Today, I let my four-year-old daughter go to daycare looking like a clown. A bit of a scary clown. She had done her own makeup —“lips” and “eyes” as she so adorably puts it. Of course she hasn’t quite mastered the concept of light touch, so every time, her face is an abstract painter’s canvas: black mascara in her eyebrows, lipstick running in smeared lines from her mouth to ears. If I’m being totally honest, she doesn’t do much worse than I did at 14. But still.
My first instinct had been to grab a wipe and clean off her face before we left. What kind of mother lets her child leave the house looking like that? This is a question I’m sure our daycare provider thinks to herself but is kind enough not to utter aloud.
But my daughter is fiercely her own person. Besides her penchant for breaking into my makeup drawer, she has also been dressing herself for at least two years. I love watching what she comes up with; some days she channels her inner Elsa, demanding a single braid and tucking a towel into her shirt collar for her cape, other days she matches coconut (aka polka-dot) shirts with coconut pants that were not at all designed to go together and it’s a LOT of coconuts.
It goes beyond clothes. At the park, she wants nothing to do with me and is always yelling “Leave me alone! I’ve got it! Don’t touch me!” while scaling the top of the monkey bars and suspending herself six feet in the air. She gets herself in and out of the car (and buckled in), prepares her own breakfasts, and lets the dog out in the morning. The ongoing theme of our day-to-day life together: me trying to make sure she is taken care of, her continually assuring me she is okay.
These are some of the reasons that I decided not wipe off her “lips” and “eyes.” The swirl of crazy colors on her face was a visual representation of her independent and confident spirit. My daughter created this look all by herself, and I love that. If I wiped off her face, I’d feel as if I was wiping away her self-expression in order to send her to daycare looking acceptable. And I have found that explaining the social constructs that deem things acceptable and not acceptable is not really possible with a toddler. And I don’t want to.
Moreover, as a girl, my daughter will have the rest of her life to feel the pull to question her makeup and clothes and all sorts of other things. She has the rest of her life to ask Is this too much? Will they take me seriously?
I don’t take being a mom of a girl lightly. I have a son, and I never think twice about sending him to daycare with pink toenails (the dude loves the color pink) or the socks/ sandals combo he insists on in the winter. But with my daughter, I can feel the difference, because I experienced the difference firsthand. My mommy heart aches knowing that someday soon she will be very attuned to what others are saying about her.
No matter the wrestle, I always tend to land on the side of letting my daughter be herself for just a little bit longer. I didn’t wipe her makeup off because I want her to feel safe in her choices and I want to foster her excited innocence for as long as her environment will allow.
Sometimes in parenting there is no right answer, but I know I would rather be there to comfort her when the world is cruel than be the one causing any self-doubt.