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Comparisons (Written around 1981) She comes bounding down the concrete steps, two or three at a time, with a big smile on her face. She is covered with dry dirt – her hair, her face, her arms, hands, legs, shoes. I know which sundress she has on, but I still can’t tell what color it’s supposed to be. Everything is covered with, at the very least, a fine layer of red dust. Her socks have been eaten by her sneakers; they look like sports socks without the fuzzy pom-poms on the back. Both shoes are untied and in danger of leaving her feet. Her hair is wild – part of it is matted and part is flying everywhere. She is hollering “Hi, Mama!” over and over and is squirmy with excitement. A few steps behind, another little girl starts down the steps. She is immaculate in a pale pink blouse with matching slacks. There is not a speck of dirt anywhere on this child’s clothes or body. Her blouse is neatly tucked in and a slim maroon belt encircles her slender waist. She is wearing a pretty necklace made of big pink and white beads. Her hair is fixed into two identical pigtails -- every hair is where it’s supposed to be and the pigtails are exactly in the same place on each side of her head. She carefully makes her way down each step, one at a time, occasionally glancing at her waiting mother with a demure smile. While my child is launching into a manicky monologue of her day, her clean friend quietly greets her mother and gracefully seats herself in the car. On our way home, while my chatterbox continues excitedly in minute detail, I think about the complete femininity of my daughter’s friend. I have never compared my rough little tomboy with anyone else for any reason but the difference in these two little girls strikes me with a surprising force. I glance at my perfectly formed, smart-as-a-whip daughter and wonder if I should have done something to make her more feminine. Perhaps I should have given her more dolls. Maybe I should have forbidden her to play with big brother’s toys. I’m sure dressing her in his hand-me-downs much of the time didn’t help either. I look at her again and feel lucky to have a child so full of life and love. But is it luck? “No,” a voice inside me says. “God gave you this child to love and nurture. And that’s what you’ve done. Let her be herself.” At the next stop sign, I impulsively give her a tight hug. A small cloud of dust rises around her head and from somewhere on that dirty, dirty face a smile beams out at me and she says, “I love you, Mama.”

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