During winter, when the sun passes low across the sky, light pours through the windows at the back of our home, directly into our bedroom and bathroom. The light is so warm, it’s easy to forget how cold it is outside. And at no time is the light more breathtaking than when there are a couple of inches (or a couple dozen, as the case may be) of snow blanketing the backyard. “The light is GORGEOUS,” I’ll declare, as I grab my camera and pull a willing(ish) boy into the light and start snapping away.
Yesterday, it was Bubba who obliged me. I told him to climb in the tub (where the light is always the very best) and opened and closed blinds until I got the light just right. And I captured this.
The eyelashes, the smile, the heavy brow, the perfect earlobe, the hair colored like none I’ve ever seen… and the cleft.
“Bubba has a butt chin!” Froggy gleefully pointed out. (Where in the world do they get these things?)
Bubba looked at me. “It’s called a cleft,” I reminded him, “but you should TOTALLY call it a butt chin. Just own it. It’s one of my favorite things about your precious face.”
He relaxed and smiled.
There are a lot of affirmations spoken in our home. A lot. Mostly, it’s a never ending stream of “I love you (no matter what)” and “I’m so glad you’re my boy” and “You’re so precious to me” and the like. I, also, often point out the things I love most about them: Bubba’s curiosity and soulful eyes, Froggy’s old soul and strong body, Monkey’s quick “I love you”s and gorgeous lips. But more and more often, I realize I take care to tell them how much I love their quirks.
One of the first times I remember doing this was at someone else’s home. Bubba walked past me, and I couldn’t help but notice and comment on his cute, round tush. Oh, how I wanted to reach out and squeeze his “apples,” but at ten, this seemed inappropriate, if wildly unfair. (The struggle is real, y’all.) My friend was surprised I’d draw attention to Bubba’s bottom, especially, in part, for being a bit on the larger side. But it’s so uniquely his, and I adore it, so of course, I want to tell him so.
I love Bubba’s round tush and his big toes that look like they might telescope but that no one has successfully pulled out to their full length. I love his overbite, the one that makes him look so much like me at his age. I love his huge head and skinny body, the build that earned him the nickname “lollipop” when was he was a toddler. I love how deeply he feels, even if it’s so very hard some days. I love that he is an unabashed geek who laments that his friends don’t understand his desire to send a rocket to space. I love that he bounces when he gets excited.
I love Froggy’s freckles, especially Fred and George. I love his double hair whorl. I love his unflinching love of the color pink. I love that what he’s feeling is never, ever, EVER a secret. I love that when he burps, he just keeps talking right through it and out the other side. I even love his anxiety because I know it’s why he has such a tender heart.
I love Monkey’s missing tooth and imperfect smile. I love that he yells “I love you, Mommy!” across the house every time he’s pooping. And when I remember that his orneriness will serve him well as a teenager and adult, yes, I even love that.
It wasn’t intentional at first, but I’ve been teaching my boys that you don’t just love your shiny bits, you love all of you, even the edges and quirks – especially the edges and quirks – because those are what make you uniquely, beautifully, perfectly-imperfectly you.
There’s a school of thought that says parents (or anyone, for that matter) shouldn’t ever compliment children’s physical appearances because we want to focus on what really matters, like kindness and bravery. I get that – I really do – and I do that, but the reality is that people are going to notice how my boys look.
And one day, when someone calls my boys “freckle face” or “butt chin” or “buck teeth” or says that pink is a girl color or wonders what happened to his tooth, my boys will be ready. Because I have already claimed their edges and quirks as beautiful. I have told them in many ways, directly and indirectly, that I adore every last bit of them.
After Froggy’s “butt chin” comment, Bubba said his teeth looked huge in one of the pictures I took. Froggy said, “I like how your teeth cover your bottom lip.” Froggy wasn’t teasing him; he was being sincerely complimentary. Still, I turned to Bubba and asked if his teeth bothered him. He cocked his head and screwed up his face, and quickly answered, “no,” before turning back to enjoy the other pictures I’d taken. He wants braces because his friends have them and because he knows eating will be much easier. But not because an overbite is something to hide and be ashamed of. No. Because he is learning to treasure every piece of himself.
Just like I do.