“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.
“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.”
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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.”