This is a submission in our monthly contest. November’s theme is Gratitude. It’s almost uncanny how much humans have in common with iPhones. We are constantly “updating” ourselves – attempting to improve our looks, versatility, or performance – trying, hoping that our latest version will be the best one yet. Leafing through old albums, I am stirred by memories that evidence so many manifestations of myself: the student, musician, wife, writer, Mom. One photo in particular brings a lump to my throat, because once upon a time I was a princess. I was 14 then and attempting to tame the pride vs. identity tussle taking place in my heart. That year found me in my mom’s hometown of Dumangas, Philippines, where I was crowned fiesta princess. It was an honor to participate in all the festivities that went along with the beautiful tradition – the parades, fireworks, eating, dancing. I should have been wholeheartedly grateful for the role I played in it all. Instead, I had morphed into rather reluctant royalty by the end of the regal affair. Every girl wants to be a princess – except when her sister is queen. A page over, a candid snapshot catches my eye. It’s me, a college senior, taking the stage in a flowing purple gown. I had decided on the way back to the states that I would pursue a different way to shine: music. I worked hard at my flute-playing and chose music performance as my college major. Theory classes, lessons, and rehearsals filled my days; hours in the practice room consumed my nights. I had dreams of landing all the big solos, maybe even a prestigious orchestra job someday. Every instrumentalist wants to be first chair – except when the conductor is mean. Sigh. If I were a symphony flutist, I could probably afford to hire someone to do the laundry that buries my bathroom floor on a daily basis. Speaking of which, I need to throw in another load. But I’m now knee-deep in nostalgia. The wedding collection irresistibly beckons. My former boss cheeses at me from the folio showcasing the jovial wedding guests who shared the happy day ... The music world wasn’t paying very well, so I decided to pursue a new career. Intrigued by an ad seeking a legal assistant, I decided to apply. The lawyer who interviewed me serendipitously happened to be an empathetic musician and he hired me on the spot, despite my complete lack of legal experience. In time, drafting, editing, and filing court papers became a breeze and I enjoyed the rush that came when we won in court; even crazy criminal cases didn’t jolt me. But things changed after I married. Our office began taking on more divorce cases and I began internalizing all the ugliness that usually goes along with them. Work became stressful for me, emotional even – especially with my first baby on the way. Every paralegal wants to be Erin Brockovich – except when the legal drama is not as sexy as Hollywood makes it out to be. Thuds from across the room disrupt my wistful reverie and I realize that my daughter has fed her shoe fetish by emptying my closet once again. Wistfully tossing the albums aside, I’m on the verge of losing my cool – on the brink of resigning my post as Mom, because there’s not much point in mothering a child who seems to need my footwear more than she needs me – when she grabs my hand and says, “Dance with me, Mom!” She prances forward in my sparkly heels and I consider informing her they’re way too big and she’ll probably fall. I bite my tongue, though, remembering when I too donned shiny shoes. The difference is that I considered myself unqualified (merely the “queen’s sister”), while my own little princess believes she is Cinderella herself. And isn’t that the more powerful kind of stance to assert as we stride through life – belief in ourselves and thankfulness to be walking our walk, no matter how big the shoes? Dear God, keep her free from the encumbrances of insecurities and doubt, I pray. May her future open before her like a closet full of colorful shoes. May I afford her just enough guidance (to walk with confidence) and freedom (to fly). May she always step forward with faith, courage, and gratitude, no matter how big the shoes she’s destined to fill. So we dance – she in my fancy dress shoes, me in my mom slippers – and it feels just right.