July 01, 2016
The July sun makes my one-year-old daughter’s brushed hair shimmer. Nora is all dressed up for the birthday party in her new Princess Awesome pi dress; the colorful pi symbols on the white skirt and the warm purple top stand out against the bright green grass. Clinking glasses, adult chatter, buzzing bees and children’s joyful shrieks create a background of sound, but my daughter is utterly focused. Nora is holding a green plastic bubble wand. Her lower lip is protruding as she makes her concentration face. She jabs the wand at the tray of bubble solution. She waves it in the air, mimicking what she saw the bigger children do. She jabs it again, this time submerging it. She waves her wand again and, miraculously, a bubble appears. It floats, a perfect iridescent sphere, on the warm summer air. It lingers in front of my daughter, inviting her curiosity. A bubble with surface area 4πr2 and volume 4/3πr3. My daughter, beautiful in her beautiful pi dress, stands fascinated by her close encounter with pi.
Nora has now turned two and just the other morning came to me proudly bearing a tetrahedron she had built out of magnatiles. “Did you build this yourself?” I asked, impressed, having had no inkling she could do such a thing. She immediately toddled back over to the basket of magnatiles and proceeded to build me a cube. She had enjoyed laying the square tiles out flat on the rug to build giant rectangles for months, but I had never seen her build a threedimensional shape before. Her aptitudes, her interests and her self are still emerging like a flower opening for the sun. I try to catch and mark the moments when a new petal unfurls.
When Nora is not trying to count her toes, I often find her trying to clomp around in my shoes. Nora loves to play dressup. One day I found her eating a snack at the kitchen table with the bunting from her baby doll’s bassinette wrapped around her shoulders like a stole, a fireman’s helmet on her head and her brother’s red mittens on her hands. At her second birthday party, wearing her gorgeous Princess Awesome train dress, she insisted on completing the outfit with a summer tanktop and a cardboard Cat-in-the-Hat hat constructed by her brother.
I am cherishing my opportunities to watch my daughter grow into herself, be it by dressing up or by building tetrahedra. I love dressing her in Princess Awesome dresses, dresses staking out a vast and lovely territory of girlhood that includes trains and ninjas, rockets and atoms, and beautiful twirly dresses. I don’t want to confine my daughter to lacy pink or her brother’s handmedowns. I want to allow her to express her beauty and her intellect in fashion as well as in action. She may not be speaking many words yet, but she knows her favorite dress when she sees it: on a recent weekend trip, she saw her Princess Awesome trains dress as soon as I opened the suitcase and insisted on wearing it immediately. This dress is simply beautiful: soft and flattering, bold in design and color, a joy to wear.Gayle Shanley graduated magna cum laude from Brown University with degrees in Mathematics and Theater Arts. She currently tutors math and homeschools her children in the beautiful northwest corner of Connecticut.