A little brown girl, about seven years old, stood in front of her mother’s full length mirror and tried to figure out, “what’s wrong with me?” This phrase constantly echoed inside her head because her mother could not understand why she could not stay clean.
“Do you have money to replace these clothes little girl?”
She slowly shook her head.
“Everyday you come back in here with a new scrape or cut. Pretty soon you are not going to have any skin left! You are not a boy, you are a little girl and it’s about time you start acting like one!”
The little girl tuned out the woman’s voice, as if her mind changed the channel to a different frequency. She saw her mouth move but nothing registered. The words flowed and reached her ears but they were transformed to inaudible sounds resembling the voice of Charlie Brown’s teacher, “Waah Wah, Waah Wah Wah.” She paid more attention to the two beads of sweat trickling down her mother’s brow in a race to the bridge of her nose. A ringing telephone from down the hall snapped her back to reality. Her mother told to her wait right there as she left to answer it.
Alone in the room, the little girl was able to see what drew such a response from her mother. She watched herself in the mirror and could see that she was nothing like the other girls. Her hair stood on her head in two huge lumpy puffs that resembled Mickey Mouse ears. She loved it when they swayed in the breeze as she popped wheelies on her pink bike, a color she despised. She had dirt and grease smeared across the front of her grey NY Giants tee. This was because she slid under a parked car to retrieve the ball she missed while playing a game of Taps with the boys. Blood trickled from a fresh scrape on her knee that had just begun to soak the top of her formerly white tube sock. She also sported a busted lip from a scuffle with a boy on the block for saying that she ran like a girl. While this child stood and examined her appearance, visible in the reflection of the mirror were her toys, the red and green Voltron lions, a Cheetara figurine and Optimus Prime with a death grip on Snake Eyes.
With this sight before her and the lecture she knew was coming the moment her mother got off the phone, the little brown girl wished she could change. She grew tired of hearing, “you look like someone threw you away!” Trying to be a “normal” little girl was something that she prayed for but there was a fire that burned deep inside that made her want to break out into a full sprint whenever she had the chance. The feel of the wind blowing on her face as she ran faster and faster, the accelerated pace of her heartbeat became addictive.
It didn’t help that her father treated her as the son he never had. She sat her down on the couch week nights to watch Kenny “Sky” Walker glide in the air in the Garden and Sunday afternoons listened to the crash of Lawrence Taylor’s pads as he punished yet another quarterback. He encouraged her to run, to play, to take the bumps and keep going, when all she wanted was to be his little girl.
Her mother’s call was coming to an end and there she stood in a cloud of dust like Charlie’s friend Pigpen and smelled like the entire barnyard. Another round of chastising was to begin and her beautiful ebony eyes began to well with tears in anticipation. The need to fit in and be like everyone else overwhelmed her. “Why can’t I be like the other girls?” A tear escaped her right eye and left a clean trail down her dusty cheek and the little brown girl lowered her head.
Twenty years later I see that little girl when I linger too long in front of the mirror. No one ever gave me the manual to be a certified “Girly-Girl”, so I had to teach myself. There were many years of trail and error until I tweaked the recipe just right. I know now that I could have never of been one those other girls. I accepted and embraced all of my actions and stages and used those experiences to finally know that I was only made to be me. The little brown girl covered in dust is now a grown woman that has a flair all her own.
I see my change as a metamorphosis similar to the butterfly. I started out as the little caterpillar, fuzzy and green, a little odd but content. As I grew I formed a chrysalis and within it I retained all of my experiences as a tomboy and incorporated it in to my life as a young woman. Now I’ve emerged as a beautiful butterfly. My wings are designed with my insecurities, my imperfections, my accomplishments and my dreams to form a mosaic of me.
Gone, are those two pom-poms that used to sit on top of my head. I try to get a wash-and-set once a week but when I don’t have time for that I wear my hair in braids. The many scars I’ve accumulated from my tomboy days have since faded but when I run my hands over my legs I am reminded of my days of popping wheelies, freeze tag and man hunt. I don’t have any dirt or grease stains across my shirt but I do sport a mystery stain or two, but that’s because I’m a bit sloppy, nothing even close to Pigpen though. I often refer to myself as a “Reformed Tomboy” it’s still in me, not forgotten. I never fully recovered from wanting the wind to blow in my face or getting excited at the sound of the crash of the pads when a quarterback gets sacked, but I learned I didn’t have to. I still watch the Giants every Sunday and Michael Strahan never disappoints.
I don’t see my mother everyday like I used to because I have moved out and have a family of my own which includes another little tomboy. She is a beautiful girl that can never manage to stay clean and whose clothes always come up with rips and tears. I hear my mother in my head but I have learned that she is going through a process that will ultimately shape who she is. Instead of chastising her I just remind her to be more careful of her belongings and I manage to squeeze in the, “money doesn’t grow on trees”, parental guilt trip. Thanks Mom.
Every once and awhile, when I linger too long in the mirror I see her, the little tomboy in me. Instead of tears, I see a smile and a twinkle in those ebony eyes because she is happy that I finally learned to be me. Over the years my mother has accepted the fact that “ rough around the edges” isn’t the worst thing that I could be; she still claims from time to time that she doesn’t know where she got me from. Now I know when she sees me, she is able to see all of what I am and it feels good. I will never forget her words but I forgive her because that was the only way she knew to get her point across. As a mother I can respect that and I’m learning to handle it a better way. To this day when the wind hits my face, I pause, exhale and my heart skips a beat.