Thursday, March 13, 2014


"Chloeeee! C'mon, smile!" I sat in front of my six-week-old, making faces like a crazed person, camera in hand.

"Sweetie? Look at mommy!" I cajoled. The girl could smile. She'd started a few weeks before. She just never seemed to smile for the camera.

"Googoogoo," I actually found myself saying. Nothing but stares. "Pleeease?" Nope.

As my newborn unknowingly refused to cooperate and flash me one of those light-up-her-whole-cute-little-face smiles, I realized I was feeling tense. She could do this! She had to show everyone how darned cute she is! I was in fact, kind of annoyed.

This bothered me.

I decided I had no choice but to ask myself, really ask myself, why? Why was I subtly asking my daughter to perform? Something about this seemed vaguely familiar. I had a flashback to when Anna was in preschool; my first-ever conference with her teacher. I was looking forward to it. I have to admit a tiny part of me was waiting for her teacher to start gushing over what a smart, cute, funny, etc. little girl she was.

Instead she told me that Anna was "hard to figure out." This was (and is) of course true. She's a wonderful kid, but she's never been the teacher's pet, most popular kid in class type. That day I sat there with the three-year-old preschool teacher, I had a sense that she liked my girl well enough, but that perhaps she wasn't one of her special favorites.

I realized how much that bothered me. And for the first time I realized how I had often as a child only felt good about myself by being the studious, accommodating, quiet, helpful one. I spent a lot of time working to earn praise, to earn my worth, without even realizing it. That day with the teacher I could see that a part of me wanted to help Anna do or be something to get that same kind of attention from her teachers. I wanted to do that, when really I just needed to love my daughter for who she was.

I looked at daughter #2 and sighed. "Chloe," I said knowing of course that the words were for me just as much as for her. "It's okay if you don't smile. You don't have to perform. I love you just the way you are." Just speaking it out loud felt freeing, felt like a salve. Suddenly, I was speaking to myself. And I was knowing the way God speaks to me and looks at me.

There was another reason I wanted Chloe to smile: the cute photo it would make that I could share with others. Such is life in a Facebook-driven world. We post the best versions of ourselves, of our lives. It's easy to believe that everyone else is more beautiful; everyone else's kids are super-cute; everyone's taking an awesome vacation. We can edit ourselves into perfect little boxes, until we start to believe there's no value in the ugly; the uncomfortable; the messy...the unsmiling.

I thought of some of those pictures I prefer to remain hidden, particularly those from my awkward phase. I think of the way I cringe when I see them. Photos like this:
This is not a Facebook photo. This is a Seventh Grade Has Not Been Kind to Me photo. I've flipped right past it in photo albums for years.

Today, I stop and make myself see. Today I remember that the way I need to love my children, wholly and completely, in every phase, with every qualm and quirk and fault, is the way I need to love me.

Because I too am loved.

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