Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue

“Mama, when am I going to have brown eyes?” my daughter asked me last night as she smushed her forehead against mine during our bedtime routine.  In preschool, she is learning all about her body so I’d been fielding questions about skin, hair, and bones for a few days.

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“Sweetie, I think your eyes are going to be blue forever just like mine will be brown forever.”

“But I want brown eyes,” she said, her little face contorting in her signature pre-cry expression.

Seriously? I thought.  I am talking my gorgeous, blue-eyed daughter off the ledge at 3.5 years old because she wishes she had brown eyes? I’ve read The Bluest Eye (FN1)– this is NOT how this was supposed to go.

Since the day the ultrasound technician told me I was having a baby girl, I’ve been braced for the possibility of her developing an eating disorder or body dysmorphia– because she is a young girl in this cultural moment (and I worry she’ll inherit those from her mama).  But her eyes? Never in my lifetime did I dream we’d be talking about her distaste for her eye color. Because they are blue.

Everyone knows that blue eyes are the best.

It’s actually a recessive genetic miracle that she has blue eyes at all.  Both my husband and I have brown eyes– not a light, coffee-with-creamer brown– they are dark brown like the edge of a caramelized onion.  But my dad has sky blue eyes and so did Jeff’s grandfather.  In the genetic scramble that produced my daughter, she got the blue eyes.  But now she doesn’t want them.

I could have drawn her a punnett square, but she didn’t look like she was in the mood for a pep talk based on Gregor Mendel’s work.  Also? She’s 3.5.  I thought about showing her pictures of Jodie Foster, Courtney Cox, or even Paul-freaking-Newman. . .or is that Frank Sinatra? Whatever– I was gonna Google “old blue eyes” and come up with something.

“Forever and ever, they are gonna be blue?” she asked again, while I was still thinking of what to say.

“Yes, Sweetie, they are,” I said, and couldn’t help myself from adding, “I think they are beautiful.”  When all else fails, I fall back on the old reliable: truth.  Even if I am just her mom and even if she’s going to have to suffer through more moments of wishing what is could be a little different, she deserves to hear from me that I love her eyes.  Because I do. And I’d love them even if they were brown like mine.

But I have no idea how to make her love them.  So, I sat there staring at her, unwilling to shower her with words designed to make her love herself, since those words don’t work so well when I use them on myself.

When I finally did speak I said this: “I hope we can both love what we have and not waste time wishing for unchangeable things to be different. Maybe we could spend our time doing other things.”

“Like painting or eating grapes!”

“Yes. I think almost anything we could think of would be better than picking on ourselves for stuff we can’t change.”

 

* * *

FN1: From Toni Morrison’s 1970 novel, The Bluest Eye: “It had occurred to Pecola some time ago that if her eyes, those eyes that held the pictures, and knew the sights–if those eyes of hers were different, that is to say, beautiful, she herself would be different.”

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42 thoughts on “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue

  1. My daughter was born w/ blue eyes, and now they’re brown. . . I think, or did I get that backwards. . . shit, I can’t remember. . . Anyway, back to you. . . I loved this line: “But I have no idea how to make her love them.” The thing is, I have learned, you don’t have to make them love anything. At three and a half, she’s probably the most irrational human being on the planet, and no amount of your convincing her of anything is going to convince her of anything. I know, because now mine are four, and they’re almost rational for the first time. . .Isn’t parenting lovely?

  2. We all want what we don’t have. Just wait, she’s going to hate her gorgeous curly hair too and pay all sorts of money for it to be straight. My daughter has the most gorgeous wavy hair and the irons the crap out of it every day. And she wants blue eyes too.

    Since my husband has blue eyes and dark hair and I have red hair and brown eyes, I told him to brace himself that more than likely Beckett would have red hair and brown eyes too. He has reddish hair and the oddest but cool colored hazely-greeney-browny-blue eyes.

      • I’m afraid Sadie is way out of his league. He comes from a long line of Texas rednecks, and she is a metropolitan pre-schooler. Hey, this already sounds like a romantic comedy!

  3. This brown eyed mom has a blue eyed daughter too, so this post really got me in the gut. It also reminds me how much our children watch us and want to emulate us even if we haven’t gotten the whole thing figured out yet. Scary and beautiful. Loved this post.

  4. I have two brunette daughters–one with brown eyes and one with blue. It might help that my husband’s are blue. She used to put her little finger in his eye and say “yoo have boo eyes yike me?”

    The blue eyed/dark hair combo is sooo stunning. Sadly she may not appreciate it until she’s older. I think you handled it great.

    I worry that my younger daughter may have gotten my (less than desirable) body type while her sister is super-long and super-lean. While pregnant, I worried the second baby couldn’t possibly be as beautiful as the first (thankfully she is!). I worry that one is book smart and the other is wise.

    Good thing is today we know signs to watch for. We have better parenting tools than our predecessors and we talk about all those things nobody talked about when I was growing up. And we have an army of supporting parents to walk this road with us.

    • Oh lord those worries already show up– smarts, EQ, body type, hair. I’m grateful I didn’t have two girls bc the comparisons seem inevitable…. And not so productive and then there are my sister issues. As in, mine was always long and lean and I was more meaty. Glad you are on the road.

  5. We were hoping that one of our four would have my hubby’s blue eyes, but it didn’t happen. My eyes are dark brown. We’ve got three with hazel eyes and one with brown. We were also hoping for a red-head, since I have auburn hair, and we got three blondes and one with auburn hair (coincidentally she has the brown eyes, too).

    My Violet’s and Juliet’s eyes are the most awesome hazel ever: blue/gray/brown. Milo’s are brown/green/yellow hazel. And Willa’s are brown. I think they’re all gorgeous.

    I always liked my brown eyes and red hair, but I wanted curls. Now that I’m an adult and my hair has gone all weird and wavy, I wish it was straight again. Sigh… No one is ever completely satisfied, but that dissatisfaction isn’t always a precursor to harmful behavior.

  6. Magnificent post. I am certain that she wants brown eyes so she can be just like the most beautiful woman she has ever known and can ever imagine–her mama. (BTW, everyone knows green eyes are best. And I still ADORE punnett squares. Did you have Van Hoozer for bio?)

  7. My 12 yo son has not said things like this even once. My 9yo daughter expresses things about her looks all the time. I thought I’d inoculated her against this kind of thinking. I’ve really tried to. She’s strong, smart..she’s awesome… And yet…this is part of girl culture that she gets from the outside no matter what we say or do here at home. It’s damn depressing. I fear this is something we’ll be battling from here on out. –Lisa

  8. Amen to this line: “I hope we can both love what we have and not waste time wishing for unchangeable things to be different. Maybe we could spend our time doing other things.” A beautiful conversation – thank you for showing us how it’s done. Hugs to you both.

  9. Awwww. I always wished I had blue eyes instead of brown, but as I got older I realized that my brown eyes aren’t too shabby! I absolutely love how you handled this with her – very positive and empowered!

  10. My husband is a bit of a genetic freak of nature also. My father-in-law is Israeli, so dark everything, and my mother-in-law is also brown hair and brown eyed, as are both of David’s siblings. But David ended up with the blondest hair and the bluest eyes you can possibly imagine, due to some really strange recessive genes. I think your answer to Sadie is absolutely perfect. Lets none of us spend time wishing to change unchangeable things.

  11. She’s beautiful! I think she just wants to fit in with the rest of the family.

    My cutie has gray eyes like mine (more recessive than blue apparently) and strawberry blonde hair that curls in the back. Yep, she’ll probably hate it all.

  12. I have blue eyes and wanted brown as a kid. My beautiful mama has brown eyes, and my best friend was Chinese/Swiss and exotically gorgeous. So brown eyes rocked. Plus, don’t we always want what we don’t have?

  13. You handled that perfectly.

    I always wanted different colored eyes when I was younger, too. In fact, I have wasted a lot of time wishing to change many, many things that can’t be changed. I wish someone had said what you said to me a long time ago.

  14. Gah! How do these things start so young? I used to scoff when I would hear models saying that they had bad self-esteem, or they didn’t like certain parts of themselves, but then I started to realize how sadly pervasive it is, to be unsatisfied with our bodies. Conversations like yours with your daughter are so important! She will hopefully be one of the lucky ones who can accept herself for who she is.

    And her eyes are completely gorgeous!

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