Our family just got back from watching a girls’ high school basketball game and I have to tell you my nerves are shot to smithereens.
No, I wasn’t nervous about whether or not our school’s team would win the game; in fact we had to leave before the game was over so I don’t even know who won. What I was anxious about was whether or not the grade school chorus, of which my daughter Belle is a member, would be able to hit the high notes on the national anthem. It’s been said that when the British attacked Fort McHenry during the Revolutionary War, Francis Scott Key quickly composed a song that, as soon as the redcoats heard it sung, would have them running away in terror. I don’t know if that’s true, but we’ve all heard “rockets red glare” and “land of the free” screeched out, even by professionals, in a way that makes you wish someone in government would save our country this repeated hardship and just give us a different song.
But I digress. My point is that we don’t have any kids on the high school basketball team; it was Belle’s choral performance before the opening buzzer that brought us to the game. In fact, Belle is only eight, which most of the time feels like about ten thousand light years from high school. But of course, when I reflect with some perspective, when I look at how quickly her first eight years have passed by, I know high school is just a few quick blinks away and that I’d better start bracing myself right now.
So I was very happy when Belle recently met (and instantly idolized) a high school girl who provides a really positive role model for her. This girl is one of the best players on the varsity basketball team, so at tonight’s game Belle got a chance to see her in athletic action and came away even more impressed than she was before. I don’t know this girl that well, and neither does Belle, but from what I do know of her I feel lucky that she’s the one who’s providing, for several different aspects of girlhood, a measuring stick for Belle.
Belle has noticed that this girl wears absolutely no makeup and still looks awesome. Belle has noticed that this girl doesn’t dress like she’s trying to imitate Paris Hilton. Nor does it look like she spends much time on her hair; usually when we see her she’s got it twisted into a neat little knot at the back of her head. This girl doesn’t even have her ears pierced, and not because her parents won’t let her. She’s not interested, according to them. Imagine that! Belle had been bothering me for some time about getting her ears pierced, a procedure I don’t really feel comfortable with at her age, but then she noticed that her idol, one of the most beautiful girls in the high school, didn’t have pierced ears and suddenly she’s not so sure they’re essential to looking cool and sophisticated.
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I have no inherent problem, by the way, with makeup, hairdos, fancy clothes, or earrings. I humor myself on a regular basis with all four of those (all right, I guess corduroy jeans aren’t that fancy — but three out of four). What I like about Belle’s role model, though, is that she looks cool to Belle without all that stuff. She looks like she’s got it all, without bending over backwards to get it all. She’s not trying too hard, in other words, and isn’t that, fundamentally, the essence of cool?
While it apparently is not this girl’s ambition to look the same as every other girl in the high school, much less the same as the girls in Cosmo, the fact is she looks better. Not just because of her natural prettiness or even lack of fuss; but because she projects a quiet confidence in who she is, the way she is. And that’s my wish for my own daughter as she enters adolescence. That she’ll be confident in who she is and that she’ll have a mind of her own. I hope she’ll be self-possessed enough to follow her own lead instead of taking it from a magazine.
I know that’s not easy for a girl these days, not with the celebrity-beauty-thinness-popularity-obsessed culture in which we live. In fact I think it might be even harder than hitting that high B on “land of the free.” So I’m immensely grateful that Belle’s able to observe at least one teenage girl who seems to be pulling it off with aplomb.
I don’t know if Belle hit the high notes tonight, by the way. All I could really tell from my seat in the bleachers was that she seemed to be singing loudly. With confidence. And I guess that’s good enough for me.