Just as I was feeling that I had sufficiently navigated the parenting obstacles set before me for the day, my 6.5 year-old Jie-jie dropped a bomb on me.
After dinner we came back to the room and the kids had baths. Jie-jie was looking in the bathroom mirror while I was combing and blowing out her hair when tears started rolling down her cheeks. “Look at my crooked eyes,” she said. “I look terrible. My face is so ugly.” Then she burst in to sobs. “I will have to leave Sweden soon because everyone can see that my face doesn’t look good! It’s ugly!”
I was completely taken aback. It is true that Jie-jie’s eyes are a little unbalanced. One opens slightly more than the other. They have always been that way. I first really noticed it when she was about 3 months old (and of course assumed that it was my fault – that when I was pregnant I ate too much of something or not enough of something else or whatever). I don’t generally notice it anymore but do intermittently make a point of paying attention to confirm that there is no change. Jie-jie first noticed it a couple of months ago. She brought it up in a very matter-of-fact manner and I replied in kind that it was true. As far as I know, no one else has ever really noticed it or mentioned it to her.
I asked her if anyone had ever said anything about it and she said no but she can tell that her teachers notice by the way they look at her. I wonder if there is more going on here but she wasn’t interested in talking about anything but how we could fix her crooked eye.
I was at a loss for words.
I first thought about saying who cares what anyone thinks, but realized that would be denying the gravity of the problem. Of course kids care about this stuff. I still do.
I then considered that old line – it doesn’t matter what you look like, it’s what’s on the inside that counts so she should let her inner beauty compensate for a crooked eye, but we all know that is wishful thinking and continues to deny the gravity of the problem from her perspective.
I thought about reassuring her that she is absolutely gorgeous, that people stop her dad and me all the time to say that she is beautiful (this is true) but that isn’t the route I wanted to take either. It was too superficial.
I ended up just holding her for a bit, talking about how every person, no matter how beautiful, has imperfections and asymmetries in their bodies. I talked about how most of us spend a lot of time studying ourselves so we are more aware of our imperfections than anyone else. I said I would always try to help her to feel beautiful. I also said (here is a FAIL) that when she gets older if there are situations when she really feels that it will make a big difference, there would be a way of putting on makeup that would make her assymetrical eyes even less obvious. Her dad came and talked about how our bodies change as they grow older so just to be patient.
So, yeah. Isn’t less-than-7 pretty young to be dealing with this? I was unprepared and botched this completely. How should I have handled this and how should I handle it in the future? I was hoping to raise my children as brainiacs who, until college, had their good looks overshadowed by their substantial vocabularies, poor fashion sense, social cluelessness, and penchant for algebra. I guess that is not to be.