Sean was working late and I had the girls in various stages of undress as we transitioned from reading to dancing. Ave was the first to get dressed, donning her pink ballerina costume with its bodice of dog-eared bows and quirky, stick-straight-up-instead-of-out-tutu. I was rushing to get Briar a fourth, fifth and six skirt to add to her faux hoop-skirtesque ensemble.
“Inowbooyflll,” tickled at my ear.
“What?” I asked turning to see who and where it came from.
Ave was sitting with her knees tucked beneath her in the corner, her hair fell over her face as she looked up at me. “What did you say, sweets?” I asked.
“I’m not beautiful,” she said, eyes sorrowful and piercing.
“You’re what?” I said lowering myself to her level.
“I’m not beautiful,” she said louder, clutching one bent knee in her arms as her chin rested on it.
“Excuse me? You aren’t beautiful? I’m sorry, but you are the most beautiful middlest, Avery I have ever known.” I said it with a playful, emphatic tone, but inside my chest felt as if it was pressing in on itself.
No, please no. Please don’t let this be happening.
“No, I’m just not beautiful.” Her eyes were free of tears, her mouth flirting with a smile, but the damage was done. She said something that shouldn’t matter, shouldn’t stop play and that simply wasn’t true.
I still have days when I put on a dress and I fear that my height or build will make someone question my femininity. It’s ridiculous, but years of doubt and insecurities, genuine and posed, leave a mark. I am cautious not to say things in front of the girls, but they see beyond what we know. I am strong and proud, tall and sharp, but it is in my moments of slouching, my hesitations springing from doubt that call out to them.
She didn’t say she wasn’t smart, didn’t say she wasn’t strong, she chose beautiful. She wanted my attention, my concern. Have I done something to make her think that beauty is what I value most? Has someone else? Does it matter?
She is my strong, beautiful, hilarious, amazing Avery. Her hurt made me feel powerless and I fear it’s but a fraction of what lies ahead. Now I have to try and find my way between “Yes, you are” and “You are so many things,” making sure I get the balance right.