I hold my breath as I watch you walk up to her. You are prone to saying exactly what is on your mind, in a voice loud and clear, and at three years old you have quite a lot on your mind.
I hold my breath because I see a woman leaning against a cane outside our airplane gate, waiting for her wheelchair to arrive. Her spine is curved so severely that her head hangs down near her waist. Her skin is the same silver-white as her hair, papery thin and deeply wrinkled.
“I love your beautiful dress,” you say in your loud, clear voice. She looks up, startled, and then looks down at her floral print muumuu. She smiles.
I feel my skin getting hot as I see your eyes indiscreetly scanning the woman behind us in line at the grocery store. She has a large, dark birthmark covering half of her face. I nervously smile at her while trying to steer your attention to the toys in the checkout lane—the ones I’m usually trying to get you to ignore. But at four years old, you are too strong-willed to fall for my attempts at distraction.
“I love your beautiful necklace,” you finally tell the woman, reaching out your hand in the hope you can touch the colorful beads that hang around her neck. She happily obliges, leaning down to let you get a closer look.
I flinch when I notice you studying my face, just inches away. I wonder if today’s the day you’ll become aware of my wrinkles, my sun spots, my gray roots, and all of my other imperfections.
But it’s not today. “My beautiful mama,” you say, pulling my face close to yours to give me a butterfly kiss. At five years old, you don’t know how to say things just to be nice. Today, I’m truly the most beautiful woman you know.
I freeze when I see you standing in front of our full-length mirror, taking in your reflection. Despite my best attempts to keep you sheltered, at six years old you’re becoming more and more aware of the ways of the world. You know what words like “fat” and “ugly” mean. I wonder if today’s the day when you will start to criticize yourself, to find fault in what will always be perfect to me.
Thankfully, it’s not today. You’re unable to stop a huge grin from spreading wide across your face as you swish your skirt back in forth in front of the mirror. “I look SO beautiful,” you say.
I’m not naïve enough to think this won’t change. Hopefully you’ll always be kind to yourself and others, but eventually your eyes will grow discerning. You’ll find things to dislike. You’ll notice imperfections. You’ll compare and criticize and scowl in the mirror. You’ll roll your eyes when people tell you how beautiful you are.
But for now, your eyes are magical. They only see beauty, and they see it in everyone. It’s the most beautiful thing about you.