It was partly my fault we were running a little behind but he had this knack of disappearing into his room at just the wrong time.
He came slowly down the stairs with a book tucked under his arm. He gets his love of books from both of us, and I’m glad of that, so many kids spend all their days playing computer games but he prefers to get lost in storybooks.
I helped him with his shoes then held his little light blue jacket open for him and watched as he slid his arms into the sleeves, as I zipped it up the Hello Kitty logo on the chest of the jacket seemed to wink at me. It looked like it might rain so I pulled his hood up then lead him outside.
It was just a 10 minute drive so we only got to listen to a couple of Disney songs before we turned the car into Auntie Karen’s street and then pulled up outside.
I lead him up the path with a nervous knot in my stomach, were either of us really ready for such a drastic change?
Karen opened the door before I had a chance to knock.
“I heard you pull up,” she said. “Oh I do like your jacket and I know Carly would love it too if she were here.”
“What did you do with her?” I asked. Carly was an amazingly loving cousin but she had a tendency to fuss.
“Oh she’s round at a friend’s house for the afternoon,” Karen replied. “But she made me promise to tell her all about it.”
I took his jacket off, undid his shoes and placed them against the wall.
“Are we ready,” Karen asked.
Leon looked at me but I wasn’t the one being asked and anyway I still didn’t know if I was.
“Are you?” I asked.
He smiled, let go of my hand and took his aunt’s.
“Lets go and look through the things Carly has left for you,” Karen said and lead him up the stairs, I followed on behind.
I heard an ‘ooooh’ as I got to the bedroom they were in, laid out on the bed were an assortment of cute clothes, tees and skirts and dresses and god knows what else.
“Do you see anything you like?”
“Ye-es, all of it,” was his reply.
“Is Carly really ok with this?” he asked.
“Yes, these are all things she has outgrown, they should fit you perfectly though.”
He picked a few things up and looked at the designs on the front, a lot of them had the familiar kitty face but not everything; Carly was a real Hello Kitty freak but her wardrobe contained other stuff too, like the t-shirt with the glittery pink ‘Princess’ logo that he was looking at now.
“Would you like me to pick out some things for you to wear, honey?” Karen asked.
“Yes please,” he said. He was always polite.
If Carly had been here she would have been rushing around him, wanted him to try on everything at once and as long as I had breath in my body the only way we were doing this was at his pace.
“Now then Daddy, I think you should wait downstairs while we get him changed.”
I nodded and left them to it, I still wasn’t sure I was ready but it seemed to me that my son certainly was.
It felt like I had been waiting a long time but in truth it could only have been a few minutes until I heard them coming downstairs. I tried to remain calm but I was really nervous, if I didn’t like the way he looked I couldn’t show that in my face.
When they appeared in the door I knew I need not have worried.
“You look cute,” I said, and I meant it.
I should have guessed that he would be wearing the princess t-shirt, but he also had on a pleated denim skirt and a pair of tights with pastel stripes on them.
He gave me the biggest smile imaginable.
“There are some other things we need to do before we’re ready to go,” Karen said.
“Go where?” he asked.
“We’re taking you out shopping,” she replied.
I wondered if he might not be ready for this but his only reply was “Okay”.
Karen took his hand and lead him out into the kitchen.
“I’m going to give you a haircut, so I need you to hop up onto this chair and then I can wash your hair.”
He did exactly as she said, she put a hairdresser’s cape around him and gently leaned his head back over the sink.
Karen had worked in a salon for some years so she knew what she was doing, these days she plied her trade in people’s homes. When she was done with the water she took her comb and scissors and worked away.
He tried his best to see what was going on, to begin with that made life difficult.
“Please keep still sweetheart, otherwise the only way it will look straight is if you put your head on one side,” she said, then with a smile added, “Or I could just cut it short.”
That gave him a reason to keep his head still now it was only his eyes moving. At one point he was trying to look through the top of his skull to see what his aunt was doing. It looked so strange had to stop myself laughing and of course whenever Karen stopped to see what the problem was his gaze was back to normal which just made it even funnier.
In the space of a few minutes she transformed his androgynous mop into what I’m told is a pageboy style, whatever it was called, his hair now framed his face.
“Can I have a look?” he asked.
“Not yet honey,” Karen replied. “We have a few finishing touches to do.”
She disappeared into the other room and came back with a small makeup bag.
“Lets start with those nails,” she said.
Gently she took his hand.
“Good, you’re not a nail-biter,” she said. “I will just give them a quick file though.”
Then she pulled out a bottle shaped like a teddy bear and started to paint his nails a pale pink.
“Now the other hand.”
Compliantly he lifted his right hand up and let her work on that.
“Okay, now keep your hands still on the table and while I put a little bit of makeup on, they should be dry by the time I am done.”
Obviously as he was just a little kid the makeup was really light, a little bit of blusher on the cheeks and some gloss for the lips.
“Can I see now,” she, I mean he said.
“Of course you can,” Karen said, and started to manoeuvre him towards the hall where there was a full-length mirror.
“Oh wait, I’ve forgotten something,” Karen said and reached for the makeup bag.
She grabbed a hairbow and fixed it off-centre in his hair.
As he turned to face the mirror I held my breath.
Silence. That couldn’t be good could it?
Slowly there were little movements, then a little smile, then a bigger smile, then a grin, and finally words.
“Yes, you are,” I said.
“And I have a hello kitty bow,” he said, touching the big pink bow above his left eye.
“In fact you are far too cute and pretty to be called Leon,” Karen said. “what shall we call you instead?”
He thought about it for a few seconds.
“I don’t know.”
Karen gave a few suggestions. “How about Leonna, Leanne, Leela, or something entirely different, how about Claire. I know, what about Kitty.”
“What about Leah,” I said.
He repeated it a couple of times.
“Yes Daddy, I’d like that.”
“Well then Leah, lets put your shoes and jacket on and go shopping.
I have to admit the jacket looked much better with what Leah was wearing than it had with what Leon had worn but the shoes, well they needed work. I guess we would pay a visit to the shoe shop while we were out.
It took almost half an hour to get to the big shopping center, there wasn’t a space near any of the entrances so we had quite a walk. I made sure to hang on to my new daughter and she showed no signs of wanting to run ahead.
Our first stop was Claires, that’s right, she’d only just started dressing as a girl but she was already getting pierced ears. It was no surprise that she wanted the Hello Kitty studs but she couldn’t have those to begin with so we picked out a pair with little pink stones in them and got the HK ones for when her ears had healed.
I told her to be brave but I need not have worried, there was barely a movement from her and certainly no tears, and the smile when they held up the mirror was as big as when she first saw herself.
I’m glad I had my credit card with me, it wasn’t just the ear things, we walked out of there with hairbands, hair clips, a couple of bracelets, a hello kitty necklace, some pens and a bag shaped like a hello kitty head which Leah insisted on putting on her shoulder with most of her new goodies inside.
We didn’t have far to go to find the right shoe shop, it wasn’t staffed by kids, there was an older lady who saw the logo on my little girl’s t-shirt and did her best to treat her like a princess.
“Now then sweetheart, lets measure those feet, I’ll try not to tickle,” she said.
“What kind of shoes are we looking for, high heels? No you don’t want any of those, not for a long time, army boots? No too plain.”
“Pretty shoes,” Leah answered.
“Oh we’ve got lots of pretty shoes, how about we start with the very shiny ones?”
She brought out three pairs of black patent shoes, and showed each pair to her before putting them on her feet and getting her to walk up and down and asking if they pinched anywhere.
“So which pair do you like the best?” she said.
“Those ones,” my daughter replied.
I figured she would go for the t-bars, there was just something about them that made them unmistakeably little-girl’s shoes.
“We’ll take the ones with the bows on as well,” I said.
The savvy saleswoman smiled and said, “we have those in other colours too, navy and burgundy and... sorry we’ve sold out of the red.”
I didn’t know if there was a burgundy outfit for her but I don’t think I’d ever seen shoes that colour before so I added them to the pile. That got us to the main reason we had come here, trainers, again our saleswoman showed she was no fool.
“I’ve got just the thing,” she said and produced a pair of white trainers with that oh-so-familiar kitty face on, they also had pink bits on the side and had the ‘hello kitty’ script on the velcro straps.
“How did you know?” Leah asked, forgetting about the logo on her jacket, the new bag and the bow in her hair.
She just tapped the side of her nose and winked.
As she put them on Leah’s feet she said how cute they looked and how much easier velcro straps were for little hands to do. Leah couldn’t resist unfastening and fastening them a few times before she had a little walk around.
“Are they comfortable?” the saleswoman asked.
After a little hesitation she admitted they were a bit tight but would be okay.
The saleswoman would hear nothing of it and made her take them off. For the first time on this little trip my daughter looked glum.
“What’s the matter sweetie,” I asked.
“I really wanted the kitty shoes,” she replied.
“It’s okay, you can still have them, she’s just getting you a larger size.”
“Oh, that’s alright then.”
The smile returned.
We took everything to the cash register.
“I’ve taken the liberty of adding a pair of hello kitty socks and some frilly socks for the smart shoes,” the saleswoman said.
“What do you say to the nice sales lady, Leah?”
“Thank you very much nice sales lady.”
“No, thank you Leah, the pleasure was all mine.”
As we walked out of the shop Leah turned around and waved goodbye. That lady had definitely gone above and beyond, if she wanted our repeat business she was more than welcome to it.
I hadn’t thought about stopping there originally but when Karen nudged me and pointed towards the Bear factory I wasn’t going to argue. No prizes for guessing that we left there with a Hello Kitty plushie and it was dressed in a fairy outfit that Leah took a particular shine to.
There were a few places I thought about checking for a dress to match her burgundy shoes, but Karen thought making her undress in a shop’s changing room was pushing it for her first shopping trip. We looked at a few shop windows as we walked around then before I knew it we were right across from the Disney Store.
As soon as Leah spotted it she let go of my hand and raced inside, I hurried after her.
“Daddy, can I have one of these please?”
She was pointing at a Rapunzel dress from the movie Tangled.
“Are you sure that’s the one you want, and not one of the other princesses?” I asked.
“Well I like Ariel and Snow White and Jasmine but I love Rapunzel,” she replied.
“Ok then,” I said and got Karen to help me pick out one that would fit her. I wondered why we didn’t need the changing rooms here, apparently dress-up clothes are different.
“And can I have this playset and the cup and bowl as well?”
“You can have the cup but everything else will have to wait for another time,” I said.
“Okay,” she said.
“Good girl,” I said and ruffled her hair.
“Daddy! You’ll mess up my bow.”
“I’m sorry honey, I’ll try to remember next time.” That was definitely something I would never have heard from my son.
“I see the t-shirt isn’t enough, someone wants a princess dress,” said one of the parents in the queue to pay.
“Yes, she’s never had one until today, so it was definitely time.”
“Really, is that right?” the woman asked my little girl.
Leah just nodded shyly.
When we got out of the store I looked for the quickest route back to the car, we had been here long enough. Once we got outside I picked Leah up and carried her until I needed a spare hand to find my car keys, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d done it but it felt like the right thing to do today.
As we left the shopping centre I felt my tummy rumbling.
“Is anyone else hungry or is it just me?” I asked.
“I could do with something,” Karen said.
“I’m hungry too daddy,” Leah added.
So we stopped off for fast food. I had seen so much change in my child that I wondered what she would ask for but some things never change.
“Can I have the nugget meal with a pink milkshake please Daddy?”
“I should have known, of course you can.”
I had a deluxe chicken burger and Karen had a basic hamburger and as I ate mine I watched Leah eating hers. I had been warned to look out for ungirl-like manners but it was silly really, she was eating like a kid eats. Still, I kept watching just because I could. She did manage to get barbecue sauce on her face but that always happens.
It didn’t seem like too much longer before we were back at Karen’s place.
“Do I have to change back now?” Leah asked a little glumly.
“Sweetheart, you don’t ever have to change back unless you want to,” I replied.
“Of course, you’re Daddy’s little princess now and for as long as you want to be,” I said.
“Thank you Daddy, thank you,” she said as she leapt into my arms.
We bundled everything up and loaded it into the car, I thanked Karen and drove my little girl home. We sorted through her new things before I put her to bed they included a set of lavender Hello Kitty pajamas that she just had to wear. I read to her from a book of fairytales and stayed in the room to watch her sleeping peacefully.
From now and for the rest of time this day would be Leah’s birthday.