Yesterday afternoon I was emptying my desktop trash (I’m notorious for throwing out things I need) and when I checked the folder I found some files with the extension marked .movie. And the preview showed an image of my daughter, wearing pajamas, her father’s big black headphones over her tiny ears. Because I’m her mother, and because it’s my computer, I dragged one of the files from the trash and pushed play, and watched as this shrimp, this 8-year-old babygirl, MY girl, watched her reflection on the computer camera screen as she sang along to a music video about boys and heartbreak and not knowing better and knowing better now. Lips were pursed. Hands were “talked to.” Shoulders were shrugged and shimmied, her long curly hair whipping back and forth.
I gasped, and my eyes filled with tears, and I laughed, and watched in awe. If you have kids you know these moments, these times when you see a video of them or you eavesdrop and hear them singing in their room or you read a poignant school journaling assignment or you overhear them speaking to a friend. Times when you feel your heart could burst with these emotions that fill your chest and threaten to escape from your rib cage like birds who have been caged too long. My baby.
But towards the end of the video she sort of frowned at herself, dissatisfied with her private karaoke moment, the utter joy at singing along with her jam forgotten as she maybe caught a glimpse of something she disliked about her face, maybe the hair she always begs me to straighten because her friends and Barbie don’t have hair like her. I don’t know.
When she came home I wanted to ask her, I wanted to show her the video and tell her how awesome I think she is, tell her she did a good job with carrying a tune, ask her why she frowned when she was done. But this was not my moment, and it was bad enough I had watched her video. But then again, my daughter, my house, my computer and all the parents know these days this sort of snooping is allowed. So I didn’t mention it, and I just hugged her very hard and helped with homework.
But I wanted to tell her about her video. I wanted to tell her that she is sublime, and she is so beautiful, and she should save these moments, because she will never be eight year old again and wearing cat pajamas and singing her heart out on her twin size bed, her stuffed “babies” as her audience and being this bravely un-selfconscious, how these moments in our life stop. Because they do.
I can remember my childhood mirror and spending hours in front of it, studying my eyes, and how at times I stole an eyeliner from my older sister, the transformation in kohl to something I felt more beautiful, more mature, more glamorous as I drew crooked lines on my eyelids, vaseline glossing my mouth. In the mirror I was beautiful. And as I grew older, I used to hold my hand in front of my mouth when I talked, as if people seeing my mouth move, clearly hearing what I was saying, wasn’t right. Because for some reason I didn’t deserve to be heard. Even million moments after, moments that we all have when we laugh too loud and realize it and stop, when we skip dessert because of how our jeans fit, when we color or straighten our hair or spend way too much money on face cream or when we delete the photographs of ourselves off of our partner’s phone because we can’t believe he would save something so awful looking.
I don’t want my daughter to ever stop being eight years old and utterly unafraid to face herself on camera and sing her lungs out. I don’t want her to ever stop seeing herself the way I see her.
I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know how we can raise our girls to be fierce and brave and secure in their own skin, how we keep them from crash diets and self-loathing and relying on what is sold in jars and applied with wands to enhance something that doesn’t need enhancing anyway.
I know as I get older I have less moments of utter self-hatred based on the simple knowledge of how I look today, how my face or body or hair or clothing looks. That even though these times happen less often they still happen. I do know a good part of my life has been consumed by this, and moments spent laughing or breathing or just being have been erased due to worrying about how I look, and I don’t want my daughter to do this same thing. I don’t know how we keep our girls from seeing themselves at the end of videos and frowning, but I did what any other mother would do.
I saved the video in a hidden desktop file and one day I will show her. One day maybe she will realize that she was always as beautiful and perfect as she is now. One day maybe she will understand that she would never see her face and frown. And maybe one day I will start telling myself the same.