I thought I had a psychotic break this morning.
Often, when it’s not one of my days with the kids, I will bolt out the door at the time when He-Who-Must-Be-Preserved usually walks the younger to school, so I can give her a hug on the way.
This morning I was a little late, and they had already passed by my front door, so I called her name and then ran, in my socked feet, along the sidewalk and through the dewy grass, my arms folded tight across my chest because I didn’t have a bra on under my T-shirt.
I felt slightly conspicuous, dodging the other families in my strange cross-armed run, like a particularly standoffish jogger.
The two of them stood, a little awkwardly, waiting for me to catch up. When I finally caught up to them, breathless and wet-footed, and knelt to hug her, I found that the face I nuzzled against was encased with a silky fringe: a beard.
“Awesome!” I exclaimed.
“Err, thanks,” she mumbled, sheepishly.
As I walked back home, arms still crossed, I looked to see if I saw any bearded or otherwise unusually adorned children en route to school—but no.
So I texted He-Who-Must-Be-Preserved when I got home.
“What’s the story with the fake beard?!”
His answer genuinely shocked me.
“What fake beard??”
I started and texted back, “She was wearing a beard! Am I going insane?”
I replayed the scene in my mind. I was running in my socks through the wet grass. I was wearing the black leggings and grey T-shirt I slept in last night—the T-shirt Brandy gave me that says “BELIEVE IN THE WONDER” on it. My arms were crossed over my chest, though, as if striking out those lines. The sun was shining. People were staring as I ran. I bent down to embrace my bearded child.
It did have the quality of dream.
Was it not a beard?
Had I not run through the wet grass?
But my wet socks were lying on the floor where I had discarded them!
I texted him again.
“What was that furry thing around her face?”
Was it some kind leonine halo? Some kind of ruff or fur collar? The prospect of my daughter wearing a fur collar, honestly, seemed much more implausible than the idea that she would be wearing a fake beard.
But I couldn’t rule out the leonine halo. For it seemed that I had indeed hallucinated that soft fringe. Was it possible that hair falls into that category of objects that Elaine Scarry, in Dreaming By the Book, says lends itself to the imagination—a category that includes objects like shadows and gauzy curtains?
Today, it was a bearded child; tomorrow might it be a shadow cat? Or perhaps an imaginary mosquito net canopying my bed?
So this is what madness feels like, I thought: the same as reality, but more interesting.
I remembered a quote from Winnicott. “We are poor indeed if we are only sane.” If my insanity consisted only in bestowing soft fringes upon the hairless—a beard here, a mustache there; perhaps a luxuriant tassel once in a while—perhaps it needn’t be the end of the world: I’d just be another, slightly downy, shade in the neurodiverse rainbow.
Then He-Who-Must-Be-Preserved texted back.
Later he told me that her first words upon waking up this morning were, “it’s beard day!”
Later still, when I picked her up from school, I heard the full story from the (still) bearded lady’s mouth.
And later still she asked, “Mom? I need to get something from Dad’s house before school tomorrow.”
“What is it?” I asked.
“My mustache,” she said.
Before bed, she wondered sleepily if we might make a pair of wings like Maleficent’s out of wire, paper, and feathers.
Bearded one day, mustachioed the next, bewinged tomorrow? Why not?
Believe in the wonder.