As a contender for the coveted Little Miss Southaven crown, the Jaycee reception area was a hellish pageant purgatory from my four-year-old perspective.
Far too dank, depressing, and dull for anyone in their right mind to Jay or Cee, much less achieve a lifelong dream.
It was a hellish child pageant purgatory. Over forty years later, I recall the feeling of being in complete misery – a fact backed up by family photos of me from the event – hands on hips, pursed lips, perfect hair with an overall eff-this attitude.
Full disclosure: I’ve never been able to hide my emotions – I wear my heart on my sleeve and my anger on my face – which is not necessarily a bad trait, but when paired with my inability to shut the hell up – it can get me into trouble.
And that’s precisely what it did four hours into the hot mess child pageant when my mother refused to let me drink Kool-Aid.
Mom’s sing-song inflection was a dead giveaway. My mother didn’t teach lessons by channeling Julie Andrews.
“You begged to do this, Heather.”
When used as a weapon, the truth hurts.
She was right. I had dedicated myself to my cause, and The Let Heather Step Step Turn Campaign was one of my first successful propaganda usages.
The great irony here is that my initial drive to participate in the pageant stemmed from my mother’s consistent refusal to parade around and be judged based on my appearance.
Naturally, I adopted the opposing stance for sport, and if I’m being honest, I did love the makeup and hair. But I wasn’t in it for the pomp and circumstance of a sash and a crown, I was down for the “W” in the point proving game against my mother, and I was the four-year-old champion until they rolled out the damn hot dogs and Kool-Aid.
I’m not sure whose idea it was to cram over fifty contestants and their mothers into the holding tank, ahem, reception room for hours, but it felt like the work of the Germans.
We are talking three, and four-year-old girls forced to sit still and be pretty in a fun-sucking cinderblock room with no ventilation, television, or periodicals. Not even a Highlights magazine.
Make no mistake: my mother and I were in hell – but neither of us would admit it. I knew the wait was getting to her – she despised the faux backstage camaraderie as much as I did. Her suggestions to “allow” me to give up and go home were the only evidence I needed that she was fading fast, but the woman would never admit it aloud, and she was not backing down – which fueled my tot-sized determination to endure.
Until they brought out the ultimate temptation – a plethora of child-sized snacks and juice. Pigs in a blanket, mini chocolate cupcakes, various frosted cookies with sprinkles and juice in every color of the rainbow.
I became weak the moment I spied the refreshments, and she knew it.
She tried, but she couldn’t disguise the joy she found in the only argument that’s universally and socially acceptable to deny a hungry, thirsty, defiant girl child food and beverage:
“No, Heather, you’ll stain your pretty dress and ruin your makeup. You will have to wait.”
That’s when I knew I was in the upside-down.
My mother – the so-called advocate for keeping it real – the opposer of pageantry and BS was selling me out with the oldest trick in the book.
Faux frugality cloaked in a relatable warning that the other mothers appreciated by nodding in approval.
She was gaining ground, and the stockpile of weenies was fading fast. I had remained calm, cool, and collected, but this was too much for me to take. After a brief moment of introspection, the teachings of the ancient warrior, Sun Tzu, bolted through my mind like the Kool-Aid man.
NO. This is not what I wanted.
Slowly I began to rise from my rusted folding chair and speak.
“You know what, Mom? You are right – I’m not a beauty queen, and I’m not a warrior; I’m a child. I’m a hungry child of God and what you are doing is WRONG!”
My emotions and words were powerful, perhaps too powerful for a four-year-old to bear because I wasn’t prepared for what was to come next.
The tears, the snot, the confusion, the white-hot burning sensation in my eyes due to massive amounts of eye makeup permeating my cornea – it was too much for me to bear.
Even in my anguish, I appreciated the attention of all the eyes in the room, and I could sense they wanted more from me, but I couldn’t go on any longer. It was time to surrender.
I knew what I had to do – I had to come clean and speak my truth.
Please, for the love of all things, holy help me I cannot see! I cannot see!
You know, they say the truth will set you free, and on that day, it did.
My mother stood in stunned silence as the others came together to wipe the tears from my eyes, console me with kind words, loving gestures, and, wait for it – hot dogs and Kool-Aid.
And yes, I did spill it all over myself- in a victorious moment that my mother would rather forget.
Even though I did not win the Little Miss crown, I look back at that experience and feel a sense of accomplishment and pride. I learned more about the power of truth, compassion and determination from losing the tiny tiara – thanks in part to my mom, an ancient Chinese warrior, and the Kool-Aid Man.