“Mama, you are so pretty in that shirt,” I turned to look at where the voice had come from and saw Briar. I had known it was her talking, but the words were so out of context with how I was feeling. Her lips were turned up in the sweetest little smile and her eyes danced, happy.

“Thank you, sweet love,” I said smiling at her. My smile was genuine, my face calm, but my insides were racing. I’d gone through the morning bedraggled, stretched out pajama bottoms hanging from my frame, a t-shirt with just a tank top underneath, and my hair doing that 40-something, morning halo of kinks. The bags under my eyes taunt me, even after a night of more than 8 hours I can look like it’s finals week and I have the flu.

“Your face looks really pretty right now too, mama,” she was nodding and kicking her feet in her chair. I laughed out loud, which made her beam even brighter.

“Wow, honey, that’s really, really sweet of you. I was feeling kind of messy,” I said. She shook her head and nibbled at her toast. I walked back into the kitchen to finish with lunches. My mind wandered as I spread mustard on wraps.

When exactly was it that I became ashamed of not being done up? Just the other day I confessed to other moms on twitter that despite wanting to not ram a superficial agenda for the girls, I yearn to be pretty for them. When Finley watches a performance and says, “Mama, that girl is so pretty,” a little flame of fear and defeat flickers. Am I not pretty enough? Does she wish I was prettier? It’s absurd, but it’s there.

I look at the girls in the morning and revel in their bed head and pillow wrinkles, always have. The slow process of their skin settling back into normal as they grow more alert is a delight. When I consider my own morning cycle it is nothing like that. It is all judgement and critique.

I look over at Briar who is now playing on Sean’s iPad, scrolling through pictures she and her sisters have taken with Photo Booth. They take these pictures to make themselves look silly, completely unafraid of being ‘not pretty’.

When does that go away? I wonder. My chest feels heavy thinking of them having days when the natural state of their face or hair makes them ashamed. Is it avoidable? Considering my own habits and tendencies, it occurs to me that maybe, like so much of what we are supposed to teach, there is no template, no surefire recipe for avoiding it. Perhaps like happiness, the harder you chase the perfect vision of contentment and acceptance, the more elusive it becomes. The best thing that I can do, for me, for the girls, for our whole little family, is look in the mirror and go about my day caring for myself as unconditionally as I do our girls.

“Hey B, you about ready to go to the bus?” I ask Briar.

“Sure, but do you think maybe you could drive me today and we could be together for a little more time?” She is wearing the leggings I bought her, birds running up and down her slender legs, a long tunic poking out from beneath the cardigan she sewed. I smile again.

“Of course, I’ll meet you downstairs.”

She pops out of the chair and darts off to grab her backpack as I look down at my pajama bottoms reconsidering how they look. Maybe this morning me is special because no one else sees her. Or maybe I do look pretty in this shirt. Could be that it has anything to do with shirts or hair, and way more to do with the way being with me feels. Briar makes me feel incredibly lucky and beautiful. She and her sisters help me see everything and everyone in new light.