You weren’t yet three when some bubble-headed brat (or, more probably, the daughter of one) told you you couldn’t be her friend because you wore “the wrong clothes” to school one day. Your major offense: A pair of pants.
A. Pair. Of. Pants.
In other words, not a dress. And in pants, said this pint-sized waste of air, you just can’t twirl. (The twirl: The measure of the princess. The princess: The measure of your worth as a preschool-aged girl.) You were ostracized from the Fisher Price playhouse, spent recess kicking around wood chips with – heaven forbid – some boys.
So you insisted that tomorrow you’d wear a dress to school. In a dress, you said, you could really twirl. In a dress, you could play princess. In a dress, the Queen Bee of Preschool would be your friend. But in pants…
And then you uttered the five words that that child who knew no better would have you believe and the five words I’d make you regret: “You can’t twirl in pants!”
There it was: The first – and certainly not the last – time in your life someone tried to dupe you into thinking you can’t when you can. Thinking you shouldn’t when you should. Thinking there is one right way – and it isn’t yours. Thinking that yours isn’t good enough. Thinking yours is less than, not equal to.
Look, I get it. I really do. This one time when I was a lot older than you are now – a sophomore in high school – I stopped off at the bathroom on my way to class. I was still settling up when I overheard a couple of older girls chit-chatting outside about a something I wasn’t supposed to hear: My new yellow loafers. (And, Jesus, I loved those shoes. Which, apparently, went perfectly with my super funky, “butch lesbian” haircut.) They speculated the reason I missed the semi-formal that year was because the school wouldn’t allow me to bring my girlfriend. The truth was, I didn’t want to waste even a single second with these people. They suuuuuccked. But in those days, and, indeed, for a long time after (because, the thing is, it takes most of us who ever live our authentic selves a too-long time to come to our senses and do it), I wished I overheard them saying something complimentary. Or, hell, true. As it was, I only put my yellow loafers to the floor once I was sure they’d gone and couldn’t see them. And, from that day forth, I only wore those shoes on the weekends.
I wished somebody, anybody, would have saved me lots of years of giving a fuck by uttering this one simple truth: Very often, it gets better. One day, it’s going to be 15 years in the future and you’re going to see a picture of one of those gals from the bathroom. She’s going to have short hair. She’s going to be wearing loafers. And it’s not going to matter to you if she’s a lesbian. (True story.) One day, something or someone is going to help you put your priorities in perspective the way you did for me the first time I beheld that grainy white blob on an ultrasound screen and a radiologist said “Congratulations.” I’d like to tell you that people will grow out of their shallow or lose their stupid eventually, but sometimes they don’t. And like that wise sage Taylor Swift once said, “The haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.” And, baby girl, when they do? You just gotta shake. You’re the key to unlock your own happiness, your own potential.
So I put down that thing I was making for dinner, stared at you standing there, lamenting your sweatpants.
“What did you just say?” I asked.
You repeated yourself: You can’t twirl in pants.
“I thought that’s what you said.”
So I took you by the hand, led you outside to some wide open space and, stone-faced, whispered a one word edict: Twirl. You stared at me, quizzical. Tw-irrrl. I repeated with exaggerated slowness, the slowness of a mother who means serious business.
You did. Also slowly. Watching me out of the corner of your eye.
“Arms out, like the propellers on a helicopter.” I modeled the motion. “Now faster!”
We picked up speed until, at long last, mother-daughter whirling dervishes, collapsed in dizzy giggles.
I told you that the next time aforementioned someone tries to tell you what you can’t do, who you can’t be, you show them you can and inform them that they don’t know what they’re talking about. For lots of people, the very reason they don’t achieve their fullest potential is because they stop believing they can, after all. This isn’t to say you can actually do everything. But it is to say you should at least try if it’s important to you.
Oh, honey, you can twirl! You can twirl despite and in spite of whatever some know-nothing says. You twirl. You twirl so fast and so free you catch the whole world up in that spin: good people, interesting places, exciting opportunities. Leave your impact. Leave like wreckage anybody, any place, any experience that threatens to halt your motion. You just go. Go, go, go! Go in sweatpants, in dresses, in your birthday suit. It doesn’t matter. Just keep it moving. The only stopping you is you.