Girls in White Dresses with Blue Satin Sashes

My daughters turned 13 and 11 this week amidst Seattle’s Snowmageddon.  We managed to survive a week with no school, a magazine article deadline, a hunt for an ice-cream cake when the streets were caked with frosty, frozen snow, a lively Mother-Daughter Book Group meeting and two birthday parties.  

As things wind down, I’m allowing myself a little walk down memory lane and want to share with you a piece I wrote, which appeared in Seattle magazine’s Balancing Act blog in June 2010.  

 All of us have changed, including Jennifer Carroll, who lost her baby weight and is no longer curvy, but no less ebullient.   I’ll be writing about those changes, including something you don’t hear about so much — parents’ emerging independence from their kids —  in subsequent posts.

Consider this the first installment of what I think of as “The Hormone Chronicles.” 

We are in the dressing room in the juniors department at Nordstrom and my eleven year-old daughter is cringing as she tries on the outfits that her fashion savvy, ”naturally cool” nine year-old sister and I have picked out.

It is fifth-grade graduation time and this old-school mom has proclaimed that Melanie must wear a dress or a skirt to the ceremony.  I have also instigated a movement among her friends’ parents, encouraging them to make their daughters eschew pants for the day too.  The teacher has encouraged the kids to wear something special.  Some of the boys have admitted that they will be wearing suits.

For the past year, Melanie has done everything possible to avoid being noticed.  Her uniform du jour has been jeans, a T-shirt and a baggy sweatshirt.  Her hair is always in a ponytail.  (To add insult to injury, I have requested that she wear it down on the big day).   Though two years ago she was thrilled to get her ears pierced, I have to remind her to wear earrings now.

I get what this is about.  After a year of learning about and experiencing her changing body, Mel wants nothing to do with these changes.   I have found the Old Navy sports bra I had bought at the beginning of the school year crammed behind the refrigerator.   She “forgot” to take the sample sanitary pads they handed out at Family Living and Sexual Health Night.  I was the same at her age, and she enjoys hearing the story of me ripping up each and every Kotex in the package my mother kept in the bathroom closet to be ready for the inevitable.

But now, staring down 50 like a deer in the headlights, it is hard to watch my daughter resist her young womanhood, while I cling so desperately to mine.  I enjoy being a girl now more than I have ever have and view my femininity the way I used to view vacation time – use it or lose it.  Though most days I dress like I did when I was 16, in jeans, a shirt and comfy shoes, I accessorize with care.  When I wear a skirt I feel pretty.  Heels would send me over the moon if they weren’t so uncomfortable. And underwear…

I discovered Bellefleur, the Fremont lingerie boutique, last Christmas when searching for something special to take me out of my drill sergeant efficient mom persona and add a little romance to my life.   I’ve never felt comfortable in “girly” stores (buying a wedding dress was torture.  Thank goodness for the late, lamented low-key Pike Place Market boutique Local Brilliance) and at Bellefleur I expected to be snubbed by a skinny French woman of indeterminate age, who would make me feel like I didn’t belong in her shop.

So it was a delight to discover Jennifer Carroll, Bellefleur’s curvy, ebullient owner, whose book Underneath it All, a girl’s guide to buying, wearing and loving lingerie, is a manifesto for women of every shape and size to allow themselves to be beautiful, not just inside and out, but also, well you get the picture.

The day of my maiden visit to Bellefleur, I saw a mother with her tall, thin, yet big-busted college-aged daughter stocking up on bras, relieved to have found flattering styles that fit.  A medical resident, lamenting lack of sleep, also stopped by for something to perk her up.

On a more recent visit to the new, expanded Bellefleur, still in Fremont, but now located at 3504 Fremont Place North, next to Bliss boutique, Jennifer explained that her clientele runs the spectrum of womanhood.  “Once, we had four generations of one family shopping here together,” she remembers.  “The needs of the youngest member of the family were very different from the needs of her great-grandmother.  We took care of everyone.”  Jennifer’s advice for mothers of newly developing daughters is to include them in the lingerie experience.  “If they see you enjoying lingerie and being comfortable with how your body looks in it, chances are they will be too.”  You don’t need to spend much money on training bras, says Jennifer, but once your daughter’s breasts have truly developed, be sure to get her properly fitted.

On graduation day, to the strains of Pomp and Circumstance, a procession of students in a mish-mash of outfits – fancy dresses with high tops, suit jackets with ripped jeans – galumphed past their proud families.  They then stood at the podium, poised in their awkwardness, and told us what they could do to make the world a better place.  I felt something wet on my nose and eyelashes and it definitely wasn’t snowflakes.

After the ceremony, Melanie lifted her skirt to show me the shorts she had surreptitiously donned, then pulled off the skirt and went out to run around with her friends.  They seem so grownup sometimes, with their iPods and backtalk and bravado.

But underneath it all, I guess they are still girls and boys.