I was born with a crossed eye. In the early years of my life, adults would look at me first with the usual delight, then confusion and embarrassment. “Do you know your baby’s eyes aren’t right?” people would ask my parents. They very much did, of course. At three years old I had a partially successful corrective surgery and became known as the girl who leaves her tiny glasses on random sidewalk squares. Growing up, neighborhood kids teased me about the adhesive eye patch I had to wear over my dominant eye to strengthen the “lazy” one.
When I was nine, I attempted my first flirtation in a G-rated game called Wink Em. Long story short: whenever it was my turn to wink at someone, it only caused utter confusion. My attempts to engage with the boy I liked only provoked his laughter.
Around 12, kids started taking pictures of each other, and that’s when I realized there was something ugly about me that I couldn’t control. And then it just happened. At some point, I stopped looking people in the eye.
I don’t recall making a decision, and to be honest, I doubt it was based on self-hatred. I just got tired of hearing different versions of, “What are you looking at?” and “Are you talking to me?”
My sensitive heart didn’t like putting others in such an uncomfortable position. So I learned to be my outgoing self, while always bouncing my vision around the room. I found a pose that kept my secret from cameras and relied on the warmth of my voice to convey an interest in others, while at the same time shutting them out.
And this is how I lived my life, until the day my daughter healed me.
We were sitting on the kitchen floor just messing around with Tupperware when I noticed her looking at me with a certain giddy smile. She held up her hand over one of my eyes, laughing, and began to play peek-a-boo games with herself. It was funny to her, that I had this quirk of asymmetry. She’d always seen it, and she thought it was great.
That’s when I realized how much I’ve been missing by refusing to give people my eyes. Thank god I gave them to her without even thinking, because I finally wanted to see someone more than I wanted to hide myself. Thank god I couldn’t resist gazing at my own child, because she forced me to recognize my face for what it is and what it ought to be: funny, strange, lovely, and loved.
We live in a world obsessed with self-improvement. Sometimes it feels like our only purpose is to perfect ourselves and the only rebellion against that futile task is to indulge complete disregard for our well-being. Hence, we spend life either scanning ourselves for problems to fix or actively ignoring what truly need fixing.
Women in particular, who’ve been raised to focus on superficial “flaws,” are pushed to let those worries go when motherhood rearranges our perspective – if only because we can longer keep count of all that is supposedly wrong with us.
This is scarier than it sounds. It’s daunting enough that motherhood might break our bodies, derail our careers, and sabotage our social lives. For many of us, the most frightening thing is that we might not actually care.
We might end up deciding that we like ourselves just as we are and be content with a simple life, enjoying our families. How lame! We might “let ourselves go,” and stop trying so hard to “have it all.” Instead of being the hip, toned, jet-setting mom we admired in our youth, we might choose to happily mom-dance our mom-jean wearing asses into and beyond middle age. What then!
Well, I can only speak for myself, but the dreaded descent into “giving up” is, ultimately, a relief. I had to give up my pretention of being a conventionally pretty girl to become a genuinely confident woman.
No, I’ll never be someone with a perfect face. Instead, I get to be someone who cheerfully reminds others that it’s okay to be a bit odd. That they needn’t posture or apologize for being different. It is such a joyful role to play. One I would never have chosen for myself until motherhood short-circuited my culturally programmed vanity.
So, a word of warning to anyone tempted to raise kids:
Beware the little healers; their powers are subtle but strong. Don’t tangle with them unless you’re willing to outgrow your own hang-ups. Don’t try to sell them on your love if you don’t even want it for yourself. They’re smarter than that. And know this, you won’t have enough time to be a good parent and obsess over your pet insecurities. You will have to make a choice.
If you let them, those little healers will serve you a magical medicine. It may take many bitter doses, but, in due course, they will straighten your spine. They will soften your touch. They will open your eyes.