When you are from the southeastern United States, you are raised to take pride in the most beautiful natural resources including gorgeous beaches, magnolia trees and blooming cotton fields. Perhaps our most important asset in the south is our women. Southern women are beautiful, fearless creatures. We can dig up potatoes from the garden early in the morning and by mid-afternoon clean up and put on our best sundress for the church picnic. We love our makeup, curling irons and beauty pageants but we also love our families, food, and hard work.
I would be lying if I said that I do not worry about the culture of our world today, specific to woman and what society considers beautiful. I worry about it every day. I find myself looking at my 43 year old reflection in the mirror, wondering where that new sunspot came from, frowning at my frown lines and pretending to not notice the sagging skin on my neck or the gray hair that I just found in my eyebrow, what the heck? There is so much emphasis placed on women to take care of ourselves and look our best. Some days I feel like going out in public with no make up and no bra could be considered an act of aggression (nobody wants to see that). I am NOT in a place where I can honestly say that I do not care that my appearance is changing but, I am working on it. I want to see a reflection of myself that is more than just what I look like on the outside.
When others define a woman as “beautiful” it is easy for her to feel that her looks are all that she has. I never want Leah to feel that way but sometimes I look at her and I think “Oh my god she is the most beautiful little girl I have ever seen.” She is a true southern belle with hair the color and texture of corn silk, eyes as blue as the Atlantic ocean and a contagious smile. Often times, I open my mouth to say “you are so beautiful” but I stop myself and replace the word with a more well rounded adjective like smart, funny, creative, compassionate, independent or adventurous. I want her to be all these things but most importantly I want her to believe that she IS beautiful, smart, funny, creative, compassionate, independent and adventurous.
I want her to enjoy getting her toenails painted and then scuffing up those same toenails by walking barefoot in the grass.
I want to teach her how to apply makeup to enhance her natural beauty and at the same time, I don’t want her to worry when she rubs the sweat from her face during her varsity Volleyball game, and smears her mascara.
I want her to have compassion for others without ignoring her instincts that something is just not quite right.
I want her to be adventurous enough to go with a group of college friends to a concert but disciplined enough to know when it is time to call it a night.
I want her to feel comfortable saying “NO” in uncomfortable situations but thoughtful enough to say “No thank you” when it is appropriate.
I want her to be a good friend but also have the strength to know when to end a toxic friendship.
I want her to understand that it is HER choice whether or not she wants to be a working mother or a stay at home mother. Her grandmothers fought for the right to make that choice and she need not feel guilty about her decision.
I want her to be faster than all the boys in the race but also gentle enough to go back and run alongside the slowest child and cross the finish line with him, hand in hand.
I hope she never experiences the vicious cruelty of other girls who don’t like her because she is beautiful and may she have the courage to stand up for another girl who is being criticized for not being pretty enough.
I hope she has the wisdom to not judge a book by it’s cover and to see through the bullshit of the clean cut star of the baseball team and appreciate the kind soul behind the boy with long hair and tattoos.
Leah was born just a few weeks before my 39th birthday and trust me, I do the math every single day. Will she be embarrassed when her older gray haired mother volunteers to take her and her girlfriends to the latest “Boy Band” concert? I realize that I will likely be going through menopause when she gets her first period, God Bless my poor husband and son! I worry that I might not be able to retire as early as my friends because she will still be in college. But most of all, I worry that she will place too much emphasis on what she looks like on the outside.
Tonight, Leah and I went on a walk around the neighborhood. She was in the jogging stroller, talking and talking and talking and I was just listening. Every once in a while I would interject something but mostly, I just listened. She talked about her friends at pre-school, the pretty leaves on the magnolia tree and how much fun she had at the Beach last week. After our walk, she headed straight to my bedroom closet and closed the door. After a minute or two, I slowly opened the door and she was struggling to put on a pair of my pants and shoes.
She looked up at me with a sheepish grin and said, “I’m you, mommy and you are Leah.”
“Is that right?” I said putting my hands on my hips and smiling back at her.
And that is when it hit me, she is me and I am her. People say she looks like me ( I think she looks more like Mark). She is very tall for her age with long thin legs, broad shoulders, cowlicks, and blue eyes, just like me. She likes to have her back rubbed when she falls asleep, just like me. She is intuitive and head strong, just like me. She is also smart, funny, creative, compassionate, independent and adventurous.
Tonight, as I washed the makeup from my face and gazed into the mirror, I saw past the sun spots, frown lines, sagging skin and gray hairs. I saw a woman who is the mother to a young girl who looks at this same face every day, seeking guidance and direction. I hope that Leah sees a woman who is smart, funny, creative, compassionate, independent and adventurous. For my daughter will only become a reflection of what she sees in front of her each and every day.
Leah in my pants and shoes.