My eyebrows tell tales, my mom says. Dr. Farmen used to say it too. And what they mean is, if you want to know how I'm feeling about something, look no further than the melodramatic show that lives above my eyes.
And so when I shot that five-year-old girl a look the other night, I knew that she knew what I meant. Because she'd just had her fingers in my baby girl's face, spewing unkind words in a way that just seemed far more malicious than a girl her age should be capable of. I'm not in the business of scolding other people's children; but I am in the business of protecting my daughter, at least now, while I can.
I once had a professor tell me, "Sarah, you're the kind of person that people will either really, really love or really, really hate." Those words stung a bit--the idea of being hated is always tough to come to terms with. There's nothing to be done about it, he went on to tell me. I have a personality, like most people do; and sometimes certain personalities don't appeal to certain people.
When he told me this, I thought back through all the mean girls I'd known in my childhood, the things they'd said, and the excuses afforded them for their behavior--immaturity, jealousy, bad parents, insecurity. What if, I wondered, they'd just not liked me and that was all? Did that make me feel better?
Not entirely; but maybe in a way it did. It was a freedom I suppose--the idea that I could work and work to gain their approval, but in the end, it would all be in vain. And so I had to decide to live my life for me, not for them.
I'm not sure Iris was even fully aware of what happened that night. Or maybe she totally knew and she was just cool as a cucumber because she didn't care what some snot-faced brat thought of her.
Suddenly, I was scrutinizing my response. I thought of how wounded I might feel to be in her position and so I was wounded for her, perhaps even more so. But what if I could remove myself as a mother? How would I want Iris to react to such an attack? How would I want her to react in the future, when things maybe will get worse, when I can't be there for her? What if I could minimize the situation so that, even if they did hurt for a minute, the words wouldn't actually bear weight? Is that possible?
And I decided that this is how I would want her to react. I would want her to be self-confident enough to hear an intentional unkindness and to disregard it because she would know full-well it was false.
How to do this, little one? How can I instill in you the strength you need to know yourself and to love yourself and to not doubt yourself?
We were sitting in Starbucks a few mornings ago and a young mom walked in with two babes the same ages as my girls.
"Look at that little girl," Iris said. "She's so cute."
"She is cute!" I responded.
And Iris smiled up at me, "She's cute just like me, Mom." I melted and told her that she was, of course, the cutest. My words meant so much to her, I realized, because she's identifying with the messages I reinforce in her. She didn't claim cuteness with arrogance; she just saw it as a statement of fact.
These days, so much of my self-awareness and introspection is tied up in my girls: how they see me, the kind of women I hope they become, how I might set those examples for them. How easily is my heart wounded, stuck out there on my sleeve, constantly being swiped off, sometimes carelessly, sometimes intentionally. It always hurts, even when I don't want it to, even when I pretend it doesn't. Even when I remind myself that it's just not "meant to be" with everyone I know.
But I've come to recognize that a soft heart is an important thing. And so if, along the way, it becomes a soft heart with some bumps and scars and bruises, that's okay, because it's also a soft heart that has tried and felt and loved and been loved.
Still, it's taken me too long to learn to also be a woman who can easily let go. Sometimes it's not sweating the small stuff; sometimes it's a very grand plunge into a pool of forgiveness. Big or small, it's important to let go, to forgive, to move on. It takes a matter of confidence, a matter of determination; and I've learned, more than by nature, one lets go by choice.
These are the things in me and they are the lessons I am learning. And now, they are the things my daughters will see in me. I will not do it perfectly. I will fail. Sometimes they might not like it. But what I've determined is, even though sometimes it will be very, very hard to watch, this is what I want for my daughters too. As they move through life stages, encountering all that one must, I hope they experience it all with soft-hearted fullness. Better a big, unbelievable life lived with reckless abandon than to think of all that might be missed by being too careful.
Then when their hearts are hurt, I hope I'm showing them now how to let go. I hope I'm instilling that self-confidence in them, that assures them they know themselves despite wounds and accusations. I hope they always hear and heed my words--you are kind, you are lovely, you are loved, you are worthy--above the words of others.
And it's fun to think that I've learned more about myself in these three years than I ever have before. They are showing me more and more who I want to be, and I've got to hurry up and catch up and be that for them, so that they know they can be that too--and more.