When They Are Them Instead of You

Much of parenthood is spent seeing yourself or your spouse in your children. There is something satisfying (or sometimes terrifying) about recognizing your idiosyncrasies in your progeny.

Well, of course they loves to read. We love to read. We’ve led by example and promoted a love of books their whole life.

The boy can’t find things to save his life! It’s like he’s blind. So much like his dad.

She’d argue with a brick wall. She gets that from you!

We often analyze our children and their behaviors by dissecting which aspects come from which one of us and what that means.

“Well, she’s driven to perfection like you are but then she’s got a healthy dose of me in her so she doesn’t quite apply herself as doggedly as you always did,” my husband once said of our daughter.

But sometimes – and these are the most fascinating and rewarding moments – sometimes they are all them. It’s one thing to do something with your child that you love too, indeed something that they probably love because you loved it first and instilled the same love in them. It’s a completely different thing to engage with your child in a love that was born and fostered completely within them.

I wonder sometimes if every parent gets to experience this or not. I did recently and I just sat there in awe as my 16 year old daughter did her thing. And what was this thing?

Makeup.

You might be rolling your eyes right now, but this isn’t trivial.

I basically don’t wear makeup. I haven’t worn foundation since I was a pimply teenager desperately trying to cover up my flaws. I wear mascara and a touch of blush. No eye shadow, no eye liner. I don’t pencil my eyebrows or really make any kind of effort at all. And I’m perfectly happy.

I never taught her anything concerning makeup. And truthfully, she often goes days without it as well. She doesn’t find it necessary. She just enjoys it – like makeup artist kind of enjoyment.

She follows various makeup artists on social media, reads articles, watches technique videos, and has stockpiled quite the collection of supplies, including many things I didn’t know existed. One evening, she looked at a dark blue eye shadow she had and – just for fun, she wasn’t going anywhere – turned her face into a credible impersonation of Mystique from X-Men. Just to see how it’d go.

She’s not afraid to try something. Just to see what happens. I was never like that. I had to know how it would go first. I know she gets this willingness to experiment from her dad, but the makeup interest – that’s all her. And it’s wonderful.

My husband recently planned a date night for us. As I got out of the shower, I thought of my daughter and her makeup. “Will you do my makeup for me?” I asked.

Her face lit up. “You want me to do your makeup?”

“Yes, I think that’d be fun.”

She soon took over my bathroom with more makeup than I’ve ever owned in my life. And she started talking about the various items and techniques she could use. She talked about something she could use instead of foundation that would fill the pores and give a smoother look without the heaviness of foundation.

She asked my preference on a couple of different highlighters that had different degrees of sparkle to them. When I looked at her blankly, she rubbed her finger in each and then smeared a streak on her inner forearm to demonstrate how they’d look. She talked about why she liked certain ones better than others and when was a good time for each.

She asked if there was anything I wanted covered up. (The dark bags under my old eyes please…). She talked about contour and highlight and what they do and where they go. Talked about sponges versus brushes. She gave me a double-ended mascara stick and explained that I was to brush the white stuff on first – which would elongate and separate my lashes, and then I could use the black end to cover the white. She explained why she was going to skip eyeliner. She filled in the thin parts of my eyebrows as we laughed about the change.

The whole time she talked and worked, I sat there and took it all in. This was not me. This was not her dad. This was her. All her. 100% her. And it was beautiful. Glorious. She found this, she loved this, she learned it and excels in it.

It didn’t matter one bit that I have no interest in makeup. That it will likely be years – if ever – before I sit again for 20 minutes while I or someone else does my makeup. I didn’t have to love it. She loved it and I loved that she loved it. I enjoyed it because I was spending time with my daughter in her element.

I truly can’t describe the incredible feeling that welled up inside me that evening. If you’ve never experienced the wonder that’s tinged with a bit of “where did this love come from?”, then I fear you’ve missed out on one of the best parts of parenthood.

Do You Like How That Foot Tastes, Dear?

patriot-cup

My husband is quite fond of his new-to-him cup that he picked up at the thrift shop the other day. He was sipping tea from it while we ate dinner recently.

I turned the cup to look at the 1776-1976 marker on the back, confirming that it had been part of our country’s bicentennial celebration back when I was a tender two years old.

Setting it back on the table, I commented to my children, “This cup is older than Uncle Aaron is.”

Before they were able to articulate the question, I answered it, “But not as old as me. Because… I. Am. An. Old. Woman.”  Continuing on with my exaggeration of age, I then pointed both fingers at my face and addressing my daughter, said smugly, “Take a good look, because this is exactly how you will look when you are forty.”

“Unless I get plastic surgery. Did you think of that?”

My husband began to cry foul and Jane hurried to redeem herself.

“I mean. I’m sure I’d look much worse than you if I had plastic surgery.”

Surprised realization hit her eyes and then they fell to the table. She picked up her food and muttered, “I’m just going to be quiet now.”

Good idea.

1-10, Honestly

I volunteered to mentor my daughter’s Robotics team this year. This means I spend an hour and a half in a room full of noisy, energetic preteens three nights a week. It has been… an education. To say the least.

One of the interesting aspects of this age group (sixth grade) is that they are on the balance point between childhood and the teenage years. Some of them, mostly girls, look – and act – very much like teenagers. Some of them, mostly boys, look – and act – very much like my third grade son. Most of them are caught in between. They are exploring the brave new world of teendom in a distinctly childlike manner.

One example of this was on display tonight. The other girl on Jane’s team began to ask one of the boys on the team a series of questions. Actually, it was the same question asked repeatedly but with a different girl’s name substituted in each time. Apparently, this is a regular team pastime.

“1-10, honestly. How pretty do you think Rachel is?”

He would turn and look, I presume at Rachel, and respond with a number. She would move on to the next girl. And then the next. He kept most of the numbers low, less than 5. Eventually, she spied Jane. “1-10. Jane.”

She was across the room behind him and as he turned to look, I gave a mock warning, “Now, remember. Her mother is sitting right here.”

He paused for another second and responded, “7.”

She accepted the answer and moved on. Once all the girls in the room had been covered, she changed the question. “1-10. How annoying do you think Rachel is?” Not surprisingly, the numbers were higher for this question.

Eventually, the question was applied to Jane. Without hesitation, he said, “2.”

WHAT? Are you kidding me?” I asked. “This is ‘annoying’, right? Do you really think Jane is only a 2?”

“Well, her mother is sitting right here,” he responded in a dead serious voice.

I have to say that I’m truly growing to love these kids. He seemed a little bit surprised that I would recognize that my daughter contains great capacity to get on people’s nerves. He and Jane had butted heads the previous week while I was helping another team. I looked at him and asked, “You certainly would have ranked her much higher last week, wouldn’t you?” He agreed.

The game went on among all four team members present. It even included hypotheticals, like this one, addressed to a boy, “If you were a girl, who in this room would you score a ten?”

Jane jumped in before he could answer. “Me, of course!”

“I said if he was a girl!”

“I know. I’m just so awesome that he’d be gay so he could still pick me.”

Everyone laughed, including the one young man who actually happened to be working on the robot at that moment. Tonight I saw clearly what my greatest blessings will be for this year of my daughter’s life. One is to see her “in action” with her peers, to truly see her social circle, not just listen to her talk about it. The other is to find my place as a parent who is comfortable interacting with my daughter’s peers. And to think I almost passed up this opportunity as too much of a time commitment. 1-10, honestly? This experience has been a ten.

Please Wait

Near the end of the fifth grade, I received a copy of the Student Handbook for the Middle School. Being a studious child, I read the entire thing – just to make sure I knew the rules. And in that handbook, I learned about the dress code, which stated that all girls are required to wear… bras!

Now, I needed to wear a bra about as much as my second grade brother, but that hardly mattered a bit! Rules are rules, after all. It never occurred to me that the rule might be there simply to allow selective enforcement with girls that needed to be wearing them but were not. I very calmly approached my mother and told her that I needed some bras. She responded that I did not. I confidently presented the handbook and said, “See! See right here! It clearly states that girls are required to wear bras!” With a rather exasperated tone, she reminded me that I didn’t actually need a bra. I responded that it didn’t matter. I was required to wear them and we needed to go get some so I could practice wearing them. She relented.

Some time later, I told her I wanted to shave. She tried to talk me out of it, saying that once you start shaving, you can’t really stop. You’ll have to shave all the time, even if you get tired of it, which you will. Just wait. Wait a little bit longer. Please… I did not.

Girls are always in such a hurry to grow up, to be woman. My mother should count herself lucky. I was in middle school when I asked to shave. My daughter didn’t ask. I caught her in the shower with my shaving gel spread all over her leg. She was in the third grade. Fortunately, she’s a child that responds well to guilt. I caught her in time and explained in a very stern voice that she was not to try that again without getting permission. Sometime in the fourth grade, I gave in and she began to shave. By fifth, she was asking for… and needing… those dang bras.

So I shouldn’t have been surprised. No, I shouldn’t have been surprised during this first week of sixth grade when she sat down next to me on my bed and asked, “Mommy? Why can’t I wear mascara?” I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. I’m not sure a mother is ever really ready for the next step. “Because you are only in the sixth grade.”… “But some of the other girls wear mascara.”… “And others don’t.”… “But why can’t I?”… “Because we haven’t talked about it and I’m not going to make that kind of decision right now. We’ll have to discuss it later.”

That’s what we call a stall tactic. It just delays the inevitable march of time for a bit longer. Because I know that just like my mother’s pleas to wait went unheeded, mine will too. I will eventually give in to this, because really, how can she understand the reason? She won’t understand “because I want you to be my little girl just a little bit longer” until she finds herself in my role. And then, of course, it will be too late.