Yesterday, I toured a prospective school for Franny, who will be starting seventh grade next fall. During a presentation in the gym, she sat on the bleachers in between Prince and me. She had an arm curled around my arm and her dad’s arm, and I thought: that is so Franny. She has somehow managed to survive the divorce attached to both parents.
I had been dreading attending the tour with Prince, but Franny’s apparent ease being with both of us made me put the focus where it belonged: on her.
The school, which is all girls, was phenomenal, chock full of the breed of young women single-sex institutions promise to cultivate: self-assured, poised, and seemingly firmly planted — at least, as firmly planted as any teenager can be. Several of these girls, all adorably knobby-kneed in their white uniform skirts, led the prospective families through the campus, where we stopped in various classrooms for presentations.
After the tour, families milled about the courtyard for a cookies and punch reception. Prince, Franny, and I talked for a long time to a lovely, enthusiastic alumna who was now a mother of two students. She shared an anecdote from her own sixth grade year, when she and a Mean Girl — although she didn’t use that term — had the same first name.
“We were both Sarahs,” she said. “So the other Sarah told me there couldn’t be two Sarahs. She told me she would be Sarah, and I would be Sadie. Well, I didn’t really like the name Sadie, but I was the new kid in class, so I figured I had to go along with it. When my teacher heard Sarah call me Sadie, she took me aside and said, ‘that’s not your name. Why is she calling you that?'”
She paused as she recounted the story.
“When I told her what had happened, she said, ‘Sarah, if you don’t know who you are, how do you expect anyone else to know who you are?’ It was one of those moments that changed my life. That’s what this school taught me — how to be who I am.”
I looked over Franny’s head at Prince and realized: that’s how we ended up together. I didn’t know who I was. But I had a hunch that whoever I was was wrong, so I spent until very recently re-packaging myself into what I thought other people wanted me to be.
I have become more comfortable being the unconventional person I think I always was. Which is a good thing, since the velocity of my downsizing might force the kids and me — me, the person with the fancy education and affluent friends, and rich children — out of our comfortable home and into a studio apartment if Prince doesn’t offer to help.
Excuse me while I cackle. “Prince” and “offer to help” is an oxymoron.
But that’s not what I was thinking about in that moment, as I was sipping red syrupy punch and gazing at the ivy-covered buildings that had been constructed 100 years ago. I was hoping that next fall, Franny would be one of the self-assured white-skirted girls running across the campus. But wherever she lands, I hope it’s in a place that supports her in figuring out who she is.
And she has the courage to be that person.
Today, I’m thankful for Franny’s chance to grow into who she is.