You are just pretty. Prettier and prettier every month. And now here you are, halfway to four and I can’t believe it. Your hair is getting long and full and your thick, dark eyebrows are amazing, almost as amazing as your smiley dark eyes and the sharp little point of your nose. And your darling toes and your cute feet and your strong tiny limbs!
There’s this thing that bounces around the internet these days and I see it every few months. It’s title is something like “Talking to your Daughter about her Looks” and the bottom line is “Don’t.” I agree with almost every sentence in the piece except for that bottom line. I agree that you should never hear me criticize my own body and that I should encourage you to run because it makes you feel good and eat good food because it makes you healthy and that you should never encounter the concept of a diet. I get all the stuff about body shame and how a girl should feel like her self-worth is in her smarts and her strengths and her interests, not in her appearance.
But the other day I saw something different come across social media and it said you should hear me say you’re pretty, because yes: you won’t believe me. You’ll still think you’re not for this reason and that but that you will know for sure that TO ME you are pretty and you will know that this is what matters; that there are people who find you lovely. And they are the ones who are worth anything to you, because you are worth something to them, and this will give you the confidence not to care what the masses say your body should be. I think you’re pretty because you’re my girl and I know you.
Also, I think you’re pretty because you’re pretty, and I guess this makes me sexist but there it is. I believe a woman’s worth is not in her appearance and I believe it is in no way relative to a man’s estimation or use for you. You do not belong to anyone and the reality that you will belong to your spouse someday is beside the point and does not contradict what I am saying. Your body and your beauty is yours. However, I don’t want to qualify myself to the point of not saying what I intend: You are pretty.
You are a girl and I would be bullshitting, if you’ll excuse the expression, if I didn’t acknowledge that somewhere in your core is a sacred delight in your own beauty, and it’s not something I conditioned. And actually, I’ve been realizing that if anything I am falling down on my job of welcoming and fostering and celebrating your girlishness. I love that you love trucks and emergencies, but I also see that you love mothering and people-ing and princesses and sparkles, and I’m afraid you don’t get as much opportunity for those within our four walls as you maybe should. It might be something I try to rectify as I contemplate 4yo birthday gifts.
I noticed all this when I saw you availing yourself of some friends’ dollhouse toys, when I saw you absorbing all their girlie play (several of your friends come in sister-pairs), when I saw how you 100% lived in the Tinkerbell dress we borrowed from them one day, announcing in your usual way: “My name is going to be Tinkerbell FOR EVER.”
It makes it impossible for me to turn down an opportunity for painted nails or coloring princesses and impossible for me to argue with you when you put eighty-five “bows” in your hair at once or beg for a twirlie dress. It even means that when you emerge from your “nap” on my bed with lotion plastered all over your scalp I can’t point a finger. And when I go to bed that night and find that you hadn’t been drawing from just one of the lotions in my bottom drawer but eight my only response is to laugh and grin, satisfied that you are finding your girlie outlets where you can in this house of brothers.
This month has been a strange mix of peaceful quiet and all the unquiet things. The weirdest part of your world has been a new obsessive skittishness. You constantly ask to make sure we aren’t going to leave you downstairs if we’re going upstairs, or vice versa. You freak out if we ask you to go to your room to get something or go potty by yourself. If we press you to do it you end up sobbing hysterically. And after having been pretty successfully potty trained for several months you are now peeing in your pants several times a day. I ask you if you know why you’re afraid and I love your answer: “I don’t know.” I love that you are wise enough to leave it at that, and I’m trying to follow suit and just give you reassurance till you get past whatever your little subconscious is sorting out. I imagine it has something to do with starting school last month.
School is going fabulously, though. (I have to mention how adorable it is when you say “fabulous,” which you do regularly.) You love it, you love your teachers, you love your classroom. You love waving me off so you can go do your own thing when I drop you off and you love hugging me tight when I come to pick you up. I’m proud of you for taking ownership of this new thing and for finding so much delight in it. I’m happy to see you feeling like you belong there.
The biggest frustration I’ve felt this month, even more than your hysterical refusal to be left alone, is your inability to listen to me. It makes me crazy and I do not handle it well at all. I think it might even be the point of the most stress in our household these days. I’m not sure I know HOW to handle it well, and that in itself is frustrating. But I do know how to NOT handle it, and I still choose those methods over and over again, out of my own selfishness and anger and delusions of self-importance. I’m sure the ongoing nature of this issue is in large part because I am cementing these patterns for you by responding destructively. But we will get through it, and on most days I leave it there: We will get through it.
My head is swirling with several huge, random things today. Like the way every soul is uniquely shaped or my growing conviction that shame doesn’t have get a place at the table of Christianity. Or what it means to reflect the incarnation as a parent… When I sat down I thought I’d say a few of them here, but I don’t think I will try now. It’s almost 4:00 and we have friends coming for dinner and even more friends coming for drinks after that to enjoy the presence of one of our recently-departed colleagues who’s in town for exams and staying a few nights with us. I need to wrap up here and move on. And probably paint your nails. You’re currently busy taping freshly-colored princesses onto the glass door.
I’ll just content myself with one, as a placeholder of sorts since I think it needs more unpacking and certainly needs to sink into my own ideals and practices more than it has in the last day since I encountered it in a parenting book I’m reading. It’s a real “bottom-line,” a show-stopper. I have this feeling that if I took this alone as my model I would be much closer to the parent I want to be. The authors suggested that our job as parents is to preserve and protect and affirm our children’s innate belief that they are lovable and capable. That’s it. Lovable and capable. It rings so true, as I think about a tiny human with an “I can do it by myself” confidence and a “Look at me!” honesty. Already I recognize how often and easily my choices as a parent run against that grain and it’s something I’m going to be keeping an eye on in the weeks to come. I may not always know how to be true to that ideal, but I do know it’s true.
You are lovable. You are capable. You are also (as you’d say) “gorgeous.” And I love you.