For the last four years I have been wondering something: How will my daughter, Phinny, ever repay me for those forty-two hours of skull-cracking hard labor? And, as is sometimes the wonder of children, the answer came to me at the checkout line in the grocery store.
Noticing a copy of a glamour magazine featuring Halle Berry, Phinny exclaimed, “Mama, she looks like you!”
You know those scenes in a movie where time slows and voices echo with intensity? It was like that. Phinny’s little emerald eyes turned to me and blinked- a blinding sparkle glinting off her smile.
“Oh, you think? She’s very pretty.” I demurred. Phinny cranked the killer smile and we went on our way, me using the cloud below my feet for transport. She might have a serious brain condition involving visual processing, but she was off the hook, lucky kid- we were even.
Of course I don’t look a damn thing like Halle Berry. Short cropped hair and brown eyes are the only thing we have in common. Also, I’m not black. But children generalize and sometimes it works in your favor. Sometimes not.
For example, I came to the table looking less than attractive the other evening, and Phinny, obviously suffering the effects of a subconscious river of hot lava hatred over the fact that I wouldn’t let her bring her princess purse full of shit to the table, complimented me: “You look very handsome tonight, Mama.”
My wife Julie corrected her immediately, with a sing-songy, “You mean ‘Mama is so pretty’.”
“No, she’s handsome.” Phinny said, with a shit-eating grin on her face.
She’s done this before, sweet little thing. “Mama, your vagina isn’t tidy-looking, like mine.” and “Aww, look, Mama, you have a tiny mustache!”
I thought I had paid my dues twenty years ago when that one guy in the library asked me how I could walk on such “chickeny” legs. But no. Times are back, folks. Just when I had achieved something approaching loving acceptance of all my bodily imperfections. Now this. The excruciating honesty of children.
Phinny is, of course, currently enjoying the freedom from bodily flaws that is the gift of early childhood. Granted coppery red hair and flushed, flawless porcelain skin, she is the type of child that makes old ladies in the grocery store stop and shake their heads. “Angel!” they say. “Living angel.”
Sure, now how ‘bout I drag the angel and my “looong boobs” over to the yogurt aisle and hook a kid up with some seventeen dollar yogurt in a tube.
Though, despite all the boggling surprises of age (callouses on the top of your ankles, anyone?), and a body that has birthed three kids- two at once, even!, I actually feel better about my body than I ever did before. Maybe it’s because I’ve no one to impress. Lord knows Julie can’t leave me- she’s irreversibly trapped with all these kids and this big house. I’m not trolling for lovers anymore, and I no longer see my self-worth as having much to do with how I look.
Now if I could just shut this kid up. She inquired last summer if I “remember fossils”.
Kids really have a way of bringing the objective world into view. They see things as they are without the fog of prejudice and over-analyzation. We’ve all had those moments when, after reading a story about some tragically underserved forest creature, our child asks us in all sincerity why anyone would hurt another being, just for being less than perfect. Such clarity!
I myself have basked in the glow of all my good work when I can see my childrens’ understanding of simple acceptance, as demonstrated by me, to them. It’s working! They understand! I was sure I saw it in Phinny’s face when she turned to me in bed just this morning. Her heart is filled with pure love, without judgement, I thought. She has a natural desire to lift me up and be sure I know that I’m always good enough.
Then she said, ”Mama, your breath smells like cat poop.”
That’s it. I am preparing her a Labor and Delivery invoice now.