My Brown-Eyed Girl

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I have a sticker on my laptop that reads “Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raised them.” MAY WE RAISE THEM. When I found out I was expecting a girl almost 17 years ago, I knew I needed to raise her to be the strong woman I am constantly aspiring to be.

I was raised by an incredibly strong woman. My mom put herself through boarding school by selling books in the summer and paying her own tuition at just 15 years old. Later in life, she was a single mother of three while completing her master’s degree and working a full-time job. She paved the way for me to become a strong mother myself while adjusting to a completely different culture.

There was one thing I knew I wanted to do differently than my mother, or her mother, or her grandmother. I wanted to foster an amazing relationship with own daughter while she was still a teenager. One common denominator among the strong women in my family has been the clash of the ages – the intense, drive-me-crazy, I-can’t-do-this type of clash between mothers and teenage daughters. I remember clearly the hell I put my own mother through when I was between 16 and 19 years old, and I always wondered what I could do differently so I can change the narrative for us.

About seven years ago I became a facilitator for a teen outreach program, working with teens between 13 and 15 years old. This experience taught me more about motherhood than any book, class, or article I could read about raising teens. For four years, my students painted a perfect picture of what it was to be a teenager – a misunderstood, vulnerable, full of emotions teenager.

I had forgotten what it really felt like being a teen, what fears they have, what frustrations they feel, and what are some of the things they wish they could say to their parents, but couldn’t. They shared mundane things, but also deep thoughts about life, relationships, and their perception of reality. Year after year, these kids filled my motherhood toolbox with things that I couldn’t wait to practice, and the first time my girl said to me “I can’t imagine not having a good relationship with you”, I knew it had worked.

Maybe this is why I love working with Seniors! I feel that I get them!

And… this is what worked:

I learned to listen… but to really listen. To listen without interrupting. To listen without passing judgment.

I learned that arguing is ok, I just had to make it fair and teach her to be fair. Respect first. Always first.

I learned to make time, and be creative with our time. I made time for family dinners, and game nights, and movie nights. I made time for school stories, and if there were days she wouldn’t share, I made space for her.

I learned to ask. Ask the tough questions. To ask why she thinks she feels that way. Ask what’s wrong, and give her space to answer – whether immediately or three days later. I learned to be patient.

I learned to laugh. Laugh at her jokes, laugh with her friends. To say yes to that selfie, even if I wasn’t wearing makeup. To learn that dance, even if I felt silly.

I learned that she wanted to be hugged, and kissed, even if she doesn’t show it. I learned she wanted to hear she’s loved and valued, and I learned to say it all the time, but especially after an argument.

I learned to praise her in public, and correct her in private. I learned not to share what may embarrass her, even if I think it’s funny. I learned to respect her wishes. I learned to apologize to her. I learned to keep things between us.

And she taught me the unexpected: to love myself, exactly how I was.

During our small Christmas celebration, I brought up that I had run out of contact lenses and I had to wait a whole month to see my eye doctor. I had been wearing color contacts since before my daughter was born, in fact, not many people had seen my real brown eyes. I was so used to my “gray eyes”, that I felt they were part of who I was. I thought I looked prettier with a “faux” color, and I completely forgot something really important: she was watching me.

Grace taught me a lesson on self-love.

She said… “mom, I love your brown eyes”.

I said… really?

“Really. Because they make me look like you.”

I felt a knot in my throat. “They make me look like you“. My beautiful brown-eyed girl wanted to look like me, and I was denying her that. My vanity was denying her that, and I realized I was sending her the wrong message. While I was telling her time and time again that she must love herself the way she is and that no one can dictate how she feels about herself, I was hiding behind color contacts because I wanted to look cooler or prettier.

My last professional photoshoot as a fake gray-eyed girl

In 2019 I went through a rough patch coming to terms with getting older (I wrote about it here), and even after getting out of that funk, I couldn’t see that I was still holding onto something that was not me. Having my beautiful brown-eyed girl tell me how beautiful my brown eyes are may not mean a lot to you, but means everything to me. She showed me what I’ve been telling her all along – You are enough. Always have been. Always will be.

Ever since I gave up the last thing that was not me, I feel free. My girl tells me all the time how beautiful my eyes are, and I know that what she’s really saying is “Thank you, mom. I really look like you.”

I now rock my thick rim glasses like is no one’s business, and when I’m not lazy, I put on a pair of clear contacts. I am now her own brown-eyed girl.


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