“Almost all the kids match,” my son declared.
I tensed a little in my miniature chair, wrapped both hands more tightly around my chai and waited to see if he would pursue it. Fourteen munchkins arrayed around the preschool snack table gave him varying levels of non-attention, fixated mostly on their little hoards of raisins and wheat crackers.
Vaguely, it occurred to me that “almost all” was a complicated concept. Their brains develop so fast. They inhale sophistication. I can watch their thinking process grow and change like bread rising.
“Almost all the kids are peach momma. We match. And Saige matches Teacher Miscilla.”
Saige barked, a second after I predict it in my mind, “I match mommy’s eyes.”
This is a recurrent theme in our house for the last month or two. As their minds become aware of color. Of features. Of alike and not alike. Their brains breathe in, breathe out, puzzling it. Our skin is different. Our eyes are the same. Saige has a tummy mommy. I do not.
I’m torn by her desire to match me. We have worked so hard for three long years to attach as a family. My emotional identity as her mother is strong, but they are young, simple, physical beings still. She wants the hard evidence. She wants to belong to me in fibers and colors and names and skin. Words are not satisfactory. Love. Bond. Concepts can’t be touched. They want to see and hold. Garrett’s hair matches Daddy’s hair. Saige’s eyes match Mommy’s eyes.
I encourage it gently and hide my reservations. My fears are adult fears. I know that she needs an identity as she grows that includes her Haitian heritage and her brown skin. I know that someday soon a desire to match her white mother and not her African American teacher could mean that I have failed to combat the pervasive message in our society that white is beautiful. That princesses are blond. That different is bad.
Not yet though. I feel fairly confident of that. She tells me she is pretty. She smiles when I do her hair and asks if she can see it. Oh, she primps, it’s beautiful. This four-year-old year, I see only a child exploring the ways she belongs in her family, not a child rejecting the way she looks.
The preschoolers looked to me, sticky handfuls of raisins half way to their mouths.
“I don’t match,” I reminded my son, “my skin is olive. Saige’s eyes match mine but her skin is chocolate like Teacher Priscilla. We are all unique. Who else has brown eyes?”
Four small hands went up. “I have blue eyes,” an adorable little blond piped.
“You do. Who else has blue eyes?” More comparing. Liam has green eyes like Garrett.
“But you’re the only one with red hair,” I say, “we’re all different and we all match.”
Just as suddenly as it began, it’s over. Their fickle attention shifted to something else, a spilled water cup, their dwindling raisins. Teacher Marietta directed them to the Rainbow Room where Ryan’s Grandpa, an entomologist, is ready to show them his Australian leaf bugs. They are huge! They are interesting! The biggest one laid an egg on his hand! We talk about bugs and only bugs for days, but I know it will come back up. I know it’s on their minds because of the way it surfaces and sinks and resurfaces in our conversations. Matching. Our skin. Our eyes.
This round is easy because they are easily satisfied. The hard questions wait for us around the corner.
I want to pour my heart into her. You are stunning. You are gorgeous. You are unique. Don’t cave to them, with their airbrushes and their chemical treatments and their make believe women in their make believe lives. Don’t think that pretty and picture perfect are equal. Don’t think that there is a look, a hair color, a weight, a wardrobe that brings happiness. Happiness is a family that loves you. Happiness is friends to giggle with you all night. Happiness is wine night every Thursday. It’s finding a passion. It’s tracing 1000 year old carvings with your finger. It is pouring your heart into something and coming in second. It’s in a hug. It is seeing your grandmother’s eyes light up when she meets your baby boy.
It is inconstant. It takes effort.
If you try to bleach or tan or sleep or puke or buy or exercise or read or drug your way to it, it will always elude you.
She is too small. I know. She is too small for all these words. So, I put them here for her for someday. You can not know the weight of someone’s heart by looking at them, darling. There are plenty of tiny blonds that cry themselves to sleep at night. There are redheads the world over that starve themselves in the name of a warped concept of beauty.
We are all different. We are all the same.