Seven years ago, I was in the hospital in the middle of a thirty-four and a half hour labor.
When I finally saw my daughter’s face on Sunday morning, June 15th, 2008, it was nothing short of surreal. I didn’t know she would be beautiful. In fact, at that juncture in my life, I was on such a streak of bad luck, that I expected everything about this baby to follow suit to my bad karma. I was expecting my baby to be average at best. (Isn’t that an awful thought to have about one’s unborn child?)
I know that my low expectations came as a result of how I felt about myself. I thought there was no way that anything remotely beautiful could come out of me and/or the dysfunctional relationship I was in.
But back to this baby. This baby–MY baby–a beautiful, alert, tough-looking baby looked at me with this exceptional look on her face when the nurse brought her over to me. I actually remember mentally picturing her quoting the poet, Mary Oliver, and saying to me, “Mom, keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable. Cause it’s coming. Big time. Some amazing shit is about to go down.”
(Only the first sentence of that was actually Mary Oliver–the rest was just me, making crap up.)
So that’s the kind of baby she was–smart as hell, strong willed, affectionate, and even better at reading people than me. It seemed like she would always cry if a douchebag or super fake person wanted to hold her. It was moments like this that caused me to smile, and say, “Atta girl.”
I remember being at church with her when she was around two years old, and an older woman said to me, “She sure is pretty. Let’s just hope she doesn’t become vain.”
And I wanted to say, “Whoa, whoa, whoa–what??? Do you know how much I struggled with my self image when I was younger? Do you know that I never thought I was beautiful? Do you know that it has taken me years to actually feel okay about what I see when I look in the mirror?”
But instead I just walked away. She was elderly and had no idea what my experiences had been.
I remember that “pride” and “vanity” were frowned on in my upbringing, particularly in the church. I think there’s definitely wisdom in knowing that our inner beauty is our true strength. But since we live in a culture that bombards children with images of beauty, I think it’s only normal that both girls and boys would want to know that they are beautiful both outside and inside. Yes, inside is what’s important, but MAN, I would rather have my daughter know her beauty in every way possible so that she can face the challenges before her.
And there will be challenges.
There will be people that will comment on her body. They may tell her that parts of her body are too big or too small. There will be children that may advertently or inadvertently ask her to compare herself to them. There will be people that say things, not because they want to hurt her, but they do end up hurting her with comments like, “Your hair is scraggly, your skin is dry, your teeth are pointy, your feet are big.”
How do I know this? Because these are things that have already been said to her.
So, with that in mind, I would rather tell my daughter that she is beautiful everyday of her life, and err on the possibility of her becoming “vain and conceited” than have her grow up thinking that she is not beautiful enough.
Because she is SO enough. And although I have made mistake after mistake in parenting, that is the one message I want to convey to her about herself.
She has changed my life. She has caused me to realize that there is always room in my heart for the unimaginable. The fact that I carried this human being in my body and am now raising her is beyond my wildest dreams. The fact that parenting is like getting a job that you’re not even qualified to do but you do it everyday for the rest of your child’s life because of the incredible LOVE you feel for him or her–that just blows my mind. The fact that God entrusted me to raise her–that he gave me this responsibility to be her female prototype–whoa, now that’s some deep stuff. It’s crazy hard for me to wrap my mind around it.
I don’t know what the future holds for me. I’m 38. I’m no spring chicken. I do not know if I will have the opportunity to have more children or not. But I am SO grateful for this beautiful child that God entrusted to ME. This responsibility and life I have is too short to not make a difference to her.
We went into the donut shop the other day. She was wearing these shoes, which are kind of obnoxious, because she will attempt to tap dance in them even though they are not tap dancing shoes AND she has never had tap dancing lessons in her life.
As she was “tap dancing” up and down the entire shop, the woman working behind the donut counter said, “I LOVE those shoes! They are like music to my ears! Keep on dancing. Never stop. Keep on dancing.”
Aliana smiled and tapped her way at the door after we purchased the donuts.
Aliana, my daughter, has taught me the art of rejoicing in the NOW. She embodies this other poem from Mary Oliver, which is one of my favorites:
“The Summer Day”
by Mary Oliver
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
She has taught me to dance my way through my one wild and precious life. ❤️🙌🏽💃🏻