Today we were eating lunch when YaYa said, "I wish I wasn't so funny looking."
My jaw landed in my palak paneer.
"What?" I said. I sputtered. She smiled, knowing where I was going with it. "You're probably the most beautiful person I've ever met. How can you say that?" (I can tell her that, since I'm her mother and she KNOWS I'm all about her brains and love and talent.)
She laughed. She's in between. I can sway her. I can convince her.
"I think my voice sounds weird on my body," Kid A offered.
"REALLY?" I squeaked. "I think you have an amazing voice." He shrugged, gave YaYa a little embarrassed smile.
"But," I said, tearing off a piece of chapatti. "I get it. I felt like that when I was a kid, too. I didn't like stuff about how I looked."
"Really?" YaYa said. "What stuff?"
"I think my voice sounds CUTE," Leafy said, and we all laughed.
"But Mama," YaYa said. "What didn't you like about how you looked?"
I hesitated, not wanting to run through the laundry list of complaints I used to have about young Rae Rae. I didn't want to tell about the way I hid my large nose behind my hand on the bus, the way I tried to hide my big feet. The kids in school mocking my profile, how I was ALL nose, until my face caught up. Too skinny, too tall. Weird hair. I didn't even want to say it out loud in front of my innocent kids.
"Um, well. I didn't want to have such curly hair," I said.
"Me too!" YaYa said. "That's what it is for me too!"
She's crazy, I thought. Her hair is gorgeous. People can't stop staring. But I think of how I used to tell my mother that I wanted a nose job, and my mother wisely told me that she'd help me get one when I turned eighteen, if I still wanted one. Of course, by the time I turned eighteen, thoughts of a nose job had evaporated into the same ether that took my concerns about having big feet floating off. Now the idea is laughable to me.
But still... my darling lovelies, wondering if they're good enough, if they're too weird. Self consciousness. It's beautiful and unforgiving, isn't it? It's the very tool that is helping them assess the world, figure things out, make beautiful art. But it shakes them in its teeth.
"Actually, that's why it's silly to think too much about how we look," I said. "If you feel like that, you should just look at the sky, the coconut trees, all the beautiful stuff around you."
And YaYa started laughing hysterically, and "I don't know why I'm laughing," she said, and I remember that too. Fits of giggles and giddiness. I love my bigger kids, how they're changing.
But I wish that I could blow self doubt right out into the ether. I can't. They'll have to learn how to do it themselves.