Bright On: Five Years of Fable

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When I was five years old I dressed up as Rainbow Brite. It was the first and last time I wore a "pretty" costume for Halloween - a lifetime of showing up at parties dressed as a werewolf, an old man, a young man, a chicken with rubber gloves for feet, a boy, a man, "Kevin" the rat, Hal...  I have always been uncomfortable in feminine costumes for whatever reason but that year? THAT YEAR I was Rainbow Brite. And I felt it.

One of my earliest memories is pulling those boots up over my shins and feeling... bright.  

There was something about her. She was beautiful, sure, but she was also fiercely independent. She was confident and spirited and unabashed. She wore rainbows on her face and in her hair and on her shoes. She was a loner, Dottie. A rebel. With a unicorn. She was magic. And I was... not. Not in real life, anyway.

I spent the early part of my childhood unable to speak publicly. To my teachers. And peers. I used to pray to whatever god was out there, for words to come out of my mouth so that I could say the answers out loud. It took three years for me to garner the strength to raise my hand in class. I was paralyzed with fear that if I opened my mouth to speak, everyone would hear my thoughts. And that they would hate them and me by default, so I bottled everything up and filed them away.


It's so hard to separate our own experiences as children. So much of the emotional complexity of parenthood stems from our own retrospection. It is impossible for us to know what our children are going through at any given time. And yet, we assume, because we have been children before, that we have been there in the same way. Because we are cut from the same cloth. Because apples don't fall far from trees. Because like mother like daughter. So we project. Mainly because it comes with the job description to be projectors. Of our experiences and our lessons, our philosophies and truths.

Sometimes, when I pick my kids up at school, I feel myself regress into the little girl hiding under the slide, the third grader unable to raise her hand, speak up, say SOMETHING. Anything. Please just open your mouth and say hello. I flatten myself against walls. Wait in the back. Sit on the floor.

Fable is the other side of that coin. She is a powerhouse. A hand-raiser. A sing-at-the-top of her lungs-er. A stand-up-for-herself-er. A leader in the classic sense. The opposite of invisible. The antithesis of afraid. Standing tall with flags in her hands, she is the very opposite of me.

She speaks with voice I spent years trying to pull from my gut and have spent my whole life trying to capture with my fingers. Without apologizing. Or feeling ashamed.

She is Fable and she roars. With opinions. And ideas.  And joy. And more artwork than I know what to do with.
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It's the first day of Summer Camp and we're waiting in line to check in. Fable spent half the morning artfully decorating her head with hair-clips. A rainbow on one side and a collage of bows and sparkly bobby pins on the other. Twenty of them, maybe? Thirty? She insisted on wearing them on this morning, in honor of camp. Archer and I waited outside the bathroom until she was done.

A couple of older girls stand in front of us and do a double-take when they see Fable step outside the line. She spins and sings a song to herself. Does a little hand-on-hip action, gets back in line.

"Look at that little girl's hair," one girl giggles, pointing. She's twice Fable's size and one of the oldest girls at camp.

"Is she being serious. Nice look."

Fable says nothing. She looks back at me and I smile, offer her my hand for a high-five, hoping she didn't hear them.

But she did. Of course she did.  I see it on her face. A... hesitation.
I'm a mess on the drive home, like I just sent my kid into the lion's den. Like this is the beginning of the end of a moment in time where she felt free to be Fable. I am heartbroken. Crushed. I can barely see over the steering wheel I'm so small.

I picture her all alone, hair clips in her back pocket, wandering around the campus looking for spiders to name.

Because that would have been me.

I picture her hiding in the bathroom with her feet pulled up in the stall so nobody could see her feet.

Because that would have been me. 

And then something happens. I return to camp at the end of the day and can't find Fable anywhere. I ask Archer if he's seen her lately and he hasn't. He hasn't seen her all day, he says. We look in all of the classrooms and finally spot her through the open door of the auditorium, hand in hand with the same girls who were laughing at her earlier, hair clips still in tact, every single one.

They're dancing. Together. All of them.

I am stunned.

I shouldn't be. She's my kid and I know her by heart. And yet...

Because that wouldn't have been me, I feel jolted.

And relieved. And grateful. And idiotic. And amazed. And and and and...

"How was your day?"

"It was just amazing," she says, talking with her hands. "I drew so many princesses. "
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Fable used to tell me that in the years before she was born, she spent a lot of her time hanging out inside my leg. It is one of my favorite things I have ever heard and I regularly picture her balled up behind my knee, moving me forward. I imagine her there, in my calf, helping me navigate elementary school and then junior high and beyond... I imagine her there when I found out I was pregnant with her brother. When I married her dad. And until this day, five years ago, when she broke free and into my arms.

I imagine trace amounts of her there, still. In my legs and my gut and my head. What would Fable do, I think, in many instances. How would she handle this. 

I was so afraid of mothering daughters. I used to write about it all the time when I was pregnant with her and then in those months after she was born. I struggled with my own femininity for years. I still do in a way. But with Fable came a great love and respect for myself that was never there before. I looked into the eyes of my daughter and fell in love with womankind. She was my connection to the women before me and the women after her and the dominos fell one by one from there.

I took my hands out of my pockets and joined hands with my fellow sisters. Daughters once. Daughters always. Just like mine.
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Fable was honored yesterday at the Student of the Month assembly. Her first month at a big kid school and there she was, beaming on stage, holding her sticker and her certificate, like, "can you believe this?"

And of course I can. Of course I could. But also, wow. 

When Fable's teacher described why she chose her, it was this: "She's such a bright kid."

And I thought, YES. That is it! That is exactly what she is. She is brightness personified. Intelligent and interesting, wise and whimsical. Confident and mighty and colorful and creative and BRIGHT. 
This year she's going as a rainbow for Halloween. She is the dream I had for myself when I was her age. But more importantly she is the dream she has for herself in this moment. The strong, self-aware, fiercely independent rainbow bright. 
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Fable was born with an innate ability to draw hearts around everyone, to be visible and open and generous with her light. To make friends with everyone she meets.

Instead of compromising who she was that first day of camp, instead of suppressing and bottling and hiding all of the things that make her different and unique and amazing, she wore those clips with pride. She wears ALL OF IT with pride. And joy. And brightness.

...Even when the older girls laugh.

Or tell her her socks don't match...

... that rainbow isn't a color. 

Even when she feels the sting of hesitationInstead of acquiescing to her critics, she dances with them. She takes their hands in hers and she dances.
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Amy3 | 11:54 AM

Wow, I think we could all take a lesson from Fable in self-acceptance and self-celebration. Happy birthday to a wise 5-year-old!