There wasn't anything that prompted it. She had been running between the living room and her bedroom, leaping every few feet and attempting to fly. She was a fairy again. When she left the ground I could hear her take a breath that, milliseconds later, shot out in an audible “UH!” as she came back to the carpeted earth. Then she’d smile, start running and try again. The plastic fairy wings a friend of Stevie’s had bought her were adorable, but not very good at actually making her fly. On her eleventieth try she came running over to me on the couch, hugged my lap and told me that I was beautiful.
“Dad, you’re beautiful.”
Handsome. Somewhere in the back of my head a voice said handsome. Boys are handsome and girls are beautiful. I opened my mouth to correct her, and stopped the words before they fell irretrievably into the space between us.
“Thank you! Why am I beautiful?”
She put on her thinking eyes. Now they are beautiful. When she puts them on her eyebrows raise and her cheeks widen just enough to give her tiny toddler forehead creases.
“Weeeell…” She stretches words out when she is stalling. She gets that from me. “You’re beautiful … because… you’re beautiful.”
Handsome. Men are handsome, women are beautiful. There’s that voice again. I wonder how many times I have been told that. I wonder how many times the people who told me that men are handsome and girls are pretty were told that by someone else. Does it really matter? They’re just adjectives. They’re just words, right?
I've had the “words matter” fight many times. I've been on both sides. Lately, in the constantly changing and evolving world of toddler language I've fallen down on the side of communication. Communication matters. Did I want to teach her the “difference” between beautiful and handsome? Is that what this moment was about for me -- or more importantly, for her?
I decided that I wasn't necessarily looking to evaluate the sociological repercussions of reinforcing gender-specific adjectives for beauty in my four-year-old. I decided that my concern wasn't what the difference between handsome and beautiful meant to me within a larger context. I just wanted to know what beautiful meant to her.
“But honey, what does beautiful mean?” I asked.
“Uggg!” She was getting frustrated. I knew I couldn't push it too much further. I definitely didn't want to make this a battle, but there is just this part of me that is totally and completely addicted to watching her work her way through these things. I don’t mind where she ends up. I just like to watch her flex.
She widened her eyes again. It was beautiful again.
“Dad, it means you are nice. And you play with me. And we have fun. And I love you. And can I go be Tinkerbell now?”
I suddenly felt one of those teary dad moments coming on. Sure, what she said wasn't the literal definition of beautiful. But in that moment, in that snap shot of her life, it was her definition. It was her moment. Communication achieved.
“Yes. Of course. I love you too. Thank you so much.”
And off she went to jump and land and jump and land and jump and land.
EDIT: As pointed out by a reader: the exact definition of beautiful:
So she was right. I'm glad I kept my mouth shut! Thanks, Lindsay Bandscombe!
P.S. If you're just finding this blog, or you just signed up for Facebook (ha!) be sure to like the Ask Your Dad Facebook Page. I post a bunch of fun, funny, parenting related stuff over there. It's not just a bunch of me writing about how beautiful I am, I promise.