With One Sentence, My Mother Failed Me

by Haley Clarke
Originally Published: 
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“Earlier today, when you were laughing on the bed … You looked stupid.”

With those words, my mother sealed the deal on my self-esteem. Every time I laughed, my hand darted up over my mouth to cover the generous gaps between my teeth. I closed my eyes to mask the fact that laughing made them squint and emphasized the roundness of my cheeks.

She probably didn’t mean that I always look stupid when I laugh. It may have been that what I was laughing at was something she didn’t find funny. I won’t ever know – I never got the nerve up to ask her before she died. Even if she were here now, I don’t think I would have the guts to just blurt out the question. The question of why I looked stupid, or more importantly, of why on Earth she found that to be an acceptable judgment call to pass on a child.

Even if she hadn’t made that statement, I’m sure I would have gone through phases of low self-esteem. I was an early bloomer, and the generous chest bursting from beneath my t-shirt often led me to cross my arms over my chest and slump behind my friends. I was slapped with the moniker “Four Eyes” early in life due to glasses, and was painfully shy. These things, combined with a general tendency to spend too much time inside of my own mind, probably would have led me down a path of self criticism and too much time spent in front of the mirror.

However, this harsh observation, coming from the lips of the person I spent almost all of my time with, wormed its way into my mind, tucking itself into a corner and seeping out every time I let down my guard. I don’t know how to laugh without trying to camouflage my face somehow – looking down at the floor, covering it with both hands, or offering a smirk instead of fully laughing.

It’s been 15 years since my mother spoke those words, but I still remember.

Now I look down at my son playing in the floor. He is all round, pudgy rolls and dimpled wrists, a sweet, loving child that even strangers exclaim over. He has beautiful eyes; they are exactly like mine. In my face, I see them obscured by under-eye circles or topped with frizzy hair. In his face, however, they are perfect.

His laugh is the most incredible sound I have ever heard. When he laughs, he closes his eyes and squeals, followed by those big belly laughs that are made of pure joy. He laughs at our cats when they run by, and at the antics of The Wiggles. I love to hear him laugh.

I will fail at times as a mother. I will probably lose my patience and yell at a time I shouldn’t. I might forget to pack his raincoat for school on a day the streets flood. I know that at some point, I will disappoint my son.

But I will never, ever make him question the fact that he is the most amazing thing I have ever seen.

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