Out of the Mouths of Babes
by Lucy E.M. Black
Before COVID-19 began in earnest, one of the great pleasures in my life was spending a fair amount of time in kindergarten classrooms. And to my delight, I was once again reminded of the acceptance, curiosity, and incredible honesty of young children. Not yet having discovered guile or discretion, they are also very easily pleased. I earned the admiration of a small group of girls at the coloring table one day when I was able to pull up a picture of Elsa on my phone to help them draw her outline. Eight Frozen aficionados serenaded me with “Let It Go” while happily coloring in Elsa’s purple gown and yellow hair braid. And I have since learned that this group of little people aren’t just interested in fairy tales. One day, a little girl held out her hand and asked to see my phone, stating with great enthusiasm, “I’m very interested in Apps.”
I have also received much unsolicited commentary on my appearance. “You look really, really old but act young,” came from one small boy who was sitting on my lap while we read a book about trucks together. Another tiny person came over, wove his fingers through my hair and asked, “Why is your hair grey?” Perhaps my favorite comment came from a brazen girl standing beside me while fingering the buttons on my black silk jacket: “Only witches wear black, you know.”
What these individuals have unintentionally provoked for me is a re-examination of my models. Years ago, I adopted a predominantly black wardrobe because I found it easy to match things with and thought it looked classic and elegant and was maybe even slimming. I have grown very comfortable with my grey-haired, all-black presentation and had just assumed that it still carried me through a broad spectrum of social engagements in much the same way as a blue blazer and grey flannels once did for men. It never used to matter if the blue blazer had this year’s lapels or if the flannels were a little pilled, because the “uniform” allowed entry to most social events in Western society. But we know this is no longer the case: businessmen no longer wear ties and suits, and men’s socks are often absent or peep out from under trousers in a broad array of bright colors and motifs.
All of the kindergarten feedback has made me a little more reflective about my appearance. I’ve resolved to become slightly more adventurous when shopping for clothes and recently purchased a bright red coat. I haven’t worn anything that colorful for years and it feels great. Almost as great as giving myself permission to sit on the floor and play Lego, which was a little outside of my comfort zone, to be truthful. But joining in kindergarten play and laughing at the antics of the group has been so much fun. For years, my professional position meant that I worried about projecting the right image and assuming “the role.” I love that, at this time in my life, I can leave those types of concerns behind and just enjoy such new experiences.
I have no wish to dye my hair or to look younger. I worked hard for some of those silver threads, which for me represent a life well lived. But I have made some simple tweaks to my routine. When we start going out again, I will ensure that I accessorize with funky jewelry or a brightly colored scarf. I’m giving myself permission to let go of those expectations that were once such an integral part of my working life. And I’m looking forward to a post-pandemic environment, when I can have further conversations that respond to such lines as “We want to build a big tower but we can’t reach” and “Do you know how to make a pony-tail?” and “My mittens went away” and “I only have one shoe.”
Photo by Porapak Apitchodilok @Zaozaa19
Lucy E.M. Black is the author of The Marzipan Fruit Basket, a collection of short stories (Inanna Publications) and Eleanor Courtown, a work of historical fiction (Seraphim Editions). Her award-winning short stories have been published in Britain, Ireland, the US, and Canada in literary journals and magazines. She is a dynamic workshop presenter, experienced interviewer and freelance writer. She lives with her partner in a small lakeside town north-east of Toronto. Her new novel, Stella’s Carpet (Now or Never Publishing), will be released in October 2021.