turn off Speed Racer, and let's get to the grocery store.
I was pretty young when I did that, and like some of you who perhaps pretended to be a dog and demanded all your meals be served to you on the floor, I don't know why it began or why it ended. I was blissfully unaware, and wouldn't it be loverly, as Miss Doolittle sings, if we all remained that way.
It wasn't long after that my own moment came, with little fanfare and of course, not a bite of cake to be found. At the time, we were all wearing our jeans tucked into tall boots. Mine were brown, with a little one-inch square heel that made me feel oh-so grown up, as did the purr of that long zipper as I tugged it up to my knee. It. Was. Awesome. I'd taken to tucking my hands in my back pockets as I walked in my emotional security down the halls, replete in my peasant top and enormous tortoise-framed, rose-tinted glasses.
One day I was cornered by some (already self-aware) girls who essentially told me that I was getting too big for my Levis. You think you're so cool, they said, walking around with your hands in your back pockets like that. You need to stop it.
Do you remember when that you were friends with everyone in the class? When there were no cliques and everyone just played kickball or foursquare together on the playground? That was the world I lived in until that moment. Because the truth was that I was just a tiny little girl with big glasses who really wasn't cool. But I was just young enough to still be self-confident and not yet care what anyone else thought of me.
The truth is that I want to be that little girl when I grow up. When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple. I want to shrug off the stares and the cares of others and be comfortable in my own skin, whether it sags or bags or freckles. To have an opinion that is steadfast and doesn't sway with the breeze of friends or foes, that puts first things first, and things that don't matter under the toe of my tall brown boots.
Nora Ephron felt bad about her neck, and yes, I am beginning to understand. But if I can accomplish a fraction of what she has done, or Audrey Hepburn, or poet Jenny Johnson, then I can stand tall in my boots. And if I don't, then perhaps I can simply guide my own brood through that moment when they discover they aren't just like everyone else. And help them to know, neither is everyone else.
And, of course, we shall eat cake.