On a recent Wednesday, I sat quietly in a socially-distanced waiting room chair, my youngest child next to me talking about her day at Kindergarten and doodling in a notepad she’d found in my purse. Across the room, my second-youngest child, Erinn, sat on a booster seat in a salon chair, bright blue mask across her face, pretty rainbow shoes peeking out from underneath the salon cape that was clearly designed for an adult. Erinn, who turns 9 today, had asked me a few weeks’ prior to go get a haircut — “just a trim,” she’d told me — and I took the opportunity to schedule her an appointment at a nearby salon, NOT a walk-in establishment, because I knew she would bask in the experience.

You see, Erinn likes pretty things. She wears a lot of pink and sequins and her earring collection is triple the size of mine. She earned a shiny metallic fanny pack from Girl Scouts and when I wore it out and about and was complimented, Erinn promptly chimed in, “Just so you know, it’s mine.” She used allowance money to buy a pair of wedge sandal heels that she calls the “shopping shoes” because that’s when she wears them. When we go shopping. Grocery stores, malls, CVS… those are her shopping shoes. During quarantine, she got in the habit of showing up at the breakfast table with a full face of makeup. One day, I finally asked what the deal was and wondered aloud if she should be doing it. She answered, “Well, you and Dad said it’s okay to wear makeup at home. And I’m at home now all the time.” When I put on my own makeup and did my hair to go see a holiday play, Erinn exclaimed, “Mom! You look so pretty when you try!”

While this may sound like the stuff of nightmares, particularly for those of us who consciously raise our children without any gender leanings or biases, I’ve discovered that Erinn’s love of all things beautiful, and desire to be like them, gives her joy and confidence. She’s the first to compliment a classmate or even a stranger when she likes an outfit choice or haircut. Her eyes light up when there’s glitter anywhere in a 20-foot radius. When she feels pretty she feels put together, organized and empowered in her own choices. She’s happy.

So on this particular day, as I watched her soak in the salon vibe as her wavy beach hair was being combed out, I started to listen, too. The stylist started with a few surface level “kid” questions about school, her friends and what sports she played. Within a few minutes, however, Erinn had turned the line of questioning around, asking the stylist about her own family, how long she’d been a stylist and where her favorite restaurant was located. The stylist answered, giving details in her responses, and Erinn took the details to form new questions within the original questions.

Was Erinn… interviewing her stylist?

The journalist in me was intrigued. Erinn was asking all of the right questions, though I wasn’t quite sure of the end goal. Her raspy giggle trickled out from behind the mask when the stylist told a story about her dog and Erinn filled her in on the dogs in our house. Erinn was having a genuine, deep conversation with this woman she had just met and the woman was responding to that raw authenticity warmly.

I stopped listening and zoned out a little. I thought back to the earliest years with Erinn — her high needs years of frustration when she could not communicate effectively. I remembered her early intervention speech therapist telling me to stop “talking for her” when Erinn was just two years old because she needed the space to find her own words, even if it meant frustration in the process. I thought about how HARD it was to retrain myself to follow that directive and let her stumble to find the words, sometimes through tears (for both of us). Back then, I wanted so desperately for her to just know how to say the names of the foods in the refrigerator instead of just pointing angrily. I wanted her to know how to greet people so she could make friends in preschool. I worried that Erinn may never find the words — at least not all of them — and continue to be misunderstood for the rest of her life. Was I always going to have to say the words for her? What if I wasn’t around?

Yet, in that recent moment in the salon, Erinn had all the right words without even trying to find them. She was comfortable speaking conversationally with an adult she had only just met, with the safety of her mom watching nearby. Erinn was being thoughtful, insightful and kind, without a peep from me. As I was adding a contactless tip for the stylist, the woman looked me in the eye and said “You’ve got a wonderful kid there.”

And if you’ve been a parent for even one second, you know that’s the highest compliment you can receive.

Then she said, “And she’s so pretty!”

I smiled from behind my own mask.

“I know, right?”

So happy 9th birthday to a thoughtful, insightful and beautiful conversationalist. Erinn, you make me proud every day.

Katie Parsons is a writer, editor, podcaster and actor who lives on Florida’s Space Coast. She is the co-author of The Five Year Journal, available on Amazon. Visit her website ByKatieParsons.com for more information or contact her at katie@mumblingmommy.com.

Category: Mumbling Mommy