My 10-year-old daughter and I were stuck in a line recently, waiting to buy equipment for her fall swim team season, and cringing at being caught in “dead time” without the books we typically bring with us for just such an emergency.
Solo distraction out of reach, we turned to the game we’ve played for years, a celebration of our mutual adoration and creativity.
“I love you more than all the people standing in this line,” she told me, eyes twinkling.
“Yeah?” I asked. “I love you more than all the breaths taken by all the people while they’re standing in this line,” I told her.
“Well I love you more than all the heartbeats of all the people while they’re standing in this line,” she responded.
We went back and forth, our metrics for love ranging from the bricks in the walls (mine) to the electrons and quarks of every brick in the world (hers).
At one point, she looked at me quizzically and asked me to make the expression I had just made, a look of being fairly impressed that she one-upped me with a reference to particle physics; eyebrows raised, mouth turned appreciatively down.
I did, and she immediately told me, smiling, “I love you more than all the lines on your forehead and crinkles around your eyes.”
I will pause here for the collective “ouch.”
And truthfully, in the moment, I did pause. For a heartbeat and a half, I felt the sting of being told my forehead wrinkles and eye lines were so noticeable and numerous that she could use them to measure something as vast and expansive as love.
In that heartbeat and a half, my mind flashed across all the ways I could respond to her declaration.
Feigned shock, mock hurt feelings, a gentle lesson in not calling attention to people’s appearances, and even laughing it off—my go-to defense for awkward moments that I just don’t know how to handle—were all considered.
I didn’t do any of them. All of those responses were ways to protect my ego; what stopped me was wondering, “Why is my ego so tied up in my wrinkles?” and most importantly, “What am I teaching my daughter about her own self-worth?”
Being a girl mom brings with it the special challenge of raising a daughter who has body confidence. A daughter who doesn’t let magazine and Insta-bodies make her feel less than. A daughter who knows that bellies pooch and hair frizzes and that breasts spend a season perky and a lot more than a season less perky and that all of these are normal. No. More than normal. Better than normal. All of these are beautiful—and worthy—because they’re real.
Being a girl mom is hard because we have to tell our daughters that looks don’t matter, but then we model dressing up for date nights and insist on looking special for first days of school. It’s hard because we have to explain that both are true, that looks don’t matter…and they do. That what’s on the outside isn’t important, and also take pride in your appearance. That we don’t judge books by their covers, and also the way we present ourselves to the world communicates something about us.
We love our hair, and we brush it. Our value is inside, and we take care of our teeth.
As a girl mom, I live in the constant tension that exists among body positivity, a focus on ability, self-awareness and presentation, self-care, physical and mental health, realistic expectations, and accurate self-identity.
So for this moment, for these wrinkles and crinkles, which would it be? Taking more of an effort to smooth out my skin or accepting and embracing these natural lines and finding joy in the stories behind them?
And that, I realized, was my litmus test. What stories are told by my wrinkles? Or for that matter, my white hairs or my size 12 waist or my unpainted nails?
Each decision about my body and my appearance communicates something to the world. I dye my hair because I love the golden hues of my youth. My body shape says something along the lines of “I love yoga and hiking and tacos.” I don’t paint my nails because I’m outside so often they just get chipped in minutes. And on, and on, and on.
Our bodies are the culmination of our stories, our values, our lives. And my wrinkles?
I smiled at my girl and made sure to crinkle all my eye lines in celebration.
“You want to know something about these lines?” I asked her.
“I got these lines,” wiggling my forehead and eyebrows, “from all the times I opened my eyes up wide with surprise and delight at watching the people I love do amazing things.
“And sometimes,” moving my eyebrows together to make my 11 lines appear, “from worrying about the safety of the people I love and wanting them to be okay.
“And these,” crinkling my eyes into smiles, “I got from the hundreds of millions of billions of smiles I’ve smiled in my life, and from squinting into the sun while I’m hiking a mountain or riding in a boat or playing in the ocean, and from laughing until I can’t breathe. These are my joy lines. My life lines.”
She snuggled against me happily, her frizzy, curly hair tickling my nose as I bent to kiss the crown of her head.
“So to love me more than all that? That is a lot of love,” I told her.
“And one day,” she said, looking up at me and wiggling her own eyebrows up and down to see if she had any lines forming yet, “I’ll have all those joy lines, too!”
I smiled at her, hoping to add a new line around my crinkled eyes to mark the occasion.
“And it will be beautiful,” I whispered.