It’s another Saturday morning. Nothing particularly different or out of the ordinary. I’m putting moisturizer on my face after getting both my kids showered, dressed and looking absolutely fabulous when my daughter walks in.
Heavy sigh. “Mama, you always wear so much make-up.”
I choke on a laugh. “So inaccurate,” I say. “This is moisturizer, Audrey.”
She quirks her head at me like a doe in the headlights and I can tell there’s something on her mind.
Done with the only thing I’m putting on my face today, or really any day if I’m being perfectly honest, because I’m lazy, I angle myself on my bed to face her. “What’s up buttercup?”
She giggles at the new endearment before taking a deep breath as if to brace herself.
I settle in too. It’s going to be a long one.
She may be seven, but she’s got this way of looking at things and it’s fascinating and I love hearing it. So I sit there. Eager to hear. Waiting.
She lifts her hands in the air and begins waving them like she’s this mad scientist laying out her hypothesis. I do the same thing, it’s just cuter when you’re seven.
“If you don’t wear a lot of make-up,” she says, “Then why do so many people stare at you all the time? Is it because you’re so pretty?”
I can’t help but chuckle. “Well, baby, it might be, but it’s probably not.”
That doe in the headlights look again.
I reach for her hand and she walks into my arms. “In this town, there’s a lot of white people and there’s a lot of black people. But there’s not a lot of in between.”
She nods her head emphatic. She knows. I don’t have to spell this one out for her.
The next part, I do. “Have you seen a lot of people who look like Mommy?”
Her nose crinkles as she considers this. She doesn’t take long before she whips her head from side to side, her hair smacking me in the face as she does.
I pull an auburn blond strand of hers from my mouth. “While some people may look at me because they think I’m pretty. More likely than not, it’s because I’m different.”
She looks down at her hand on mine. She’s not looking at how small her hand is compared to mine. Or how soft her skin is and how flawless.
“Is that why people tell me I’m so beautiful? Because I’m different?”
“No, punkin! Not at all.” I scoop her into my arms and sit her on my lap as best I can. Which is a hard thing to accomplish nowadays considering my little girl is four feet four inches now and towers over most third graders. She’s in first grade by the way, so, riddle me that.
I give her an Eskimo kiss that makes her laugh. “That’s not why people say that to you. It’s because you are.”
She frowns. Contemplating the dichotomy of what I told her earlier in relation to myself and what I’m telling her about herself. The two don’t match.
As I look into her almond-shaped eyes, the same as my own, and I’m about to launch into an explanation about how I don’t belong here in this small town because I don’t fit in but she does because she looks White, I realize the terrible disservice that I’m about to do to both her and myself and the awful prejudices that I continue to hold and the many insecurities that I have in relation to myself. As these dark and ugly assumptions rise up they stand in stark contrast to the other ideals and beliefs that I also hold, those of peace and unity and equality. So how can I believe in those ideals, and still be holding onto such judgments as well?
I find myself taking a deep inhale as if doing so will help me to reign in all the things that I was going to say and as I exhale, I imagine myself releasing them into the air to disseminate and float away from me, for they no longer serve me and they are something that I don’t wish to pass onto my daughter.
Because the truth is, I don’t know what other people think when they look at me. They could be thinking all matter of things. They could be thinking, “Wow, didn’t she wear yoga pants yesterday?!?!” Because let’s be fair, I’d go to church in yoga pants if I could. Alright, you caught me, I totally have worn yoga pants to church in some form or another. Just owning up to that one right here and now! For all I know, people could also just be thinking, “Man, her hair is crazy long!” Because it does seem to grow like a weed and despite cutting over 8 inches of it last year, it has magically returned to its former glory. Is it mermaid hair? Is it? We may never know!
At the end of the day, just because I am constantly judging myself and criticizing myself, doesn’t mean that other people are doing the same. I refuse to pass down that kind of insecurity and unhealthy mentality onto my children.
So I say, “You know what, angel love, I honestly don’t know why people stare at me sometimes.”
She quirks her head at me again in confusion. “It’s not because you’re different?”
Here I pause for just a moment. I do feel different sometimes. I often feel like maybe I don’t quite fit in. I find myself admiring and feeling a sense of longing for the everybody-knows-everybody thing in our small town because I didn’t have that as a military kid growing up. But that’s not something I blame anyone for. I loved growing up around the world. When people play songs from their high-school years and get all nostalgic, I smile along to some new tunes and enjoy them, because those weren’t my beats. While everyone was listening to Frankie J crossover, I was listening to him sing the songs in Spanish while also learning how to dance to bachata and reggaeton. There are also some culturalisms that I don’t really get, and I think that’s ok too, because it gives others a chance to heckle me, and I get the opportunity to be in on a light-hearted joke since most times my own personal sense of humor runs along the deadpan lines and when I try to tell jokes, people tend to look at me funny, which in itself is sort of funny anyway.
I smile at my sweet summer child. “No. It’s not because I’m different. It’s probably because of the crazy way I do my hair!” I shove my crazy top knot into her face and she shrieks.
“No it’s not!” she says, trying to wriggle free of me.
“Yes huh!” I say, holding her tight. “Ever see anyone with crazy hair like this out in public? I’d stare too!”
Our laughter brings my four-year-old crashing into my room who jumps on my bed to join in on the fun.
And as our game of who-can-get-away-from-moms-top-knot becomes tickle-monster, I realize that no matter the insecurities I have about where I belong or my sense of self, I belong here, in this space with these kids and with my family. That I can take this with me wherever I go also means that I belong wherever I say I belong as well, and really, everything else pales in comparison to that.