Here’s a familiar week day scenario. My daughter comes from her babysitter’s house and thumps her backpack on the table. I’m in the kitchen chopping vegetables and working on dinner. She immediately starts fishing in her backpack for the day’s papers and hands me semi-wadded messes of important information intermingled with the day’s take home school work. She’s talking a mile a minute because it’s been 10 hours since we’ve seen each other and a lot has happened in her world while we were apart. (Truth be told, a lot has happened in my work day, but hers is more important so we focus on her).
I wipe my hands on a towel, give her a huge hug, take the wad of papers and put them on a counter in the kitchen so I can look at them after dinner. I pull up a kitchen stool and she continues talking about her day while I keep cooking. Sometimes we talk through the entire dinner prep time, but more than likely she jumps down from the stool and heads to the living room to play on the iPad before dinner. My husband or teenage son has picked her up from the sitters and they disappear until dinner time the moment they walk in the house.
This time before she jumps down from the stool, she heads over to the papers to put the one about school picture day on the top of the pile. She wants to make sure I see it because it’s important. “Mama, I can wear something pretty because it’s school picture day. We don’t have to wear our uniforms!” (The navy collared shirts and blue or khaki pants/skirt uniform causes consternation with my hot pink and sparkles fashionista).
“Awesome. Why don’t you go pick out what you want to wear tomorrow,” I tell her. She bounces off happily, ready to make this important decision independently.
The truth of the matter is I’m not and never have been a fan of the non-creative photos that are done in public schools across the nation. The whole predictable grey mottled background and cookie cutter way of taking school photos nauseate me. It’s one annual ritual I wish we could just skip. To that end, I have never cared what my kids wear for these photos. The chances of me buying them are 1 in 10. I’d rather donate money directly to the school for something useful, like field trips to the museum or science center than purchase or (gasp!) display them in my home.
I’m doing my best to be a good mom though, so I never express these feelings with my kids. We have creative family photos all over our house. I have a real passion for photography, so we have some fun family home decor and they get to see their beautiful faces everywhere (much to my daughter’s delight and my son’s chagrin.)
Fast forward to bedtime. As I’m tucking my daughter into bed, she asks if I can lay next to her so we can snuggle for a few minutes. As I crawl in next to her, I can see her brows knitted in worry.
“What’s going on, love?”
“Mama, I don’t like picture day at school because I have to smile,” she says.
My heart sinks a little. I know the reason she’s saying this is because she hasn’t had any front teeth since she was two years old. It’s our fault. She screamed and wiggled and fought getting her teeth brushed so we didn’t do as good of a job as we should have and she developed “baby bottle teeth” and they had to be removed. Yes, her adult teeth will come in, but she’s not had teeth for so long that she doesn’t even know what it’s like. She’s been teased about it, and it makes her sad and want to hide this part of herself that she feels ashamed about.
I kiss her on the top of her head and then look into her eyes. “You listen to me honey. YOU are beautiful. YOU are divine. YOU are gorgeous. You are a million and one amazing things, least of which are smart and kind and loving. You are a friend to everyone. When picture day comes tomorrow and the photographer tells you to smile, I want you to give him the biggest and brightest 10,000 watt smile that you have inside of you. YOU let that inner beauty of yours SHINE because you are perfect just the way you are.”
She flashes me a huge smile and me and then hugs me tighter than she has in a while. For a moment, my heart leaps right out the top of my head. Yes, good mama moment. Important mama moment. Success!!!
Here’s a little secret of my own. I have a crooked smile that I’ve often felt ashamed about it. I’ve also done a tight-lipped grin for important publicity photos, like when I was at F+W shooting my DVDs/digital downloads. I didn’t want strangers to look at me and my creative work/products and think less of me or judge me because I don’t have a perfect row of pearly whites. Sometimes when I do selfies with my artist friends at the retreats and events, I’ll keep my crooked smile to myself so it doesn’t show up in their social media news feeds.
However, this little girl of mine is proving to be one of my most valuable life teachers. Being her mama makes me face my own fears and insecurities. Trying to raise a strong, smart, beautiful woman makes me realize that when I’m talking to her, I’m often telling my childhood self the things I most needed to hear, and, wow, these moments can be most empowering and healing.
I hope my daughter takes this lesson to heart and follows through. I promise, if I open that photo package and I see her proudly showing her gums and letting her inner beauty shine, I will buy the entire thing and hand them out to every family member and close girlfriend I have. Boring background and cookie cutter pose be damned!
And next time — hopefully every time — I see that cell phone camera coming my way, I’ll remember to light it up with my crooked smile and inner beauty as well.
Smile baby girl, you’re perfect just the way you are!