I hold the sun browned, slender, softly muscled, soccer ball kicking, crazy-dancing, scooter riding, bird chasing, lazy- around- the- house leg in my hand. She patiently stands in the tub as I run the pink razor through the strawberry scented lather. Gently, tentatively I make tracks, lifting the downy hairs, her child’s fur. I demonstrate how much pressure-how to position her wrist-how to rinse the razor. The pajama clad little one wanders in claiming to have to use the potty. But she just sits atop the closed toilet lid- mesmerized by this unusual display of grooming in our bathroom. “Someday, when I’m big, you’ll show me?” she asks-eyes wide with promise. Her big sister is less enthusiastic about this rite of passage. She approached me with reluctant readiness to perform this ritual of young womanhood. Her classmates had been running around with smooth legs for a while. She was beginning to worry that someone would make fun of her naturalness.
Just the night before, she fell to pieces on my bed questioning what it meant to be a girl when you do not fit in with the norm of your pink, shiny, boy crazy peers.
“It’s not fair that I was born a girl. Boys don’t have to worry about all of these things,” she wept- squeamish at the suggestion that she is developing and needs to wear a bra every day.
“I am not a girl. I am not a boy. I don’t know what I am.” She held a striped sundress in her hands, the one distinctively girlish item picked up to appease me on our shopping trip earlier in the day. She looks effortlessly gorgeous in a dress. But, dresses are straight jackets that suffocate. She is apologetic for her lack of girlishness. I felt awful for making her feel that she needed to be sorry for who she is and for not celebrating her girl-uniqueness more. I pulled her onto my lap.
“I know who you are,” I said smoothing her hair. “You are cleverness, brightness, creativity and innovation. You are beloved sister, daughter, granddaughter, cousin, niece and friend. You are lover and caregiver of animals. You are effort at 110% You are persistence and sometimes manipulation (to this she smiles). You are athleticism. You are musicality. You are the artistry of illustration. You are imagination, dreams, childhood, innocence. You are stubbornness. You are frustration. You are love. You are just you. It does not matter if you are a boy or a girl. Or if you wear dresses or a suit and tie. We love you for all of you.” Her body softened as she exhaled letting go of some of her worries about acceptance in her world.
As we stand huddled in the bathroom she is stoic about this reminder which defines her gender -which sets her apart from her boy pals. But, as I run the razor tenderly over her legs, I ache at another reminder of the shedding of childhood. I hold my breath- wishing to pause this moment where her safety and security are still in my hands.