I was getting ready for the day yesterday. Normal stuff – checking for stray brow hairs, trimming the nose hairs, looking for blackheads and putting on my puffy eye cream. It wasn’t just any day, though, and my examination of myself was more thorough. It was THE day – the first day of first grade. I had on a pair of panties that D has commented on favorably. Sure, no one at the elementary school will know, but I will and it made me feel good. I straighten my hair about once a week and today I was attempting to calm the wave. My choice to be more minimalist means I have fewer clothes and I know my style, so choosing outfits is pretty easy for me. In summer my go to is a pair of cutoff’s and a flowy shirt. I love my style (which is why it’s my style) and I’m happy with how I look, so it’s less a silent competition between elementary school moms and more wanting to look my best. I wear makeup two ways (if I wear it) – a little or a little more. No fuss, no stress, just me.
Last year on the first day of Kindergarten, I did much the same. I looked my best and was my normal self. I had done this Kindergarten thing nearly a dozen times before and I had it down. Having a seven year gap meant it had been a while, but I had no concerns. Until we showed up. In our area, there are parents who waited to have kids, which means I’m only about a decade older. There are a few grandparents raising their kids and then about 60% of the parents are under 30. D joked with me about how these were going to be my new friends and PTA buddies. No way. I wasn’t a PTA parent 19 years ago when Bri went to Kindergarten, I wasn’t changing my stripes now. And these women, 15-20 years my junior, probably weren’t going to be my new set of friends. I felt old. Spunky and good in my own skin, but still old. Feeling old doesn’t feel great.
As Tavin and I brushed our teeth together, her nervousness was apparent. “Will you help me find my new class?” Yes. “Will you stay for a while?” Yes. “Do you think I’ll know some of the kids?” Yes. “I hope my friends from Kindergarten are in my class” Some most likely will be. She looked in the mirror after I masterfully completed the side ponytail she loves and said, “I don’t like the way I look. I wish I looked different” and my stomach sank. “Why?” I asked. “Well,” she said, “I wish my cheeks were like Mia’s and I don’t like my front teeth. I don’t know, it’s just everything”. Six years old in first grade and already, for reasons I don’t understand, she feels she isn’t good enough. The fact that she has siblings and parents that tell her she’s smart and beautiful and a good person. Somehow she’s heard another message in the fray. Perhaps from any of us being overly critical about ourselves, perhaps the media, maybe we’ll never figure out where the negative self-image is coming from. I wish I could say why this amazing, funny, wonderful little person envisions a better life looking any different than the way she is – absolutely perfect.
I stopped what I was doing. I asked her to describe all 7 of her sisters – all very unique and different and all equally beautiful in their own way. I asked if they were pretty, smart, funny and she said yes and told me how they weren’t the same but all really awesome and “cool”. I tried to explain to her that she’s just like her sisters. Different but just as amazing. She is perfect the way she is and there are probably little girls that wish they had her bright, blue eyes like her Daddy’s and long, blonde hair like her Mom’s. That she should love being who she is just like her sisters – unique.
I thought to myself as I stared at my own reflection, finishing getting ready. I don’t ever wish I looked like someone else and I don’t remember ever feeling that way. I DO wish I could slow down time. That the grey in my hair wasn’t taking up about 40% residency on my scalp these days. Or it wasn’t so difficult to stay in shape. I wear things that I like and feel good in, but if D compliments an outfit, I like wearing it even more because it feels good to look good to someone I love. I’m ready for my hair to be longer again and it’s a struggle to not be critical of aging, even though I feel like I’m handling it well. I’m hopeful that I’ve passed on my confidence and positive self-esteem and body image to my kids and not my criticisms. We should love our differences and unique qualities.
As we approached the new first grade classroom and Tavin was filled with hope in the new school year and nervous energy, walking out of room B5 was one of her best friends from last year. They hugged in mutual excitement and walked in together. We met Mrs. Jones, found her seat, and got the supplies checked in. I asked Tavin if she wanted me to walk to the playground with her. “No,” she said. “I found my friend. You can go.” And just like that, I was dismissed. I bridged the gap and now she was ready to use her wings. “You look beautiful and I love you,” I said. “Thanks, Mom. I love you. Have a great day!” And she was off and running, never looking back. I hope she knows she doesn’t need to be like anyone else. She’s perfect the way she is.