I’m always amazed by how children not only speak the truth, but see the truth. The essence of who we are, simply, beautifully. They have no agenda. There’s no subterfuge, just honesty. Sometimes brutal, but honesty none the less.
When my daughter was three she met a new friend of mine who also worked in the medical field. An amazing woman, who I feared would get an unfiltered response about her size that might hurt. I had witnessed this callous behavior from adults calling her fat and couldn’t bear to think my baby could blurt out something so painful to hear. I hoped making it clear how much I valued her friendship would prevent such a statement. And then we spent the afternoon together and she never uttered a disparaging word. The only thought that entered her mind was how much she enjoyed my friend’s company.
We wondered around the Pima County fair grounds noting all the incredible arts and crafts displays, giggling at the way it felt to have a camel eat out of our hands at the petting zoo, sharing stories where my daughter was actually listened to and made part of the conversation. That was all she remembered. The genuine, thoughtful woman before us, with her the warmth, and welcoming attitude, not her girth.
A few years later, we traveled on a cruise with my mother and Aunt. Both were incredible women with their own special style. One vivid memory my daughter loves to share to this day is how their stateroom was filled to capacity with foam heads covered with wigs! Their obvious travel priority wasn’t just their suitcases filled with clothes but the hair color needed, depending on the clothes worn.
The first day in a Caribbean port we all decided to get off the boat to shop. My Aunt loved jewelry that was bigger than life. And not just one piece but as many as she could possibly fit on her small frame. For such a tiny woman I was impressed she could still stand up straight! We doubted anyone could possibly mistake the 10-20 dazzling carat fakes she sported as the real thing but my mother didn’t want to risk the attention it would draw. We stood there while she took a full 30 minutes to remove it all. I’d never seen her look so naked, exposing extremities that demarcated where the pieces had been for years. That day she must have bought enough to replace every one of them, and more. Clearly an empty ear, neck, wrist or finger couldn’t be tolerated for even an afternoon.
One wonderful night on the same cruse we all got decked out for formal night. My mother wore a white blonde wig with a short gold/ silver sequin dress. My Aunt wore a purple/red wig and matching evening dress. Entry to the dining room was by means of a gorgeous, long winding staircase that showcased everyone in attendance. We felt like celebrities walking on to the red carpet. Two incredible women locked arms with an eight year old and her mom, both colorfully dressed in Caribbean island attire and looked down at the dining room below us. What a breathtaking picture we made. Three generations of strong women. Two at the end of their lives, soon to leave us forever, one just starting the incredible roller coaster and the little one seeing the incredible possibilities to come. Not once, did my baby say a word about her family’s eccentricities. Not once did their uniqueness impact her in any way other than positively. She never saw them as anything but magnificent.
I was never prouder.
She only saw their energy, love, acceptance and brilliance. Nothing else mattered. I often wonder when we change. When what others think becomes more important than what we think. When how we are seen by others impacts how we see ourselves? When appearance becomes all we see and not the beauty beneath?
My Aunt never seemed to care about any of that. She was a woman who lived life on her own terns. After my divorce she was adamant I had to start learning to save for my daughter’s College fund and ultimate retirement so she introduced me to her longtime friend and stockbroker. I never forgot his description of how they first met decades before. She had driven up in her purple, very old, dilapidated, Rolls Royce covered, with bright gold accents. In the middle of a Tucson summer she exited the car wearing a large, fake mink coat. When she greeted him at the open door she stuck out the advertisement that had drawn her to his office and made it clear, this, and only this was why she had come. She didn’t want to invest in, or discuss, anything else. At that point she removed her coat to reveal, on her left breast, a dazzling 3 inch brooch covered in rhinestones.
He was aghast when he saw it said,” Bitch.”
Noticing where his eye had gone she said,” That’s right. And don’t forget it. Don’t mess with me!” He never did and their mutually respectful relationship lasted over 30 years.
There are so many times I wish I had my Aunt’s courage to wear out front what we all feel within. “Don’t screw with me.” The sad question is why we need to advertise something that should be honored by everyone. As children we know this instinctively. But time seems to destroy that perspective and encourage their evolution into a jaded adulthood, where judging ourselves by how we look, how much we acquire, what car we drive, neighborhood we live in. . . is our entire focus. When do we stop aspiring to achieve and only seek to attain?
We teach our children so much, but here they can teach us.
What really matters isn’t the window dressing. What really counts is what’s beneath all that.