“I hate how my ears stick out.”
“My ears. They are so big and stick out so far.”
I WATCHED AS my daughter, a beautiful 9-year-old girl with almond eyes and a button nose, tried to hide her ears with her long, silky brown hair.
I knew the new concern had come from a light-hearted comment by her older cousin that day, who merely stated Kalista had big ears. But I’ve seen this day coming for a while now. She’s getting more and more concerned about her appearance – something I can tell by her comparisons to classmates and gazes at music videos and magazines at the grocery store checkout.
I am terribly ill-equipped.
I’VE TOLD HER she’s beautiful since the first time I saw her. Not every day, but every day – I know for sure – I’ve paid her at least one compliment on the way she looks or does something. Telling her she’s beautiful while she looked at her ears in the mirror with disgust would have been ineffective. She’s told me before I’ll always say she’s beautiful because I’m her dad and I’m supposed to do it.
I have an awful fear Kalista’s going to grow up hating herself. I can handle her not having self-confidence, as that is something that often comes later in life and, to be honest, one can survive without a shred of it. But thinking she’ll actually dislike herself is a different story.
That keeps me awake at night.
IT FEELS TOO late in her life to insert a fabulous woman as a mother figure who’ll transmit confidence, style and grace that makes a pretty woman beautiful. She should have had that a few years ago; that ship has sailed. Besides, I’ve tried dating women before purely hoping to find my daughter a mother and it’s always ended dreadfully, as they end up a nuisance to me.
So it’s just me. Only me, left here to suffer the consequences of teaching her to think like I man. Inserting my grownup, masculine way of handing matters that seem frivolous to me, such as the size of one’s ears. A woman would have taught her all along to do something different, I presume … work with what she’s got, I guess. I, on the other hand, would laugh off these “predicaments” and tell her it’s what’s inside that counts.
Yeah. That’s effective advice for a 9-year-old being ridiculed by the alpha female in her class. I can see her winning tons of friends and influencing all kinds of people with the ol’ “it’s what’s inside that counts” spiel.
I’m so much like my dad.
IS THIS THE beginning of something worse? I see only streaks of her being outgoing and bubbly at school. Most of her time, from my observations, is spent with herself and a book or a piece of paper and drawing instruments. She shows little to no interest in group activities or socializing. Her circle of friends seems but the size of a pin – and it hasn’t changed over the years.
Yet she clings to every style, phrase and activity of her older cousin. She follows and copies, and I place the blame squarely on myself. Perhaps my emphasis on rules and respect and my attempt at creating a structured household has brow-beaten her into a dangerous trend of submission that will last a lifetime. Maybe it would have been different with a sibling to lead or a mother to shadow. Perhaps I have not been as successful at this as I thought I’d be in court eight years ago.
THIS IS WHY people have God in their lives. I have no answers myself. My mother (may she forgive me for writing this) is too much of a grandmother to offer wisdom that is effective. My dad? Oh no. He’d be deeper in this than I.
So this is going to be God. All God. Kalista sometimes needs reminded He is with her always and made her to be her – big ears and all. But she has faith when triggered. She goes to church, recites the lessons and applies them to her life. Someone’s just got to remind her at times.
And that is something I can do.
“Kalista,” I told her in the car a few days after the ear incident, “someday all of these things you’re worrying about now with your ears and your hair and your clothes and your friends aren’t going to matter to you at all.”
I looked over at her as she stared back at me.
“I’m serious. I cannot believe the things I started worrying about when I was your age and kept worrying about all through high school, really. But one day, I noticed that none of these things really make a difference in your life. What matters is how you treat people and the person you are to the world.”
An impish focus came over her face.
“When did you start to think that?” she said.
I smiled. So glad she asked.
“The day I met you.”