My husband is traveling this week. We miss him, so as my daughter spins around the living room in her princess gown, I snap a photo and send it to him. He texts back: “So beautiful.”
She changes from her gown to her footie pajamas and heads for the computer, asking if she can type. We open a blank document and her little fingers steer the mouse, change the font to 72-point. Her eyes scan the keyboard, searching and searching, and then she presses a key.
She doesn’t believe in the space bar. She hits enter, sound out a short aaaaaaaaaa, searches and pecks. She hums, searches more, finds the m.
“How do you spell beautiful?” she asks. I stretch out the syllables, remind her what it sounds like, and she finds letters for each phoneme, slowly listening and choosing and searching and typing.
She is four, and our words are truths she plucks from the air and puts on paper as her own. The spelling is laborious but the believing comes quickly, simply and surely.
Soon enough, the typing will come with ease. Soon enough, she’ll discover the question mark, rearrange the words, find herself afraid of the answer.
I stare at the screen, her first autobiography, primitive and succinct, and make a silent promise to her: I will sound it out, always.
I will remind her of the strength of her legs, the contour of her face, the taper of her fingers, the beat of her heart. Beautiful. I will point it out in the games she creates, in the paper she cuts and glues until it becomes something new. Beautiful. Like a mirror, I will reflect it back when I see it, the giggle she can’t stifle, the snack she shares, the way she runs as fast as she can to deliver a note to our next door neighbor.
Beauty. Tiny glimpses of the divine.
When she begins to hate her round cheeks or her nose, I will sound it out. When the world tries to redefine it, to reduce it to pettiness and prettiness, I will say it slowly, certainly, clearly. When her braces make her smile close-mouthed, I will sound it out. When her heart gets broken and her face puffs up from crying, I will speak it over her like a blanket, stretching it out syllable by syllable. When she offers goodness and is ignored, misunderstood and mocked, I will tell her what she knew when she was four. You are beautiful.
On the days when her actions are ugly, I will remind her. Beauty redeems, renews.
And on the days when she doesn’t believe it, I will hold it up for her like a sign until she believes again.
In great measure. In giant, shouting font.