by Renee Gauthier ’12
The first thing most people noticed about Amy Healey’s four-year-old daughter Kelsey was that she was a miniature version of her mother. She had Amy’s brown eyes, her dishwater-blonde hair, and just the right amount of age-appropriate chubbiness. She was, by all accounts, an adorable little girl, except for when she was in the throes of an occasional temper tantrum.
Unfortunately for all involved, now was one of those times.
“I don’t like that dress!” she screamed, wiggling and waving her arms as her mother tried to grab one of the dangerously flailing limbs and stuff it into the sleeve of the offending garment. “I don’t like it!!!”
“You liked it just fine when we picked it out,” Amy said impatiently. “Stop moving, Kelsey!”
Kelsey redoubled her efforts to wriggle free and began wailing, “No-no-no-no-no-nooooo!” Amy ignored her and yanked the sleeve further up her daughter’s arm before turning her attention to the other side of the outfit. She glared at a few nearby mothers who were casting
critical looks in her direction and caught Kelsey’s other hand, guiding it with some difficulty into the other sleeve. Her movements thus restricted, Kelsey let out a long, wordless wail and dissolved into tears, standing stock-still as her mother zippered her up the back.
“You’d think I was torturing you,” Amy said in what she hoped was a lighthearted voice,
mostly for the benefit of the holier-than-thou mothers still watching. “Don’t you like this dress? Isn’t it pretty?” She glanced over at the mothers and gave them an apologetic smile. “She’s always like this before a big one. It’s the nerves.” A couple of the mothers nodded in
understanding and turned away, but one or two let their gazes linger on disapprovingly. Amy tried to ignore them. It was always like this on the pageant circuit. Some mothers just couldn’t stand the fact that other women’s daughters were cuter or more talented or more poised. Amy prided herself on her own attitude. She never resorted to the nasty looks or the passive-aggressive comments that came so naturally to some of the other moms. Pageants were her own thing, hers and Kelsey’s, and all that mattered was Kelsey’s own performance. And Kelsey’s performances were always winners.
At home, Kelsey’s bedroom was filled with trophies that proclaimed her Little Miss This
or That. Her walls were hung with sashes and medals, and she had so many tiaras that almost all
of her dolls and stuffed animals wore at least one. Sometimes when Amy was returning some
misplaced toys to Kelsey’s room or putting some clean laundry in the dresser, she would just
stop and stare at the titles—Grand Supreme, Ultimate Grand Supreme, Junior Miss Elite, Queen
of Queens—and marvel at what she and Kelsey had been able to achieve together. It was unfortunate that pageants got such a bad rap, she would muse as she blew some dust off a trophy
and straightened a teddy bear’s lopsided crown. Kelsey was learning poise. She was developing
a skill. Not many kids got those kinds of opportunities so early on — Amy certainly hadn’t.
She found herself thinking along the same lines as she managed to get a subdued but still
sulking Kelsey into a chair to have her hair done and her make-up touched up. Kelsey would
have the world at her feet. She could be a model, an actress, maybe even Miss America. She
could win a scholarship to college, a good college, not a two-year commuter school like the one
Amy had attended, the one that lost its accreditation the same year that Kelsey was born. She
would have dozens —no, hundreds— of options.
It was hard to explain all of this to a six-year-old, so Amy didn’t try. Instead, she teased
Kelsey’s hair and some lighter blonde extensions into a glamorous-looking pouf, curled the ends, and hairsprayed the hell out of it while Kelsey shielded her face with her hands. She reapplied the makeup where the tear tracks from Kelsey’s tantrum had messed it up and brushed some bronzer on top. She successfully inserted the flipper teeth to hide the gaps where Kelsey’s baby teeth had fallen out. And finally, she managed to get colored contacts into Kelsey’s eyes. This of course resulted in another tantrum and more makeup-retouching, but by the end of the entire ordeal Kelsey looked picture perfect. The deep turquoise dress made the blue contact lenses pop, and Amy couldn’t help but feel satisfied that they’d decided to try the contacts—they really completed the look. She applied a dusting of glitter to Kelsey’s face, gave her two air kisses so as not to ruin the work of the last hour, and sent her off—tanned, blonde, and sparkly—to wait her turn in the wings.
When Amy took a seat in the audience a few minutes later, the woman next to her smiled
at her. “Which one’s yours?” she asked, jerking her head toward the stage, where all the
contestants were parading out in a wobbly line. Amy told her.
“I’d never’ve guessed,” the woman remarked politely. “She doesn’t look a bit like you.”
And under the stage lights, with makeup and blonde hair and blue eyes and perfect teeth and a pretty dress, she didn’t.