My 9-year-old daughter slinks into my office. It is the night before the dreaded spelling test, and as usual we are now just reviewing the words. She struggles with a few as I reluctantly quiz her. I hand back the list and suggest she take a few more minutes studying before we continue. In one graceful movement she nods, tucks her long brown hair behind her ear, leans forward, and takes the paper from my outstretched hand.
I turn back to my desk and begin typing on my laptop. My mind is racing with all the things I need to work on; the spelling list is not one of them. I flash to when I was a child. My mother never quizzed me, but I am not my mother and she is not I.
My light-brown-eyed beauty has stopped reviewing her words and I can sense a question forming. I glance over at her. Her brow furrows and she debates if she should say the words out loud. She snuggles deep into the chair that once graced her nursery, comforted by the familiarity of her rocker.
“Mom, have you ever felt not beautiful?”
A million thoughts cross my mind in the time I take to turn my chair to face her. What’s the appropriate answer to this? Why is she asking me this? Did someone tell her she is not beautiful? Is she valuing her worth based upon other individual’s measures? Or, in the simplicity of a 9-year-old’s mind, does she just want to know if I have never felt beautiful?
As I turn my attention, and chair, towards her I struggle to answer the question. The first words I say will have an impact on her. I answer her honestly.
“Yes, I have felt not beautiful before.”
“People say I am a mirror image of you, then am I not beautiful?”
I worry I said the wrong thing. This is such a delicate conversation. I want her to realize beauty is more than the reflection in the mirror. A woman’s worth lies in her brain, not in her face. But my daughter is not asking about inner beauty; to her this is a separate entity. She speaks of only outer beauty, the visual. It will be years before she realizes inner beauty is more important than outer.
“Honey, all women feel ‘not beautiful’ at some point in their lives.”
“Well, what about when you were my age. Were you as beautiful as you are now?”
I am touched to learn she considers me beautiful, because often I look in the mirror and only find flaws. The mirror reflects the lines around my eyes, the wrinkles that mark the years of life, but I do try to see my beauty.
“Well, when I was your age I was not beautiful. I was gangly and awkward.”
“What’s gangly mean?” she says with a smile inching across her face.
I explain I was very skinny, with long legs and arms. How grace and I lived on opposite sides of the universe. I describe the horrible, feathered boy’s haircut my mother gave me in 1985 and how my crooked teeth did little to elevate my beauty.
Shocked, she blurts out, “Wow Mom! You really weren’t beautiful!”
She gets up, crosses my office and stares at a photo of me in 2nd grade. The picture is a mirror image of her in 2nd grade. She picks up the photo and turns to face me, “Well, you are adorable in this picture and you look just like me!”
Satisfied in her own beauty she crosses back to the green, checked rocker and sits. She is content. She glides back and forth as she studies her spelling list. I admire her so much.
I cherish these times when they happen, and I hope for a million more moments like this one. This is Motherhood, when one question catches you off guard and you never know what to say or why your child is asking you. You brace for the worst, only to realize how amazing the child standing in front of you is and how blessed you are for them to be in your life
*I also published this article on Huffington Post