LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
Forgive me if I’m writing too often about my favorite girl in the world these days, but my stepdaughter Gabrielle has been jumping over so many milestones I feel this need to document, if only to help slow things down. First, it was her 13th birthday. Last Friday, it was her first dance.
She casually mentioned the event a few weeks ago, announcing that the Beta Club was sponsoring it and she would like to go. I looked over at her in the car, as darty as a squirrel, and assessed that her expression firmly indicated she did not wish to speak about this anymore. No, not one bit, Tara Paule Kaprowy.
So, I left it alone until a few days later when I texted her — yes texted, welcome to parenting a teen in 2013 — asking if she wanted to get a new outfit for the occasion.
“No. It’s no big deal,” was her prompt reply.
Entirely unconvinced, I persisted.
“Sure you don’t want me to make you a hair appointment with Mrs. Kathy?”
“Thx, but no.”
I felt both suspicious of and deflated by the response. I remember my first dance and being wholly, I mean wholly, giddy by the prospect. I was in grade seven and had just entered Golden Gate Junior High wearing, unfortunately, a vest embroidered with a Batman logo on the front. I’d just managed to recover from that fashion disaster when, a few weeks later, they announced over the intercom there would be a dance that Friday.
I had already developed a mega crush on one Mario Giannini, so tall and so Italian I started asking my mom to bag the Ukrainian perogies and make spaghetti for dinner so I could feel culturally closer to him. Just in the ninth grade — though perhaps supposed to be in the 10th or 11th — he was the manliest boy I had ever seen, the kind that deftly manages to skip the knobby knee and clown feet phase and heads directly into manhood with rippling biceps, enough facial hair to easily make a beard and, swoon, a leather motorcycle jacket.
My entry into junior high had been partly shepherded by my friend Jedda Rempel, who grew up with me on Seekings Street and never made me feel young, despite being two important years my senior. Unsurprisingly, given her generous and kind personality, Jedda was popular at Golden Gate Junior High and even when she saw me walk in on my second day wearing a long, pleated, cream skirt, elfin leather boots and a forest green mock turtleneck with shoulder pads, she put her arm around me and introduced me to all her friends.
“Isn’t she cute?” she said and I smiled on command, my bulky retainer gleaming on my teeth.
On the night of the dance, I left that retainer at home, fully expecting my smile would be dazzling if not just Mario alone, then a whole lot of other boys whose acquaintance I had not yet made. I put some Vaseline on my lips, drew some green eyeliner on my lids and, boy howdy, I was ready to go.
Upon arrival, of course, I was overtaken by the most severe attack of shyness I’d ever had and clung to the wall as if magnetically attracted to it. But then I saw Jedda, who’d become aware of my crush, whispering to Mario Giannini and then Mario Giannini walking toward me.
“Would you like to dance?” he asked, offering a large hand as much to lead me to the dance floor as hold me up.
It was one of the dreamiest nights of my life and, in retrospect, probably officially infected me with a weakness for Bad Boys.
So, as you can imagine, when my stepdaughter told me she was only “kind of” looking forward to her first dance, I was somewhat skeptical. But Gabrielle is a different kid than I was — definitely more cool, definitely more grounded in real life and definitely more confident — so by the time Friday came around I had accepted the fact that she was approaching this milestone with nonchalance.
But when I picked her up from ballet, she turned to me in the car.
“I’m excited for the dance,” she said evenly. “I think I want to wear my new dress.”
I squealed. And she “kind of” did. So she put on her dress and looked absolutely beautiful. She didn’t get asked to dance by a Mario Giannini (thank God), but she did have fun and, in the end, the milestone was celebrated with the level of giddiness it deserves.