I was the only daughter amidst brothers.
I have two sons. And now a brand new daughter.
Boys and all their rough and tumble ways are comfortable to me. No matter how many times folks on the out-and-about comment on their energy level or what a handful they must be, I only deep belly smile and feel blessed because it’s an energy I understand.
I was the daughter who lost her mother one week to the day after turning 18.
I have felt ill equipped to dress, let alone mother, a daughter of my own.
All I know is how easy it is to chip a daughter’s delicate heart.
Since turning mom myself I have realized the necessity of feeling carefully along the edges of my own heart for the word splinters long ignored. Parenthood has taught me how to wield a pair of tweezers with a gentle touch; I self-treat and slowly ease the words out.
I examine them as my boys might do a bit of bark or a bug that unnerves them. Reverently. Turning them over in my hands to better understand them.
How have these words stuck here for so long? How do I sanitize them?
I am sixteen and driving shotgun alongside my mom. It is the season of beauty pageants, giddy girls and tiaras. All caught up in the glory and the glitter I turn to her and declare all aglow, “When I grow up I am going to be Miss South Africa!”
She looks at me long. And then answers out of the deep well of her own insecurity, “Oh my darling, I think you are beautiful. But just not beautiful in that kind of way.”
Twenty years later and I still feel the sharp sting of that splinter. It burrowed deep until it began to feel at home under my skin.
What daughter doesn’t want to be beautiful?
And we can pretend that she doesn’t need to hear it. We can say that it’s enough to be smart or brave or funny.
But deep down is a hole that hungers to hear the word, Beauty.
There are books and blog posts and articles that I comb through in the dark hours. And they say that girls need to hear that they are brave and strong and capable. That their bodies are useful more than they are beautiful.
I don’t doubt that’s true.
But my baby is fast asleep next door wrapped around with the pink and white tutu she wouldn’t take off before bed.
And I imagine there’s something to that too.
Our daughters will see themselves as beautiful in our eyes first. If we let them.
And once they’ve seen themselves as beautiful in the eyes of their mother, maybe they’ll be braver dancing through the minefields of what the movies and magazines scream is desirable.
I am seventeen and grieving. My mom has been in the hospital for a long year and our family is fraying around the edges. But on a dark blue, summer night heavy with jasmine our doorbell rings and I answer it to no one. No one but a love note and a bouquet of roses from a sixteen-year-old secret admirer.
My toes curl up in delight; goose bumps trickle down my back.
I am more than the daughter of a dying mother.
I am singled out as special by the boy every girl hopes will notice her.
I take card and flowers to my mom and offer them proud trophy of womanhood from one woman to another.
She laughs small words, “Oh it’s probably just your friends playing a joke on you.”
I shrink on the inside. My joy deflates.
But the boy is real.
Just as real as the fact that my mother is dying. His consistent selfless love outlasts my mother’s laughter. He delivers roses and joy for the next year. We do not date. But he is my lighthouse in the storm.
I am eighteen and preparing for prom. A friend’s mother takes me for practice hair and make up. I watch in the mirror as a woman emerges. My royal blue dress is waiting. I wear it, my hair and makeup to the hospice to show my mother.
I do not know what she will say.
I love her so much my insides ache. I stand at the foot of her bed and twirl. She is wearing her pink scarf wrapped around bald head and the light turquoise pajamas drape her small shrunken frame.
And all the grief and joy and life I feel come welling out her eyes. She weeps and weeps as she looks at me – her only daughter – and she says just four words. Over and over.
The four words that help me see myself as a woman reflected in my mother’s eyes for the first and last time.
“You are so beautiful. You are so beautiful.”
And I believe her.
Linking up with my friend Jessica at The Mom Creative for Throwback Thursday.
Read the full story of how I grew up into a mother by picking up a copy of Surprised by Motherhood: Everything I Never Expected About Being a Mom over here.