Shifting the Microscope

by Amanda Magee
Originally Published: 

My evening ritual of putting the girls to bed and slipping into the bathroom to wash my face is when I face the mirror down and try to become more fluent in being 40. I tell myself that the scrutiny over the new lines in my face and the more visible pores is self-care. I’m not berating myself for getting old, I’m just taking a good long time to get to know my reflection. I pluck errant eyebrow hairs, run toner-soaked cotton pads along my neck, brush my teeth twice.

The other night, as I was splashing water on my face, Briar tip-toed in behind me.

“I just need to blow my nose,” she said softly.

“Ok,” I mumbled through the water. I brought another handful of warm water to my face, then I reached for the soap and rubbed it in circles along my cheeks. hearing her soft puffs into the tissue made me smile. All those years of waiting for her to be able to understand how to blow her own nose. I rinsed my face and patted it dry, when I was done I noticed that she was holding the tissue to her face, not to clear her nose, but to hide that she was watching me. It took me a moment to realize that she really was there because she is curious—curious about what I do each night, but more so, she is eager to know more about what’s ahead. I stood up straight, she smiled shyly.

It all began this summer, this new stillness about her as she quests to understand things.

Standing in the bathroom I didn’t quite know what to do as the newest focus of her inquisitiveness. I was wearing a soft cotton chemise, the shoulders straps thin and pale. No matter which kind of bras I buy, they leave the skin on my shoulders and back angry; at night I long for the softest kiss of fabric on me. Her eyes scanning me make me feel too exposed, my teenage and college worries about not being good enough scratch at me. It is a constant battle as a mom of three daughters to keep the relentless reflex I have of pursuing a polished outward appearance from settling heavily on their shoulders—thinner, prettier, stronger, trendier, more organized, better spoken…

“Why do you do that?” she asked.

“Do what?”


I took a breath, imagining the possibility that she’s picked up on the delicate balance I have between unwinding and getting wound up—”I guess it’s kind of a treat, it helps me slow down.”

“Why do you want to slow down?”

“Well, you know how sometimes I tell you not to rush and other times I tell you to hurry up?” She nodded slowly.

“No one really tells me that, I mean sometimes dad does, but mostly, I have to remind myself.” She looked confused.

“When I come in here at night it’s a little bit like getting a fresh piece of paper to write my thoughts or draw a new picture,” she nodded, “I do this so that if there was rushing or slowing down that happened in the day I can shake it off,” I grinned, “Or wash it off, and then go to bed at just the right speed.”

“Yeah, but why do you take so long?”

She peered up at me set on figuring this out, just like she did with that brilliant, paper lantern in Cape Cod.

“Umm, I guess because it takes me a while. I am not always the best at letting things go or getting just the right rhythm.” I shrugged my bare shoulders.

“I think your face looks nice when it’s all shiny and pink after the hot water. And you smell good.” She walked over to me and wrapped her arms around me, I put my face on the top of her head, a distance that has grown noticeably shorter. She squeezes me and steps back, “When you finish, and you don’t need to rush, will you come and rub my forehead until I fall asleep?”

We smile at each other.

“You bet, I’ll be right in, ok?” She nods and snakes her arm around me to put her tissue in the trash.”Oh, and mom, I really love your nightgown.”

She skips away, the coral and yellow stripes of her nightgown trailing behind her like ribbons before disappearing through the door. I realize that she and I are both moving through our days with a constantly moving microscope. It isn’t always going to make things completely clear, but every once in a while it will connect two mysteries and we’ll realize that by looking at things together we see things, and maybe ourselves, in a new light.

This article was originally published on