That was my first day of fourth grade and I remember it quite well. I remember it because it was one of the best days of my life. You see, I was entering a new school in a new town. We spent the summer moving and getting situated and living in between houses as we waited for ours to sell in the Metro, and ours to be ready in Brainerd, which is my hometown.
How does it become my hometown if I started school there as a fourth grader? I was born there nine years earlier when my parents were students at the community college. That town has always been part of my story. And now, my story was about to get even better.
I had brand-new black and red Nikes that morning – boy shoes because duh, they were infinitesimally better than girl shoes back in the day. I refused to wear anything pink or purple and Nike had yet to catch on to that little concept. I had a mullet; something my own Mama defends by saying it WAS THE STYLE BACK THEN dismissing my claim of child abuse. I had on dark denim and a denim jacket. I stepped on the bus that morning at my grandparents’ lake house – the very lake coordinates I have tattooed onto my thigh – ready to take on the world.
As a fourth grader.
Just Like You Are Today
I’m telling you this story because that day was one of the best of my life. I would go on from that moment to meet all your aunties and even your Fairy Godmother a few years later. The group of women who have shaped my life in so many rich, hysterical ways in the nearly 30 years we’ve been running and gunning. And, I feel so damn nostalgic (and hopeful!) as you don your own Nike Frees today to take on the universe from your point of view.
I was teased pretty hardcore that first day of school. Not only was I the new girl, which I guess sort of invites the attention, but damn. Is she wearing boy shoes? You’re goddamn right I am. That way I can run faster than you and your little white Keds with their pristine white laces. I’ll run faster, jump higher, and wear them tomorrow to do it all over again. Also? All my friends in the Minneapolis area are wearing these shoes today – that’s right. Even the girls. So I’ll wait until this little backwoods, backward tree town gets up to speed on fashion.
And eventually, it did. Those black and red Nikes morphed into Adidas shell toes, B.U.M. Equipment boots (okay, those WERE ridiculous), Eastlands with the little green tag, Doc Martens, Steve Maddens, and eventually, always back to Nikes. A girl never forgets her first love.
What Does My Past Shoe Collection Have to Do With It?
Because I always wore what I wanted to. And yes, sometimes it happened to be what was in style. But I was unapologetic about the choices I made, and I always stood my ground when it came time for criticism or merciless teasing.
I’ve been thinking about this for a few weeks because you shared a little flash of this with me of your own. Because you are your Mother’s daughter, you’d been begging me to take you school supply shopping since approximately June 15th. I put my foot down and told you to wait until August. That was a fun conversation to have every single day for 67 days. When the time came to hit the pearly gates of Target, you’d been agonizing over your list, circling, adding, rewriting, giving priority number to items, and on and on for months. You had your sights set on all things Yoobi – a new brand of school supplies. Trendy, colorful, with a side of philanthropy. You loved knowing another kid in the U.S. would receive supplies with your purchase. You ARE your Mother’s daughter.
You shopped with a military-like precision while I tried not to sob into my Starbucks. Man, things like school shopping change when you started to read. You even brought a highlighter for efficiency. I was only tasked with being patient, driving the cart, and paying the tab.
You ripped into everything on the short drive home. Couldn’t wait to show Daddy. Spread things out on grand display, ran your thumb across all the shiny newness of untouched pages and fresh tips of wooden pencils, and simply oohed and aahed over your haul for hours.
Yet when I went to tuck you in that night, you whispered to me while clutching your new binder to your chest, Mama do you think my new stuff is lame?
You often choose night time to come at me with unexpected or out of proportion ideas or philosophies. I call that your Bedtime Ambush. That’s a stalling tactic to avoid sleep. But I felt like your question was different on that night.
I perched on the edge of your bed. I asked you if you thought they were lame or silly. I didn’t mention the pencil case you HAD to have was shaped like a giant yellow banana.
No, I LOVE my stuff! I knew that would be your answer. So I asked you why you wondered that. I mean I knew you were mentally taking yourself through your first day of school, unpacking your backpack, and filling up your desk and locker with all your Yoobi newness.
You Were Wondering What Other People Would Think of Your Swag
You didn’t tell me that in the darkness that night. I simply said, “If you love what you have, and are proud and excited, that’s all that matters. Period, end of story.”
You know that. You don’t have to defend or explain anything to anyone, ever. Not even to Daddy or I. We should be the place and people who question or challenge you the least on your own choices. Ever since you were small but old enough to understand language I’d ask you, do you feel good about it? To reinforce your ability to make personal decisions and stand by your choices.
To be quite honest, that’s always been my biggest … challenge or blessing? in motherhood. Raising a girl who is confident. Raising a girl who isn’t a carbon copy of someone else. Raising a girl who has the voice to defend who she is, even in the darkness.
Raising a girl who knows she wants a yellow banana pencil case, and raising a girl who proudly owns one.
I hope fourth grade is as good to you as it was to me, Kid Rock.
I’ll tell you the same thing I’ve told you for the last six years.
Work hard and be nice.
And – don’t forget to be awesome.
AND if some little insecure punk says ANYTHING about your yellow banana pencil case or your shoes or face or ANYTHING … let me know and I’ll kick his ass. And his Mama’s too.
Just kidding. I don’t condone violence.
But if he does or she does, walk away. Head held high.
Think of the lyrics of our favorite summer song – our anthem from all our days in the sun:
Raise a cup up for all my day ones
Two middle fingers for the haters
Life’s only getting greater