Teri Orr: What really fits
It was never about the clothes. … She knows that now.
But the first time we went back to school shopping was 13 years ago when my granddaughter entered kindergarten. I thought it might be a fun tradition to start. A little lunch and a few special things to help her start the school year. Not the kinds of things you buy when you are The Parent — all practical and sensible and color-coordinated. I would guide a tiny bit but the clothes were her choice. And two pairs of shoes — one for fun and one a bit more everyday. Sometimes a coat. And always something not school related — a stuffed animal at first, maybe a watch later on.
Her male cousin would get the same treatment a few years later — ditto her younger brother. And for all these years we’ve all kept up the tradition.
I made it easy on myself — we went to a mall (which is my most dreaded way to shop personally). With a small child and multiple needs and grabbing a meal, this is most efficient. It was pretty much the only time of the year I would enter that space. Until, of course, the Apple Store landed there.
Lunch would always be in a sit-down restaurant where she would negotiate the napkins and the waitstaff. Sodas or lemonade — it made no difference to me. Ice cream for lunch? That was fine. Grilled cheese sandwiches four years in row? Who cares. I was studying this rare creature like a scientist would. Blonde hair, blue eyes and a quick smile. Reserved yet inquisitive. And kind.
Some years there was little conversation. She was living in her head. I knew that need. She is — after all — a piece of me. When she showed signs of being tired of the trying on or tired of walking the miles in the mall to find shoes or just had had enough — we always stopped. Forced fun never is.
We would find the toy or the lemonade and sit for a spell on a bench. A little people watching. Sometimes we would continue after a break. Or sometimes we’d just head to her home. She never once had to be reminded to say thank you by her parents. She was always genuinely grateful.
Her parents had given her at birth the very grand name of Izabelle Paris (they had their first kiss as exchange students on the steps of Notre Dame). Maybe there will be a time in her future life she will try on the name Paris for herself. But for as long as she could self identify — she has been Iz.
As the years passed some trips happened after school had already started so she could get a sense of what kids were wearing at her new school — she went to several different elementary schools, then a performing arts middle school, and a science high school and now in this, her senior year — a charter school.
Right now she wants to be a pilot. But she still has her music — she writes songs and plays the drums and guitar. She composes and sings. And films videos with her camera and her phone. She drives her parents’ car and is a pretty remarkable baker/chef.
She never was the girl who liked dresses. Her style most always includes a hat. And jeans and now skater shoes. She is a boss on a board. Skateboard, snowboard. And parts of her teenage years have been complicated. Conflicted. Messy. Like all teenagers she has been hard on her parents as she finds her way.
This year the trip was the same and different. We laughed a lot more. She wanted me to drive still. We found our way to the lemonade and the chocolates. We ducked at the perfume guys waving smelly samples in our faces. We laughed at the little kid running away at full steam from a parent. We waited — almost patiently — in the forever line on the day before school started at the skater store.
She is tall — nearly a foot taller than me. With the same bright smile and curious nature she has always had inside. For the past two summers she has worked with me on concert days. Worked with other teenagers from here in Park City and Heber. And adult volunteers. Selling tickets or soft drinks, hauling chairs or stacking shirts. She sleeps overnight and the next morning we grab breakfast before I take her home to Salt Lake. It is a rare window into a rare creature and I do not take a minute of it lightly. Navigating the teenage years is a group sport. And the only way out is through.
There are so many dreams I have for Iz. Her graduation, her career(s) ahead, a romance where someone loves her for her kind heart and quick smile and all her talents. But my dreams are just that — mine. What I have learned from this human for nearly 17 years is how to recognize the beauty of a strong free spirit. How to support her and love her and how to stop myself from wanting to shape her. I will keep showing her how to respect nature and herself. I will keep listening to her songs on SoundCloud and her laughter with small children. I will hold my breath through the tough times. And I did exhale deeply during a shopping trip where with armloads of clothes we are giggling with a certain knowingness at the small child tugging at the parent to get the hell of out the store.
And I will whisper a prayer that starts and ends with … please dear Lord let us keep having shopping days long into the future. Because it was never about the clothes. Not last week and not this Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.