When I picked up K at school the other day, she had blue eyeshadow on her eyelids.
Well, not really eyeshadow. It was the hair coloring she'd put on that morning--"hair chalk"--a powder you put on with your fingers and shampoo out. We and her school allow hair coloring. We do not, however, allow makeup. She may play with it at home, but she must take it off before going out.
K must have noticed the look on my face, because she immediately said, "It's not makeup. What happened was I touched my hair and then rubbed my eyes 'cause they were itchy."
Uh-huh, I thought. And puppies rain from the sky.
I said what we say in our family when we know a child is lying: "Honey, I feel like I'm being lied to." We do not express anger; we do not blame. We let the child know what we suspect, and we let them feel guilty instead of defiant.
She denied it, of course.
We went to hockey practice, and I dressed my dolled-up girl in all her padding, covering her just-emerging breasts and hips. I felt unusually grateful to get the helmet on her.
During practice, I had time to think. Growing up, I'd never wanted to wear makeup. I'd never, in fact, wanted to become a woman. Utterly convinced that I was fat and ugly, I tried hard to ignore the changes in my body. I didn't wear girls' clothes until my shape forced me to, and I didn't wear makeup until graduate school. I could not imagine wanting to wear makeup at K's age, but K is beautiful and confident, rightfully proud to be who she is.
I allowed myself a pat on the back for raising a kickass daughter.
Then I realized that Peter and I had never given K a good reason not to wear makeup. All we'd ever said was, "We don't want you to look older than you are." Maybe it's time to tell her more, I thought. She's wearing bra tops, getting moody, starting to notice boys. But how can I get her buy-in? She's not a little kid anymore, happy to take my word as law. I had a hunch that I'd need to tread very lightly.
I helped K out of her gear. As we got back into the car, she asked, "Why aren't you smiling, Mom?"
I told her the truth: "Because I don't feel happy with you right now."
"It's not makeup," she said.
We arrived home twenty minutes later. Before going into the house, I asked K to join me for "a conversation. I'm not mad. I just want to give you some information."
She didn't respond. She was suddenly extremely absorbed in the book she'd found in the car.
K didn't come into the house for another twenty minutes. I called her into the kitchen, and she dutifully joined me, crawling up the stairs with her favorite fleece blanket over her head so I couldn't see her face. Not that she's done anything to feel ashamed of! I thought.
I sat down beside her on the stairs and asked how she feels when she wears makeup.
The blanket said, "Pretty!"
I asked what she thinks other girls think when they see her in makeup.
She pulled the blanket off and said, "That I look nice."
I asked what she thinks boys think of her when they see her in makeup.
She put the blanket back on and said, "EWWWW! I don't even want to think about that!"
At least we agree on that, I thought.
I asked her permission to tell a story about myself. When I got it, I told her this:
"You remember I grew up and went to college here in New England. I had plenty of friends who were guys, just like you, and they weren't my boyfriends. In college I shared a house with a lot of people, so if I wanted to do something alone with a friend like play a game or practice music or do a puzzle, I had to invite them to my room. And it was fine to invite a guy to my room alone. Guys here understood that it didn't have to mean I wanted to--"
"Don't say it!" said the blanket.
"--sleep with them," I finished. She has to face it, I thought. I went on, "Then I moved to Texas. I made a friend pretty soon who happened to be a guy. We stopped at my apartment one night on our way somewhere, and my two noisy roommates were home, so I invited him to my room so we could talk about something we were reading. I didn't know it, but in Texas, if a girl invites a guy to her room, it sends a signal. It means, I want to sleep with you. So my friend tried to force me to sleep with him."
K emerged from the blanket, wide-eyed. "What did you do?"
"I threw him on the floor and yelled at him until he said he was sorry." And my grades tanked and I eventually got kicked out of grad school, I thought.
She was silent for a minute. Then she said, "I get it. Wearing makeup sends a signal that I'm ready for something I'm not ready for."
I couldn't believe it: She understood right away.
Then she said, "Mom? Is it okay if I don't wear makeup until I'm 50?" Then she wrapped me in the blanket with her and hugged me.
I hugged her back feeling like I ought to ride off into the sunset, triumphant.
* * *
In case you're interested, we gave K two consequences for using the hair chalk as makeup. First, she had to surrender the hair chalk. She did this gladly. Second--our standard consequence for lying--she will have to do a disgusting cleaning chore.