Who can explain this daughter with the frilly tastes?

SUSAN REIMER

August 17, 1993|By SUSAN REIMER

Betty, Bella, Gloria, forgive me. But my daughter is a priss.

God knows I tried. But Jessie, the daughter of a first-generation feminist, raised in an egalitarian home, is a human Barbie doll. I'm so ashamed.

She changes clothes a dozen times a day. She can't pass a mirror without fussing with her hair. And she hates sports. She's only 7 years old, but as the twig is bent, I fear, so grows the tree.

The symptoms were always there, of course. She never liked trucks or guns and she didn't see the point in Legos. When her brother attacked her doll house with a band of GI Joe men, she picked them off the roof and the chimney and put them to bed.

But I refused to believe it until that horrible day when her father came to me and said, "We're going to have to send Jessie away. To a Swiss convent school."

"What are you talking about," I said.

"Look outside," was his terse reply.

There was Jessie, dressed in a Barbie muumuu, draped with a Barbie lei, wearing a Barbie crown and Barbie high heels. In one hand, she carried a purple parasol with her name written in purple glitter paint. And in the other hand, two plastic roses. (I never bought her any of that stuff, I swear. They were all gifts.)

But it wasn't what she wore. It was what she said. The words are burned on my heart.

"Joe," she said to her brother as she sashayed her little behind across the front yard. "Pretend your bicycle is a motorcycle and you drive by, and you like me."

"A biker," I said as all the breath escaped me. "She wants to date a biker."

Quickly, we signed her up for soccer, hoping to alter the dangerous course her young life was taking. Her dad was the coach. He would remedy this.

She hated it. She hated getting all sweaty. She hated the squash-yellow color of her soccer shirt. She wanted to wear hot pink. All she did on the field was chat, for goodness' sake.

And the only time she showed the least interest in the sport was when she overheard her father-coach on the telephone, rescheduling a rained-out game.

"Makeup?" she asked, brightening. "We get to play a game with makeup?"

Gary, the father-coach, tried his best. I could not ask more of this '90s, sensitive guy. He rented the movie "A League of Their Own" for her to watch, but all she wanted to know was why those players got to wear dresses.

As he drove her to practice one evening, they passed some women midshipmen from the Naval Academy, running together on the sidewalks of Annapolis.

"See, Jessie?" he offered. "If you study hard and practice hard, you can grow up and play sports for the Naval Academy -- just like these girls."

There was a pause as she considered this.

"Yes . . . well," she said. "What do I have to do to become a princess?"

I admit I have tried to relive my uncoordinated youth through my daughter, and I know that is not fair to her and not healthy for me. But hey, men do it.

I wanted her to be the athlete my gene pool and my pre-Title IX high school would never allow me to be.

I was determined she would grow up with the kind of self-assurance that success in the physical world can bring. That she would know what it is like to play on a lousy team and to have a bad role model as a coach. Just like men.

She has all that she would ever need to be a success in sports. She runs in long, graceful, un-self-conscious strides. There is a perfect synapse between her brain and her feet. She can focus with the hard-eyed concentration of a pinball wizard. And when her brother provokes her, she bares her teeth in a snarl and goes after him with all 10 fingernails cocked and fixed like dagger points.

But Jessie has chosen to train her hazel eyes not on sports, but on tap dancing. She spent three weeks in tap camp this summer, I must confess.

Her father-coach thinks tap training will improve her soccer. But I know the truth of it.

She has made her choice and I knew it as I watched her in the audience of "The Talent Machine" at the Annapolis Summer Garden Theater.

It is kind of "A Chorus Line" for kids. Her peers sang and danced -- and changed clothes a dozen times. All hot colors and sequins. Jessie did not blink for three hours.

"When can I do that?" was all she said when it was over.

Betty, Bella, Gloria? It may be time for me to dust off my long-forgotten dream of a career in musical theater.

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