In Starbucks, Harper is drawing pictures of superheroes on pieces of paper from my notebook. All of them girls, and she's disguised them so that at first glance, they are soccer players, or girls with ripped jeans and t-shirts, their powers hidden.
I think they're characters in a story she's been writing the last several weeks. She doesn't tell me much about the story except that the girls' powers work the best when they're all together. I guess they bring the magic out of each other.
She also tells me how it's really hard to end the story. I tell her I know exactly what she means.
Harper's on her fourth superhero when a girl in a yellow formal dress walks in.
"Mommy, look," Harper whispers and nods towards the girl with half of her brown hair coiled into a bun, and the rest cascading down her yellow dress that has just a smidgen of a train. She is beautiful and I worry her mother might not want her in Starbucks with her dress wiping the floor, and then I remember the Diet Coke I insisted on getting at the 7-11 before one dance or another. No need to worry about my dress hitting the floor—its hemline was way above my knee.
"She looks like Belle," Harper whispers again.
I agree, and I watch Harper watch the girl and wonder if she's thinking about her next superhero.
While Harper draws, I read from the book I brought along—Jenny Han's To All the Boys I've Loved Before. Lara Jean, the narrator of the story, writes letters to several boys because she doesn't want to love them anymore, but she doesn’t mean to mail the letters. The letters are mysteriously sent, though, and Lara Jean must deal with the consequences of her words.
A minor character in the book, a women who I imagine is in her 40s or 50s, lives on the same street as Lara Jean. She and her neighbor friends are equally disgusted and impressed with the fact that she mowed the lawn in her bikini top and shorts. Later in the story, the kids look forward to watching her walk out in her business suit and cup of coffee that she spills on herself at least every other day. Lara and her friends think this is hilarious. I think she’s meant for comic relief—to show the ridiculousness of adults and the relentlessness of teenagers—but there’s something about her that I find heroic.
I spilled my coffee on myself on the way to work once. Probably more than once, but the time I remember doing it was the morning Harper had forgotten to bring Bear to her kindergarten class for show and tell. The teacher, a friend of mine who on Harper's first day of kindergarten and my first day back to teaching, gave me a “You got this” card as I dropped her off, texted me to see if there was a chance I could bring over Bear.
So I did. I brought Bear to school with twenty minutes to get to my school in time for my first class. It was raining, and when I stepped out of the car, I ran with my coffee in my hand like a donkey, and coffee splashed all over my clothes.
I'm sure it was a highlight of my 8th graders’ day to see me standing before them discussing the relevance of To Kill a Mockingbird with coffee all over myself. That week, I was discussing Mayella's red flowers that she'd planted and grew. They were a sign of beauty, the need for beauty, the hope for beauty in even the most terrible of us. I was going to have the students begin a writing assignment where they looked for and wrote about that kind of broken beauty - the best kind.
Later that day, I had a meeting with my administrator to discuss something he wanted me to write for the school at an upcoming banquet. I was late to the meeting though, because I was waiting for a response from Harper's teacher telling me that Bear was safe and sound and zipped up in Harper's backpack and ready to be taken home. She couldn't sleep without Bear, and Bear was already so frazzled and weak from his five years with Harper, I was as worried about him as I was about what would happen if he was lost or broken during the school day.
All was well, my friend assured me in a text back, and so I went to the meeting.
I attempted to explain why I was late to my administrator. I'm sure it sounded something like this: I know you have this work for me to do and I really want to do it. I believe I can do it, but my daughter just started kindergarten and she was supposed to bring her favorite stuffed animal to school today—the one she won’t go to sleep without—and I just had to make sure he was still in one piece after spending the day in kindergarten, and I realize how dumb this sounds, but I can’t quite separate motherhood from the rest of myself.
I know I remember saying, “I’m sorry,” a lot, to which my administrator flinched, and responded with this: “You’re a mother. You never have to apologize.”
And with that, I got to work.
The girl in Starbucks waits at the counter for her drink which must be the most complicated drink ever created because her date drinks the one he ordered before she gets hers. When it arrives, she reaches for it with a perfectly manicured hand and takes it while at the same time lifting a straw from the stash on the wall. She taps it on the counter to break the paper, then slips it into her drink. She crumples the paper, turns, and her dress billows ever so slightly. Harper catches her breath.
The girl throws the paper in the trash, takes a sip of her drink and walks—glides really—out the door, her date following behind.
I worry that she’ll spill coffee all over her dress, like the minor character in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, like me.
But then I think: Nope, nothing will fall. Nothing will spill. She hasn’t realized her superpowers yet.
Drawing by Harper Feyen.