I used to be Pippi Longstocking, but somehow I lost her freckled, flaming spirit on the road to becoming an "acceptable female," a moniker modeled by a more realistic figure named Barbie.
Pippi was my hero as a girl. I loved her adventurous spirit, fierce independence and physical aggressiveness. I loved that her braids went every direction and she didn't care.
As a kid, I played so passionately that bloody knees and concussions were a regular part of my life. My mother sewed square patches into the knees of my tights because I tore holes in so many of them. The thick pads saved my tights but kept me from bending my knees, resulting in a weird, goose-step gait.
I loved the way Pippi would get into her boat and sail off into the sunset. Like her, I craved adventure. At the age of 8, my best friend Kelly and I were roller-skating around our school when we spotted a kid vandalizing a classroom. Kelly deserted me saying that she was going to get the cops, while I yelled "HEY!" at the boy through the classroom window. I was courageous but not particularly bright.
The vandal heard me and ran out of the classroom, jumped on his Stingray bike parked at the door and took off. I grabbed onto his sissy bar to slow him down, forgetting that I was still on roller skates. As we picked up speed I remember thinking, "I need to be a little less impulsive." Eventually we hit a grassy field, and I bit the dust, literally.
The police came to the house later to get a statement. Kelly refused to talk from fear of being seen by the vandal in school the next day. I faced the fear and gave the statement, although my heart pounded every time I spotted a male at school until they finally nabbed the perp.
What happened next was something I never saw Pippi experience ... I became a teenager, where I quickly learned that being brave wasn't cool. My strength was no longer an asset. Cute boys didn't like it when I could punch them in the arm really hard. They weren't impressed that I had nabbed a vandal, or they failed to hear the story because they were staring at my boobs. I was now competing on a different playground made up of hair, make-up and boys.
Suddenly, I unbraided my pigtails and was told I looked "cute." My body turned from a series of magical minutes into more of an hourglass. At that age, I had no idea how much of that sand would end up in my bottom half.
The goal was no longer to lead others in games or wild adventures but to be coy and mysterious. I was not supposed to be the hero of my own adventure, but I was expected to sit in a tower and wait for the handsome prince to come and save me.
Pippi would never have stayed in that tower. She would have devised an ingenious way to climb down, find her horse and ride into the sunset with her monkey.
In high school I challenged a guy to a public arm-wrestling match, because he had declared himself stronger than me purely based on gender. I had a crush on him, and figured at least this way I could hold his hand and impress him at the same time. I beat him hands-down, and he never asked me out again. Lesson learned.
College football games confused the Pippi in me. I noticed that most girls were dressed up, giggling with and whispering to each other as the boys cheered. Of course, I was in blue jeans, a sweatshirt and baseball cap, screaming things like, "That's bullshit! That was an illegal shift!" I noticed that despite the fact that boys laughed at me, they did not date me.
Once I had children, I found that most of the women around me excelled at baking homemade bread and giving amazing birthday parties with clever themes. I learned to provide the cupcakes at school and the party at home. I learned to squelch the desire to take all of the kids to the woods and create a game with cowboys and horses and whips and adventure.
I became the Calamity Jane character as portrayed in the Doris Day movie. I loved that Calamity could shoot the glass out of a guy's hand while he was drinking at the bar. I loved that she led her own life with her own rules. But Hollywood didn't like that.
Hollywood's Calamity became a real woman when she cleaned up her cabin and put up gingham curtains and quit "being a boy." That's when Calamity finally got the guy.
My 50s have revived the Pippi in me. I have found the power of writing, and a love of conversation that goes deeper than the recent Cosmopolitan quiz. Menopause has removed the capacity for coy behavior or passive flirtation. In fact, it's fortunate that I am not armed.
Although I want to be physically healthy, the need for perfect beauty is gone. I never achieved that look anyway, because I don't have a person who can airbrush me before I go out the door. And I've never been willing to stop eating so that my clothes could hang on me perfectly. I demand that the fashion industry fit clothes that hang correctly on women who weigh more than their dogs.
Tonight, I will braid my pigtails and let them go all Medusa. I will plan my next adventure. And I will refuse to let the world tell me who I should be.
Pippi would be proud.