My daughter stood in the mirror for a good ten minutes yesterday morning while saying “I look FAAANNNNTASSSTTIIIC!!” She then requested lipstick and her sunglasses, and hauled her little chair to the bathroom so that she could continue this little play.
She DID look pretty fantastic. I can’t say I blame her. The thought hit me though, that someday, she might look into that mirror, and start tearing herself down instead. She’ll criticize the way her hair sits, the shape of her *fill in the blank*. Each little thing that makes her uniquely herself, she may not see as fantastic anymore. Why isn’t such and such smaller, or rounder or more like so and so’s. She may not look at the reflection there, and smile just because her hair fits into braids, or that her lips at bright red. These small, seemingly inadequate victories over her day, could become victories of the dark little voice of what “should be.”
My heart broke yesterday. She has taught me so much in the way of love, including self-love. The nose I’ve hated for years, the cheeks I’ve wished away, all these seemingly daunting little things, I have grown to cherish, because of the small, perfect little canvas that they have been painted on looking up at me. How could I ever wish those away now? We share them, right down to the tiny cells that built them. They are ours. They are meshed perfectly with the features of her father, the only other person in this world that measures up to her in my heart, the only other person in this world that I have experienced harsh, terrifyingly wonderful and unconditional love with. She is, quite literally the face of my heartbeat, and so very correspondingly beautiful.
While she is in every aspect unique and beautiful, she is also talented, curious, and blessed. She is growing every single day. She is learning every single day. These things are obvious now. Her clothes become too small, and we pack them away into bittersweet packages. She counts a little higher than before while we sing on the swings. Her mind is exploding. Her imagination is limitless. She IS as high as the birds on that playground. She IS so, very close to touching the clouds with her feet as she swings upward and away from my guiding push. These things, these are the things that she will continue to do. She will always be absorbing this world, growing, achieving, wondering. She will also experience the fact that with these things, she also wanders into the sadness of this world. The falling, the heartache, the moments of wading the waters until she can swim again. These things, her life, will build her character. They will take the innocent whistle of her childhood and become her songs, her soundtrack, her heartbeat. This is the beauty I want her to know.
I look at the little girl in the red lipstick and sunglasses, singing her own praises, and I know there will be many songs that I cannot edit. As a parent, you learn early on that control is something you leave in the delivery room. Once that boundary between womb and world is crossed, you are no longer in any kind of control. Your decisions, yes, are factors, but not certainty. This living, breathing, demanding little piece of your soul is suddenly outside of you, vulnerable, and soft, and deserving. That little piece of you is DESERVING. Despite the tone of your own soundtrack, there is a brand new symphony starting, and it is inherently wonderful. It isn’t yours, but in so many ways, you direct it. Every example, every piece of advice, every movement you make, it influences the notes that respond to it. The way you react to your reflection, the words you speak to others, the joy you emit, the sorrow you share, they are all the timing of the song you at creating with the new little piece of you. You are the first reflection. Not the mirror.
I hate to think of the things that may go through her head in the years to come, I have thought them, lived them, let them take me to places of ugliness I couldn’t have dreamed. I hate to think that she could ever see herself as anything short of a miracle. I hate that the women in society’s spotlight could lead her to a place where she sees the disappointment of her physical expectations before she addresses the expectations of her own heart, or health. What’s scariest though, is that I thought all of these things, while silently tearing myself apart in the tall, unforgiving mirror at the gym. I refuse to be the reflection that tells her she is not enough. These thoughts, that I’m sure are not so uncommon for any of us, that measure ourselves in literal number, they are blind. They are blind to progress, and love, and happiness. They are blinding to anything we can’t see, and then longer we hear them, the less we see anything that satisfies. The less we see our goals of healthy betterment, or limitless strength. The louder the thoughts, the less we hear that perfect, unique heartbeat.
So today, I made myself a promise that I hope to know other role models, not just mothers, can adopt as well. A promise of being a better reflection. When she looks to me, she will see more than someone arguing with themself. She will know health. She will learn to appreciate the body that allows her to dance and jump and play. She will take care of it so that it will continue to allow her to enjoy these vices in a world that tells her they are second to the way you are perceived in sight, because they make her HEART happy. They make her HAPPY, just like red lipstick and capes and sunglasses, and reading the same book 10 times in a row. They make her feel fulfilled and because of that foundation she can know the fulfillment of bringing joy and empathy and mercy into her actions and thoughts. She can fully immerse herself in experiencing the sadness and the full spectrum of lessons that will come, and she can look back to the knowledge that she has gained because even when it isn’t as obvious to the rest of the world, she will still be growing. She will still be orchestrating her mind and body and soul and it will be full of many reflections, but it will not be void of example.
I promise, to be the best possible director and influence to her unique soundtrack. I promise to show her how to walk confidently in a world that seems to give every reason not to be. I promise to see my own self, heartbeat, nourishment, and worth in the same light as I see hers, so that she can too.
I promise. I think it’s time that we all do.
Jessie Blevins was born in Idaho, and resides happily in beautiful Reno, NV with her husband and two year old daughter. She is a freelance writer, student and advocate for breastfeeding rights. Her free time includes spontaneous day trips, fingerpaint and disguising vegetables for toddlers