Last August, I took my then-seven-year-old daughter, Eloise, and her best friend, Lola, shopping for the perfect first-day-of-school outfit.
Eloise is a great kid – but of course I think this, she’s mine. She’s smart and beautiful and wacky and creative. She’s also strong-willed and stubborn and emotionally high-strung and sometimes extremely flaky.
To illustrate: At breakfast I’ll suggest an outing – the zoo, for example. The kids and I (Eloise included, of course) will discuss when we’re leaving, the things we’ll see, what we’ll pack for lunch. Maybe Eloise will help make sandwiches or gather water bottles. We’ll load the car. And 30 minutes into the drive there, Eloise will look up from her book, dazed, and say, “Wait. Where are we going, again?”
I cannot tell you how many times this EXACT SCENARIO has happened.
But she’s one-of-a-kind, that’s for sure – and this is probably my favorite thing about her. This morning, for instance, she said, “May I please have some peanut butter and crackers to cease my appetite?” Not to be funny. That’s just how she talks.
Lola, Eloise’s best friend, is also a great kid, in a completely different way. She’s outgoing and friendly, the life of the party. She draws people out and makes friends easily. She and Eloise complement and balance each other – where Eloise is shy and reserved, Lola is talkative and open. Where Lola is physical and energetic, Eloise is calm and peaceful. It’s a fun friendship to watch, precisely because of their opposites.
So, on this particular day, the day of the back-to-school shopping, we ended up at a popular clothing store. You know this place – lots of jersey knits, t-shirts, leggings, jeans. Lola and I start picking items to take to the dressing room.
(I must note here: Lola is truly fun to shop with. She tries everything on, asks your opinion. “Do you think this top looks better with the skirt or the jeans? Which color sweater is cuter? Do I need a bigger size in these?” It’s kind of like shopping with a teenager, when you were a teenager. The main point of Lola’s shopping is the dressing up, and the socializing, not the buying, necessarily.)
Eloise, meanwhile, wanders around the store, blurry and unfocused. Or, at least that’s what it seems like. She floats, not really engaging with anything, not exactly participating in any part of the trip. And this is the point at which I get a bit frustrated with her, honestly. This is supposed to be fun! Who doesn’t like a new outfit? We’re even here with her best girlfriend, and still – she’s just not that into it, really.
So I hold up one of my selections. “Honey. What do you like? What do you think of this outfit, with the leggings? You could choose any color. What about the purple?”
And she says, “Nah. Not really, Mom. I don’t really like any of this. I’ll just wear something I already have.”
(Again, time out. I must interject here: This is TOTALLY INCOMPREHENSIBLE TO ME. Wear something one already has? Whatever FOR?!?) For the love.
I say, “Why? This is what kids wear! There are lots of cute outfits here – what’s not to like? I want you to pick something. It’s fun to wear a new outfit on the first day of school.”
Eloise looks at me appraisingly. Considers. Sighs. “Okay, Mom. Fine. Where are the yellow satin blouses, then?”
And that’s when I got it. This girl, my dreamy sleepwalking-but-awake child, the one who is never really HERE, always ELSEWHERE – she lives in her head, and in her (rather volatile) emotions. She spends most of her time thinking about things that don’t exist. Fairies, for example. Magic. Fiction. Tall tales and supernatural creatures. Cotton balls and Q-tips that signify animals, and pieces of paper cut into a million intricate shapes that make sense only to her. Art detritus left in her wake, made-up melodies hummed under her breath. So nothing at a store, ANY store, is going to be as wonderful as something she dreams up in her marvelous imagination. Nothing could possibly compare. This is who she is. This is why I love her to pieces. This is why she makes me ABSOLUTELY crazy.
So this summer, I’m doing a little preemptive surprise sewing. I hope she’ll be pleased.