How do you tell your kids they're beautiful? They never believe you. They think you have no taste or that you think they're beautiful just because they're yours. Or they think you mean something really disgusting--such as that they are beautiful inside.
Sometimes, my kids look so beautiful to me that I have to hug them. If I do that to my older daughter Emma she screams, "STOP! You're invading my personal space."
Once, an old friend of mine came up to Emma and me on the street. He said to me in full earshot of Emma, "If she were any cuter she'd have to be shot." She took it as an insult.
Kids are always looking for signs that they are ugly despite all evidence to the contrary. I remember that--don't you? That age when you would look in the mirror and instead of seeing a person, you would see a close-up of one enormous facial blemish.
What kids don't understand is that they are all beautiful. When I was young, all older people looked alike to me--a big gray amorphous blob. I feel pretty much the same way about kids now. They all look alike. A big cute amorphous blob.
One reason my girls don't trust my opinion of their beauty is that my bad taste in boys is well known. I am always pointing out some guy and saying, "Isn't he cute?" The usual response is hysterical laughter. How can I explain that someday anything under 18 will look cute to them, too?
To my face, they will not admit that any boy is good-looking. But I overhear them talking to their friends. I know that they think certain boys are, in the current vernacular, "hell of fine." But will they admit it to me? Never.
I remember when my mother used to point out boys to me. "Isn't he a doll?" she'd say about Marvin, the drooling math genius. Stanley, the acne-covered bassoon prodigy--"Such a doll." Neil, the podiatrist's annoying son--"A living doll."
It seemed as if every boy on Earth was made by Mattel except, of course, Vince Cimino. Vince Cimino--the boy who repeated eighth grade twice, the laundry-truck driver's son, the switchblade-carrying, foul-mouthed bum.
"What a no-good bum," my mother would say about Vince Cimino (the boy I loved).
Perhaps if I saw Stanley or Marvin or Neil today (as they were when we were sweet 16), I would have only one reaction: hell of fine. But Vince, Vince really was a doll. And I was the only one who knew that.
One day, in the park, I happened to be there with a girl I knew and he happened to be there with a guy he knew, and my friend got lost and his friend got lost and we were alone.
I was wearing my red parka--the one with the hood. Vince was wearing his black zip-up jacket. We stood there looking at the ground for a long while. Suddenly, a rabbit ran out of the bushes.
Vince took my hand and said, "Hey, Red Riding Hood, I'm the big, bad wolf."
That's it. I left the park a happy 12-year-old girl. When I got home, while my mom yelled, "Where the hell were you?" I looked in the mirror and a beautiful woman stared back at me.
That's all it takes, my daughters, just one reflection.