"As I put this little one into her dance uniform she shouted 'Look Mummy, I so pretty now.'
It made me want to cry
... yes baby, you're pretty, but it's not the dress that's doing that.
It will never be the dress.
It's you. You and only you my wonderful little lady. Perfect in every way, inside and out.
(Sometimes bringing up a girl seems like such a big responsibility...!)"
I posted the photo and my ramblings to my Instagram feed yesterday morning. What I didn't say is that I was actually a little shaky while I typed it, and that I had a big lump in my throat. The significance of what we do each day; as we raise these little people up to be the amazing adults we hope they'll be; it catches you sometimes. In a random word or a simple action, we see how important this job is. And how incredibly easily we can screw it up.
I'm not sure why what she said got to me so much. But the fact that it's still playing on my mind 24 hours later, and the fact that I felt a little weepy about it again last night, shows that it really got under my skin.
Now, I know... she's two! I know that she didn't really understand the implication of the 'now' on the end of her sentence. But I understood it's implications, and it knocked me sideways. The implication being that she hadn't been pretty before. Of course, I know that for her, that 'now' was probably a throw away word, a new collection of sounds that she was trying out, and which kind of sounded right to her in that context. But it just made me think of the times ahead where that 'now' might not be an accident, and may be very much intended.
I think we are all very aware that we are raising our children in a crazy world. A world which expects children to grow up far too fast. A world which likes to put people into little boxes of 'best fit'. A world that values the aesthetically pleasing. A world that I know will make both of my children question themselves as they grow up. And that is a really tough pill to swallow when all you can see when you look at your children is all the wonderful and beautiful things that make them who they are.
This little miss of mine is happy and bright and brave, she is strong-willed and independent, she is affectionate and loving, she has fire in her belly, she has a cheeky twinkle in her eye, she is a delicate little fairy one minute and then a rough and ready tomboy the next. A big walking bundle of contradictions. And I absolutely adore her just the way she is; with her nutty nature and her amazing spirit. And I want her to always be like that; fearless, funny and with the biggest smile on her face.
I call my children beautiful regularly... multiple times a day in fact. And their pseudonym's on these very pages are 'beautiful boy' and 'beautiful girl'... but I hope that no one ever thinks I mean that in the physical sense of the word. I, of course, think my children are beautiful, but when I call them 'beautiful' I mean it every sense of the word. I mean beautiful inside and out. I mean that everything that makes them 'them' is the most beautiful thing to me... and that yes I think they're pretty cute to look at too. But as well as calling them beautiful, I call them clever, I call them kind, I call them a hundred different pet names for the hundred different things they can be in a single day.
In my mind, my job as their mummy is to fill their hearts up so full with self esteem that they can take what the world throws at them. That they'll be able to brush off the negatives and learn from them, while taking away the positives and knowing that they are loved and amazing just as they are. But just because I think that's my job, doesn't mean that I'm a hundred percent sure how to do it... or if I even can do it.
Because one day my daughter will look in the mirror and dislike something about what she sees. Just the same way that we all do. But thinking about that day just about breaks my heart.
I am acutely aware that a lot of the pressure of raising a little girl into a happy, self aware but confident young woman, is largely going to fall to me. She will be watching me, is already watching me and learning about being a lady. I am that example.... and that is what I meant when I finished my instagram comment with a statement about it being such a big responsibility to bring up a girl. And part of the reason that I think it has been playing on my mind so much, is that I'm thinking about what that example needs to be.
I do not think that I am beautiful. Maybe some days I look okay, other days I look downright awful. But I am lucky enough to live with a man who good day or bad, nicely made up or in my scruffs, will tell me that I look beautiful. What an amazing example he is setting to our children! But when I reply with a "yeah, yeah" or "okay whatever" or "no I really don't" or even worse "but you always say that" I am setting a horrible example. I'm telling my children that I don't like the skin I am in some of the time. When actually that couldn't be further from the truth, I love what this body of mine has given me, what it does for me daily. I'm proud of it, but like a lot of the rest of the world, I'm sometimes a bit hung up on what it looks like on the outside. And the outside is such a very small part of what makes me me.
As I wrote those words yesterday to post with my tiny ballerina photo, I would have done anything to imprint them into my daughter too. If just by saying them I could make her see, then I'd say them every day...
"You're pretty, but it's not the dress that's doing that.
It will never ever EVER be the dress.
It's ALL YOU.
You and only you my wonderful, kind, bright and beautiful little lady.
You are perfect in every way, inside and out."
It kind of reminds me of the words from The Help, where the little girl is told every day "you is kind, you is smart, you is important". It's nice to think that maybe just by repeating a mantra like this, we could help our children to know how special they are. And I guess it can't hurt to try. In fact maybe it's exactly that that I need to do. I need to tell her, all the time, and even when she doesn't want to hear it; that she's perfect just as she is... and maybe listen to it a bit myself.