"My face looks funny, it doesn't fit on my body". We were walking up Broadway, Mary and I behind Jack and Kate and she said this all too casually, as if we were college roommates craning over one another for a look in the tiny dorm room mirror. Had it just been this comment maybe I could have responded just as casually but this followed "I think I look fat in these pants" the day before. She is six. And telling her that the pants she had on were a size four would only reinforce the idea that numbers, and size, matter. So we stopped and I asked why, when what I really wanted to do was scream, and cry and yell at everyone in her class, and every parent of every child in her class, but instead I asked, "why?'. Which wasn't the right question, although I am certain that I have no idea what was. She didn't have an answer, a mumble, nothing specific and then just as quickly she was distracted and running off to catch her sister.
At least three times per week Mary comes home asking about Hannah Montana. She aches for a Barbie and thinks that princesses are the best things going. She's not alone. Better than half the little girls in the library want princess books, and many refuse anything else offered. The line into class each morning is scattered with ICarly and Hannah Montana bags worn on the back of the six and seven year old girls.
The thing that continues to amaze me is how frequently people say to me "they grow up so fast" and yet those same people buy Justin Beiber posters for their five year old daughters. When a first grade girl croons "he's so cute" I remember that I thought Charles, who lived down the street, was not at all cute. Rather, he was annoying and a bit stinky. I was six and most, if not all, boys appeared to me as Charles did.
My girls don't have painted toenails, we don't go for mani-pedis together, not yet. I cringe at introducing the idea that a woman needs to be painted or adorned to be valued, and struggle with their understanding of what that might mean. At six I'm not sure they can make sense of my red toenails and my need to relax and enjoy an hour of quiet occasionally. What I see in my children are two amazingly beautiful girls, today sticky and dirty and covered with summer, which makes them all the more lovely, and all the more six. I'm not ready to give that up, to sacrifice dirty summer toes for ten shiny pink ones.
At a time when they are building character and discovering who they are, I can't support them believing that who they are is limited to what they see. With so many wonderful choices, I struggle with options that offer a very one dimensional portrait of what they can become. And yes, I want to slow down, because they only have one shot at being six years, 9 months, and a few days; let's not waste that one wonderful day hurrying to the next.