Inspiring Beauty

Today I am participating in Dove Inspired, a campaign to promote self-esteem in young girls. Dove believes that beauty should be a source of confidence in young girls, not a source of anxiety, and that a simple act like starting a conversation about beauty can promote self-esteem in girls. Research shows that 72% of girls between the ages of 10 and 17 feel tremendous pressure to be beautiful, and only 11% feel comfortable using the word beautiful to describe themselves. While these numbers seem shocking, I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised because I have two teen girls who are both beautiful in many and varied ways, but who don’t feel comfortable using that word to describe themselves. The statistics shouldn’t have surprised me either because I still remember my teen years when I felt like the ugly brown duckling waiting to bloom into the the elegant white swan, complete with blond, flowing locks a la Farah Fawcett. (Remember, it was the early 1980’s.)

Needless to say, I never got the long, blond, flowing Farah hair, but it was not for lack of trying. One disastrous perm and several curling irons later, I resigned myself to the fact that my long straight, dark brown Latina locks would have to do. You can imagine how ironic it was for me when I found myself one day speaking to my younger step-daughter, Erica about the fact that her long, brown, wavy hair was just as beautiful as her older sister Olivia’s long straight, black hair.

Olivia and Erica, have always had a relationship fraught with rivalry. Their early bickering about Bratz dolls has grown into full out yelling matches about clothes, and yes, even hair straighteners. One day Erica was comparing herself to her sister and began characterizing the differences as shortcomings. Olivia, sensing Erica’s vulnerability, moved in for the kill, taunting Erica with a hair straightener and saying her hair looked like Hagrid’s from Harry Potter. Erica was understandably upset. I pulled her aside and we looked in the mirror together. I pointed out the many features she possessed which were beautiful. Her long, wavy hair, her thick eyelashes which frame her deep brown eyes. Then we talked about those other attributes, which are less superficial, but even more important, her energy, her quick wit, her loving affectionate ways. We spoke how beautiful she is on the inside and outside. These things which may seem insignificant or unimportant now, but which she will grow to appreciate. Then I told her about the standard of beauty with which I grew up. The blond, blue-eyed surfer girl, and my feelings of awkwardness as a dark hair, brown eyed Latina. Now, my ethnic appearance makes me feel special, unique. I don’t know if it really sunk in but at least we started the conversation. I hope that it won’t take long before it resonates with her. I hope that it at least will make her to think twice before she gets into an all out yelling match with her sister over a hair straightener.

How do you talk about beauty?

This is a compensated post in collaboration with Latina Bloggers Connect and Dove.

Going His Own Way

This weekend Nico went on a backpacking retreat with our church’s youth group.  He looked so grown up as he was leaving the house, loaded down with his new pack.

 

He’s 13. THIRTEEN! How did that happen? I still think of him as he looked when he was in kindergarten.

 

Nico in kindergarten

Now he’s in 8th grade and in the last year at the Catholic school he’s attended since kindergarten. He’s had a good experience at his Catholic school. He’s made some good friends and has become involved in activities that he enjoys. Nonetheless, it’s a small school and he’s been with the same kids since he was 5 years-old. The small class-size and familiar environment are comforting, but also a little stifling.

That’s why he enjoys the church youth group so much. The youth group is not affiliated with the same church at his school. Being involved in youth group has given him  a chance to meet new people and make friends from different schools. When I saw him interacting with these new friends and the youth minister, I was surprised to see Nico acting so at ease, and engaged. I told the youth minister that I was surprised to see Nico behaving this way,  since he was usually on the shy side. The youth minister told me that Nico wasn’t shy at all. In fact, quite the opposite. Nico typically participates in the conversation and even leads the discussion.  Later, Nico and I were talking about it and he told me that he really likes being involved in youth group, because he can be who he wants to be. He doesn’t have to behave the way that his school classmates expect. In youth group, with new friends, he is able to re-invent himself,  and be the “funny guy,” he could even be a leader. Wow. I was so amazed and impressed that this boy, this young man had such insight.

Later this weekend, Nico and I toured one of the private Catholic high schools in the area. Given Nico’s insight about himself,  it should not have surprised me when he told me that this high school, which is a very popular choice among his current classmates, is not one of his top choices. Nico has his heart set on attending a high school nearer my workplace, about 45 minutes from home. That school is also the school that is least likely to attract many of his classmates, since it’s so far from our community and it is much bigger than the other private high schools in the area. Honestly, his top choice, is also mine. But, that school draws kids from all over greater Los Angeles, and has a very competitive environment. It makes me uneasy because that school may be too challenging, too unfamiliar for him. However, when I hear him speak with such conviction how he wants to attend that school, how strongly he feels like that school is the right fit for him, I know that I should trust him. He knows himself better than I do. After all he is 13. Thirteen.

Nico on his way.

Lucky 13

I am lucky. Today you turn 13.

Thirteen years ago today you made me the luckiest person on earth. Actually, 13 years ago today, you made me more than lucky,  you made me your mommy.

I was lucky,  not just because I became a mommy, but because I became your mommy.  I am lucky because for 13 years I have had the chance to raise you, watch you grow, and believe it or not, to learn from you. You remind me that life doesn’t always have to move so quickly. You remind me to appreciate our family, because I know that you do.  And even though it may not always seem like it, you remind me not to lose my temper. Your calm manner and sweetness remind me to let go of anger and pride when I am frustrated or impatient.

Someone once told me, “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.” For the last 13 years I have been able to witness the process of an acorn becoming the oak tree. The little baby that you were– so happy, so calm, so easy going.  The toddler years were a joy even though I had some sad days because I had to learn what it meant to be a family with just the two of us. But we got through it, and we found a wonderful rhythm together. It seemed like you adapted easily, enjoying the time with your father, and then coming home for some time with Mommy. And when our family grew to include your sisters and brother and Juan, your generous loving heart, accepted our new family.

On your 4th birthday, you traveled with your dad to New Mexico to visit your Granny. I waited all day for you to come home but your plane was delayed. When your dad finally arrived I opened the door, and you were asleep in his arms.  It seemed like you had suddenly grown up. Your dad said, “I brought you back a 4 year-old.” He carried you inside  and put you in your little bed.  I looked at you sleeping there and wept with gratitude that you were home, and I was amazed that you seemed to grow up overnight.

It’s been 9 years since that night when you could still be carried in your father’s arms. It’s so hard to believe that you have grown as tall as me. Your voice has deepened and you no longer play with toys, unless you do it because your brother has bugged begged you to.  You told me you didn’t want any toys or games for your birthday this year. Instead you asked for money to save up for a computer. How responsible of you. How mature, how grown up.

I know you don’t like it when I worry about you and when I tell you how to do things. I can tell because sometimes I catch you rolling your eyes. But, then we exchange looks and we laugh because we can tell what we are each thinking. I know you probably don’t realize it, but I am happy to see you grow up. I do miss those days we shared together when it was just you and I, and those days  I would enjoy watching you play with your toys or invent some game with Erica or Olivia, but I don’t really want to go back to those days. I am happy for today. I feel lucky that I get to see you turn 13 and enter adolescence. I feel lucky that I get to see you grow up and become the kind-hearted, responsible, witty teenager that you are. I am lucky to see the acorn becoming an oak tree.

Happy birthday Nico. I love you.

Mommy Mom

This slideshow requires JavaScript.