Childhood memories stir mother's hopes for her daughter

June 19, 1994|By SUSAN REIMER

Recital (n.) -- French for "spending a bundle on a costume and driving your mother nuts for a week so you can be on stage for a minute and a half."

Can you tell? Jessie had her ballet recital (the third in her very young life), and we are both going to need therapy.

I have an unsightly rash on my forearm that the doctor says is "nerves," and 8-year-old Jessie now wants to have her hair pulled back in a bun and lacquered down every morning.

The top of her head feels like cardboard when she leaves for school, and I am afraid she is going to get brain damage from all the hair spray.

And we have another costume to hang in the closet. Though I am beyond sentimentalizing them (she did look adorable as a bluebird in "Hansel and Gretel" one year), I can't quite part with them.

I keep thinking she can use them to play dress-up. But that is a silly notion. The costumes are always ordered to fit in January, and by May it is like stuffing a sausage to get the girls into them.

And so this costume will take its place alongside the others, leaving plenty of room for the worn-once dresses that seem to fill a woman's life and closet: christening gown, first Holy Communion dress, flower girl dress, prom gown, bridesmaid's dress, wedding gown. And all the dresses you can never wear again after your first child is born.

I am not sure why it is so important to me that Jessie take ballet. I never did. And there are no dancing genes in her family history. I can't even walk in high heels, for heaven's sake.

And Jessie herself is ambivalent. She loves the dress-up part and she worships her teachers, Miss Sandy and Miss Leslie. But she is caught in an awkward space between robust athleticism and grace.

She can't decide whether she wants to swim the butterfly or dance like one. Her theater-pink tights have grass stains on the ++ knees. Her slippers are so worn I swear she is wearing them when she skids her bike to a stop. Sometimes, I'm sure she is just in it for the blue eye shadow and the lipstick.

I'm in it for the flowers, I think.

When I was 5 or so, I was a bridesmaid in a Tom Thumb wedding pageant at our church. I'm not sure what the point of it was -- kids all dressed up like members of a wedding party -- but I still have the picture of me in my little gown and the memory of being incredibly special to my parents for one night.

And in my head, I still have the smell of the flowers that I carried.

It was my first experience with carnations, and the smell was intoxicating. I stayed up late the night of the pageant, talked a blue streak to my parents while all my sisters slept, and inhaled again and again the fragrance of the tiny bouquet I would not put down.

Even now, the smell of carnations brings me a rush of that ancient excitement, a flutter of exhilaration just near the center of me. The feeling of being center stage and special.

So I knew the answer before Jessie asked, "Will I get flowers after we do our bow?"

That night, the auditorium was awash with flowers. There were more than 175 children in the recital, and I guess all their mothers must have been in Tom Thumb weddings. They carried for their daughters everything from single pink roses to heaping armfuls. The hot night air in the auditorium was thick with the moist, sweet smell of flowers.

Jessie was flawless -- well, mostly flawless -- during her 1 1/2 minutes as a Swiss doll. I almost did not recognize her -- hair back off her pretty face, eyes wide and blue with shadow, lips a bright rosy color.

Afterward, I was frantic to find her in the crowd of tiny poodles, mice, cats, clowns and ballerinas. I saw her in the corner of the room where the children waited, changing from her slippers to her tennis shoes. I caught her looking at the mirror and pursing her lips.

The bouquet I had for her was no simple clutch of carnations. It was nearly as big as she, indicative, I think, of my daydreams for her.

I want Jessie to be brave and beautiful on the world's stage. I want her to know all the steps in life. I want her to be confident and fearless when so many eyes are upon her.

I want her to be able to walk in high heels.

And I want the scent of flowers to trigger in her the memory of being very special.

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