The time I spend in the morning getting myself and my two children ready for the day is priceless to me: it is one of my favorite parts of the day. I watch them pick out their clothes and help them get dressed, comb their hair, and brush their teeth. Then my son usually goes to play with his blocks and my daughter follows me so she can watch me get ready. My 18 month old daughter loves to have her hair combed. It is blonde, curly and shiny. She loves it so much, that two of her first words were “comb” and “pretties” (this is what she calls the hair ties we use in her hair.) This morning when we were finished with her hair, she stood up and said, “Ta-da!” She then patted my leg and my wet hair and said “Pretty, Mama.” After that, she patted her own head and gave me the biggest grin I have ever seen as she said, “Pretty.”
She is fearless. She is defiant and confident. She is intelligent and sensitive. She plays hard and has varying interests: cars, blocks, coloring, singing. She loves anything that sparkles and she loves her dresses. Shoes and purses are her favorite things in the world. Many of her interests are foreign to me: she is a different kind of girl than I see myself as being, but it brings me great joy to say that is exactly who she is supposed to be. She lives in a home where she has the freedom to explore and figure out what she likes and doesn’t like.
When I was younger, I had a nail polish fascination. I had every color imaginable, and I would tape off my nails to make crazy patterns, or put polka dots on them. I think it might have been my version of rebelling against the Catholic school dress code, because as I went through high school and into college, it was less important. Since I gave birth to my daughter, I think I may have painted my toes once. Last week, I decided to hunch down on the floor at 34 weeks pregnant to paint my toes. Both my kids crowded around me and sifted through the bottles of polish. My daughter began happily yelling, “Pupup! Pupup!” and sat very still as I painted mine. She took off her socks and wiggled her toes at me and I hesitated.
I hesitated because I have in my head a library of information about early sexualization. I can near photogenically flip through these stories and posts to the ones that talk about the dangers of the language and things we do with our girls that wrap them up in feeling they must be attractive, first and foremost. My thinking took a hard right turn as I saw myself parenting contrary to all sorts of defiant creed from moms that said things like “I never say pretty,” or “makeup is an invention of man used to oppress women.” I was looking at her beautiful face and doubting myself. I don’t know how long I sat there, but before too long my son piped up and said, “Mom, will you put black paint on my toes?”
Yes. My brain confused itself for a moment, and I needed the wisdom of a three and a half year old to bring me back to reality: it is just paint. As I painted my daughter’s toe nails purple and my son’s big toenail charcoal, I laughed at my moment of
hesitation panic. My kids would both
paint their entire bodies and then cover themselves in sparkles and bling and
prance around the room talking about how pretty, awesome, beautiful, cool they
looked if I let them. Adults are the ones that tell our children nail polish
has a gender, or that certain words are wrong to use.
So this morning, my eyes welled up a bit as my daughter told me how she sees me through her own eyes. Our daily routine is flooded with so many words and activities that pretty is just one of the many words she knows and understands. (As an example, she told me lunch was disgusting a few days ago.) Yes, I tell my children they are beautiful, pretty, and handsome. I also tell them when their butt stinks and their hands are sticky. I tell them they are artistic and quick learners. I tell them they are weird and that being weird is one of the greatest ways to go through life. I tell them that I love them each and every single day. Do you know what I have to show for it? Children that are loving, caring, sensitive, and independent. They will grow up to change the world. In fact, I think they are already accomplishing this because they have changed me.