The precision in her bright blue eyes was piercing. Her body rigid with the purple and grey puffy snow gear making her almost unrecognizable. Her hands held high, chin up and her awkward elbows out. To most, she looked like an ordinary 6 year old learning to ski. But to her mom, I could tell from 50 feet away by her rigid ski stance she was determined, but on the verge of tears—a cliff my darling daughter spends much of her time on.
Last year, at just 5, her lessons had progressed more quickly, and I knew this was something she was struggling with. It took two days of lessons, but skiing eventually came back to Maya. I could see the determination on her face as she came bombing down the hill, followed by an 80-something-year-old instructor, nearly crashing into me at the bottom of the hill. Snow sprayed and covered my boots. The look in eyes his eyes said it all as he laughed, “Wow, she sure is a little pistol. A girl who knows what she wants.”
I felt my face hot with embarrassment for her. I wanted to tell him the countless stories that paint the true picture of my baby. A sweet and kind little girl, a little girl who quickly sees injustice and jumps into action to help.
To make matters worse, Maya got clingy and demanding as many 6 year olds do after hours of skiing. But all I wanted—all I desperately needed in that moment—was for her to smile kindly at the nice man who taught her to ski. To smile sweetly and say thank you. Instead she pouted and demanded, “I am ready for the chairlift now.”
It was first time that I felt annoyed my daughter didn’t smile. I know she didn’t want to smile in that moment of angst. I knew no part of her little being felt especially happy or grateful for the generosity of a somewhat stoic, yet kind old man. All she felt in that moment was determined and impatient. She was determined to succeed and her definition of success was the chairlift. A smile would only get in her way.
Despite knowing this, I couldn’t help but wish she knew when to smile just because. How could I ever teach her this skill that I hid tightly in my back pocket? I could easily break out a smile at even the most stressful moments. Moments that I prayed would end soon. Smiling even harder when I was asked to get something, do something, or answer someone. In reality smiling is a big part of my job and something I am proud to say I do pretty well.
My life has taught me that smiling makes someone else feel good, feel happy, feel understood and feel appreciated. Why wouldn’t my daughter—the person in this whole world who resembles me most in almost every way—notice the importance of a smile?
Perhaps 30 years of life has forced me to smile in times I didn’t want to, and at 6, you feel all the feelings the way you want to feel them; societal expectations have not yet wore down the fire the builds in your heart and mind. My daughter does not worry how not smiling affects the people around her. She doesn’t know it is what they need in that moment. But what she does know is smiling is not something she feels.
Smiling should not be something I teach—it should be authentic. It is brought upon by her own sheer joy and adoration. Most importantly, it should be how she feels and not how she thinks others expect her to feel.
Raising a daughter, I grapple with fostering the independence that shines so bright in her eyes with making sure others around her always know the kindness in her heart. Yes, she is determined. Yes, she is independent. And yes she knows what she wants and quickly figures out the best route to make it happen. Yes, she may in fact be my little pistol. But I could not be prouder of my little pistol.
Because when I am honest with what is important and what matters in helping Maya become a beautifully kind person, I know that little pistol within her will make the world a little brighter. It is a part of her that I cherish most.
She is fiercely loyal and always seeks to know more. Maya is annoyingly compassionate. She cares for others with great patience and a tender love. Yet, she can’t understand why there would be injustice in the world and dreams of many ways to resolve this. In the last election cycle, her mind grappled with how unfair it seemed that our country “hasn’t had a girl be president yet!”
My little pistol has the brightest smile. It is big, it is 100% genuine and it can light up an entire room. At the end of her ski day, I watched her run over to her instructor and awkwardly hug his 6 foot frame from behind. It was hours later and he was caught off guard, but couldn’t miss the appreciation in her smile.
He commented to me later, “That’s why I volunteer. To see that twinkle in her eyes.”
A real, and cherished, twinkle.