My five-year-old daughter recently received a pair of white high heels in a hand-me-down bag from a friend of hers, and now she wears them every day. Not to school, mind you, because they don’t totally fit her, and I made sure to declare them “dress up shoes” from the moment she pulled them out of the bag. But most days she adds these slightly scuffed patent leather heels to whatever outfit she changes into when she gets home from school, and watching her clomp around the living room in them is one of my favorite things.
The other day she tromped down the hallway—I almost wrote strolled because I know she really believes she’s strolling, but she’s not. There’s nothing about a gangly five-year-old in ill-fitting heels that resembles any motion having to do with ease or grace, and honestly that’s the very best part. Anyway, she’s clomping down the hallway so loudly I can hear her through my noise cancelling headphones. I peer around the corner from where I’m prepping dinner in the kitchen, and see her dragging a duffle bag and wearing a backpack, all while carrying an Easter basket in one hand and a baby doll in a plush baby carrier in the other. Her three-year-old sister is wandering behind her clad only in a tutu. Honestly, I don’t know if the tutu has anything to do with the theme of this game because my three-year-old is routinely in just a tutu. Still, I stifle a laugh.
“Mom!” she hollers. “I really need you to watch my kids. Seriously. I have so much to do.”
“She means me,” my three-year-old chimes in. “And that baby. We’re her kids. You’re the grandma.”
My daughter hands me the Easter basket filled baby toys and pretend baby bottles. You know the kind: one of the bottles is milk and the other is orange juice, and if you tip them down it looks like the liquid disappears and the doll is drinking it (I’m sure every pediatric dentist in America hates this toy. Juice in a bottle. Geez). Then she sets the doll and carrier down at my feet and her little sister plops down next to it.
“I have to run. I have so much work to do. I’m the mayor, you know.” She clomps past me into the living room and begins unloading the contents of her duffle bag onto the art table.
I did not know that she was the mayor, so I say as much. I try to sound incredibly impressed by her new status.
“Moms can be the mayor,” she said as she pulled a calculator from her backpack. “I have two kids, and I’m in charge of this whole big town. It’s a lot of work, but I can be two things.”
When I was a little girl, I wanted to be the CEO of Chase Bank. Why? I don’t know, exactly. It just sounded important. Frankly, I liked being in charge, and the best job I could think of would be one that involved me being in charge of as many people as possible. Actually, I spent several of my early years kicking around the idea of being the first female president of the United States because nothing says in charge like the presidency, but then midway through elementary school it occurred to me that perhaps members of my family or I might be assassinated.
I remember sitting at my desk in Ms. Roulet’s third grade class, staring out the window, and suddenly realizing that while, yes, there is such a thing as bulletproof glass, there are work-arounds to that type of armor, and Presidents can be shot in all sorts of places, and probably the first female president would have lots of people who want to shoot her (I know, what a sad social commentary that a nine-year-old was able to conjure up that truth on a sunny Thursday in October), so I nixed that idea and turned my focus to corporate banking.
And then I saw Baby Boom with Diane Keaton.
In this movie, Diane Keaton plays JC Wyatt, a high-powered businesswoman who kicks so much ass they call her The Tiger Lady. Then she inherits her cousin’s baby after his untimely death. To everyone’s surprise, including her own, Diane Keaton discovers she loves the baby more than her job, so she quits her job, moves to Vermont, and kind of falls into a making and selling her own artisan applesauce. Yes, this movie was made in the mid-eighties, and yes, this is the story of every woman in America today – the foreshadowing to our current era is uncanny.
Anyway, at 10 years old, all I wanted to do was be The Tiger Lady. I was a businesswoman for Halloween that year, costume complete with briefcase, old school cell phone, and suit with shoulder pads. I loved thinking about doing whatever I wanted to do and being whoever I wanted to be, and The Tiger Lady showed me it was possible. She was empowering.
“Mom?” my daughter calls from the living room. “Thanks for watching my kids. I have another meeting soon, but first I need to finish a painting. So, I’m still the mayor but I also am an artist, and I need to paint for just 20 minutes.”
She pulls a pad of watercolors from our art cabinet and sits back down. “I can be an artist, a mayor, and a mom. I can actually be three things.”
“You’re right,” I said. “You definitely can.”
To be clear, I am not a businesswoman. Most days, I do not feel powerful. I don’t feel organized, accomplished, or like I can take on the world. Most days, I find myself in sweaty yoga pants, babysitting several plastic dolls while making peanut butter sandwiches and attempting to draft an essay on my phone. Often, when I think about the type of example I’m trying to set for my kids, I wonder what they see. Because, truthfully, I feel less like The Tiger Lady and more like the crazy cat lady. I certainly don’t wonder why my daughter wants to be the mayor because it seems far more empowered and glamorous and powerful than anything she sees on daily basis.
But I recently re-watched Baby Boom, and I was struck once again by the character Diane Keaton plays, and not because she was a cool lady with a high-powered job. For 95% of the movie she is an absolute disaster. Most of the plot consists of her feeling overcome with how desperately she wants to care for her baby and how impossibly hard it is to juggle motherhood and career. It occurred to me in the recent re-watch that while, as an adult, I see all the ways that Diane Keaton is a hot mess in this movie, and I can relate to her in that crazy, but as a little girl I saw a powerful business woman who decided to transition away from her career in order to be an excellent mom (and also still run an amazing company from her home). I saw a woman who could do more than one thing, and, as a child, my takeaway was that Diane Keaton was amazing from beginning to end.
Today, my daughter is seeing me camped out on my bedroom floor in the same mustard yellow joggers that I’ve worn most days this week. I’m certainly not wearing high heels (or makeup for that matter). My toddler’s pee pants are in a ball the hallway, and as I’m typing this I’ve realized that I forgot my coffee cup in the microwave, which is a real bummer considering we’ve all been up since 5:30. My daughter is not seeing The Tiger Lady.
On my most insecure days, I feel bad that I can’t be more put together or have it all figured out. I wish that I could show her something better than hallway laundry piles and decades old Ugg slippers. But on my best days, on days like today, actually, I believe she’s seeing what I saw in Diane Keaton. She’s seeing that sometimes I’m able to pull it together and make some high heels work for me, but mostly I’m clomping through transitions, arms full of books and bags, a purse filled with random snacks, and a whole bunch of dreams I’m trying to achieve all at once. She’s seeing that I am more than one thing, which means that she can be more than one thing. She’s seeing possibility. And possibility is pretty empowering.