At three and half you tell me you don’t like your eyes. Too brown. Not blue. Not enough like a princess. You say they are ugly.
I tried to hide the princesses from you. They found you anyway. Since exposure, I have resolved that it is better to be excited together, so I croon all the songs in the car. Largely due to grand-maternal indulgence, you have about a dozen costume gowns, all sequined and spangled. And of course, lets not forget the plastic tiaras, the medallions rescued from garage sale costume jewelry, and the long satin glittery gloves. To mediate the onslaught with tradition, we return to the classics. We read Grimms and Anderson. I counter the Disney bombardment by emphasizing its most potent take away—the virtue ethic underlying what often, and rightly, makes a princess beautiful—kindness.
We live in a house of books. Our dated television resides in the closet and is pulled out on a rare occasion to view a library DVD, so you supplement your princess time the old-fashioned way. How many times have I caught you standing at the couch with a stack of books, flipping through the pages, pausing to sponge up the pictures? I revel in the hours you spend in concentration. You compare the colors of the cowl the evil queen wears in the different Little Golden Books. In the 1984 edition it is black, while in the 1974 edition, it’s pale green.
The literary critic in me is delighted. You are engrossed in texts, and your knowledge of them is precise and prolific. I can witness the webs of linguistic and imagistic associations you weave—the luminous threads of your connections and your comparative sensibility. Your attention to detail sharpens mine. When you ask questions about specific words, you can always offer the textual reference and identify the context in which your curiosity blossoms. Your citations are bubbling. Superior, in so many ways, to the college freshman I teach to buy our groceries.
I peer at you from behind the pages of my own book. What are you studying about these princesses? What do you see with your big brown eyes? When does a woman first think she isn’t beautiful enough? When does she look in the mirror and see her lack?
I should know, struggling in my late thirties with sensitive skin and the hormonal acne that found me when I became pregnant with your little brother. Despite the eight glasses of water, the vegetarian diet, the reduction of dairy. Still so, this human skin, with its cycles of pimples. When I look in the mirror, I see my imperfections. I have seen them for just about as long as I can remember. I know I shouldn’t. On an intellectual level, I understand that any beauty I possess comes from the quiet compassion I can cultivate in my heart as I sit on meditation cushion in the early morning and close my eyes before the day begins. Still so, I’m haunted and can’t seem to shake my obsession with my lack.
I have been careful to never voice these reproachful thoughts about my body in front of you. The feelings find you anyway. You find them. I quietly subsume responsibility. Do you hear them even if I don’t say them? And how about when I held you in my belly and watched my facial features change, slightly bloating with the fullness of pregnancy? Did you hear my thoughts then? Did they become a part of you? These are age-old questions haunt me. What is innate and what is learned? And in the womb, is what is innate also learned?
It is a late afternoon in mid-February. The sun smashes through the clouds and fills the purple room with fiery light. The harbor receives it too, and passes more of it on to us. We stand, you and I, staring at the looking glass. The light reflects off of the mirror and illuminates our faces. My watery blue eyes. Your big brown pools. We study one another, bathed in late winter’s parade of color. I gaze into your eyes and for the first time today, I don’t see my wrinkles, my dry lips, the new pimple on my chin. I see a child who astounds me with her fierce perception. I see the eyes I first gazed into (at that time, sapphire blue), on that rapturous June afternoon when you were born. My happiest day. You look into my eyes, and you see the big blue you are asking for. The baby blue of Cinderella and the icy blue of Elsa. You see me. I see you. You are my beloved.
I kiss you, as one must when she beholds her beloved, and whisper, “I have never seen such wise and beautiful eyes.”
You smile with your whole body, and you whisper back, “I like them too Mommy.”
Jesse Curran is a poet, essayist, scholar, and educator who lives in Northport, NY. Her creative work has appeared in a number of literary journals including Ruminate, About Place, Spillway, Leaping Clear, Green Humanities, Blueline, and Still Point Arts Quarterly. She is the mother of two bright stars, Leona and Valentine. www.jesseleecurran.com