I have a friend. She is an aspiring actress. When she is not auditioning or acting, she waits tables at one of my favorite restaurants. A few weeks ago, this friend told me a story.
She told me that her friend—another waitress at this restaurant—was working one Friday night when Katie Holmes and her daughter Suri walked in. This friend of my friend said that Katie Holmes was impossibly thin and looked very tired. That little Suri wore a filthy nightgown and bunny slippers.
This friend of my friend said that Katie was very normal and very nice. I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds like a good thing. Apparently, Mrs. Cruise was very polite when she ordered herself a tea and her little girl a cupcake. Fine.
Katie and Suri sat together. Mother and daughter. Apparently, Suri did not say one word. Not one. And she didn’t eat her cupcake, but played with it. Poked holes in the frosting with her little finger. Normal kid stuff.
This friend of my friend, the waitress, said that by the time Katie turned to go with her little princess in tow, there were dozens of photographers outside. Waiting to pounce. To get that money shot of this mother and daughter duo.
And I guess they did. I know because I saw those photos in the gossip magazines I read out of weakness and wonder. I saw the sad eyes of a stretched mother. And the plush slippers of a young child.
This friend of my friend said she felt sorry for Katie. For the fact that she couldn’t buy tea and baked goods in peace. For the fact that she would never be alone or anonymous.
But me? I’m torn.
On the one hand, I feel for this mother. That could have been any of us, ducking from city streets into a hushed haven for caffeine and cupcakes, holding the hand of a strong-willed kid in soiled pajamas.
On the other hand, my sympathy has limits. This woman chose to tether herself to a wild world and a conspicuous man. To tread a public path. To become an object of scrutiny in exchange for bright lights and money and fame. And maybe for love too.
But where I’m not torn is that little girl. A girl who never dons the same outfit twice. A girl who is allowed to wear lipstick and high heels in public. A girl who is four and drinks milk from a bottle. A girl whose slippers become photographic fodder for strangers (like yours truly) to savor.
A girl who has no choice.
Rewind two paragraphs. The one that begins “But where I’m not torn …” The plan was to end this post after the “A girl who has no choice” bit. But now. I reread my own words. And I detect judgment. I am judging a mother, a person, I don’t know based on perceptions. Perceptions sold to me at a newsstand. I see tiny heels and bright lips and I say to myself (never aloud), Now that is not a good mother. A good mother wouldn’t do those things.
But now. I don’t know. Maybe it is because I am a writer and I mine my material. Maybe it is because I am a mother and I know better. We all try. We all fail. We all do things of which we are less than proud. And most of us don’t have a pack of hungry men on our tail eager to memorialize our failures.
And so. I don’t know. I sit here. Away from the bright lights that flash in a little girl’s eyes, not knowing. Judging, always judging, but never knowing.
I think I feel for both of them. Mother and daughter.
I think we should all be able to have our quiet bunny slipper moments. Where we are free from flashes and eyes. Where we can sip tea and poke frosting in peace.
And so. I am waffling on this one. No sympathy. Real sympathy. Somewhere in between.
Waffling or no, I still feel for that little girl. A product of parents, yes. But also a product of our own prejudices and preoccupations. I hope she is allowed to be a kid. To do her thing. To watch cartoons. To skip on sidewalks and in open fields. To have play dates. To snuggle. To smile.
To be a kid.
I don’t know this little girl. None of us does. But I hope these things.