My daughter, she’s a fearless, independent soul with hairy armpits and hairy legs.
She is like me, and she is nothing like me.
When I was just a tot, I was scared of everything.
I was afraid I’d get in trouble if I retaliated against a preschool bully named Val who endlessly taunted me. It didn’t matter that my mother constantly urged me to take matters in my own hands. “All you need to do is take a gigantic safety pin, stick him in the bottom when no one is looking, and he’ll never bother you again.”
I would squeal, then burst into tears, pleading with my mother: “But I’ll get in trouble. I don’t want to get in trouble.”
In third grade choir class, I was afraid to talk to my red-headed friend Lorene, all too aware that perched atop Miss Chafey’s piano was an inch-thick wood paddle, new and improved with three strategically-positioned holes for optimum aerodynamic efficiency.
I was afraid in junior high that our 6-foot, 6-inch burly science teacher “slash” coach would think I was cheating. While taking a test, inevitably he’d bark out:
“I KNOW SOMEONE IS CHEATING!”
And even though I wasn’t cheating and had no inclination to cheat, as he glowered over my shoulder, I was certain he thought the culprit was me.
And then there were those weekly piano lessons that stretched from age 4 into high school. Some weeks I’d practice, others times I wouldn’t. My piano teacher, in her pink polyester pantsuit and bright blue sparkly eye shadow from lash to brow, feverishly would scrawl in red pen, a cursive with large loops and dramatic flair, a nasty note in my assignment book to my mom:
“NANCY HASN’T BEEN PRACTICING HER LESSONS. SHE DID NOT MEMORIZE THE FIRST TWO PAGES OF BACH AS ASSIGNED.”
That’s why, when my daughter stood up for herself or exerted her independence, even in an unconventional way, I could never be too upset with her. That’s why, pure and simple, I’ve always breathed a sigh of relief when my child displayed her own glorious self.
When she was 4, she stapled another girl’s finger to a colorful dinosaur book over a little bit of girl drama. (It sounds worse than it was.)
When she was in second grade, she and Gracie, her partner in crime, conspired one day to play the role of mutes. How, they thought, could the substitute teacher possibly know they both hadn’t been mute since birth? And even as the teacher escorted the pair to the principal’s office, they continued to pretend they couldn’t speak, descending down the stairwell with mouths flapping but no sound escaping. Seated in front of the principal, long after the jig was up, they stayed in character, silent to the end.
When she was in fourth grade, she spotted a photo of her idol, Justin Bieber, on her classmate’s notebook. The gal grudgingly let my daughter hold the object of worship in her hands, only to rudely demand it back. When the girl reached over and pinched my daughter on the arm, she returned the favor with a pinch to the girl’s face, imprinting a nice little cherry-red pucker upon her cheek.
With each ensuing call from the principal or teacher, I would do as all good parents do. “Thank you so much for calling me. I’ll speak with her about it and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
But as I’d hang up the phone, I’d burst out laughing, my heart smiling, so thankful that my daughter had the grit and the guts to stand up for herself, even if it meant she got in trouble here and there.
Again and again, I silently cheered from the nearby stands as I watched my daughter resist being bullied by the bullies. And under my breath, I would thank this world that she was not like I had been so often at that young age, unable to stand my ground.
I cheered again recently when, in another small act of resistance and independence, she opted to quit shaving her armpits and legs the summer before her freshman year in college. She went native, defying the rules and conventions in our crazed, shaved, hairless American culture.
And while I myself have no desire to stop shaving and go furry, I loudly hoot and holler for her personhood and womanhood – and support her absolute conviction and right to buck the norms of this culture – hairy armpits and all.