I found these two cuties a few weeks ago while cleaning out an old box in our garage. I laughed out loud. I bought these two when I was a junior in high school. What feels like a lifetime ago. How did I know then, that these two beauties would be a glimpse at my future? Looking at them again after years in storage, I only had one thought... Caitlin and Mackenzie. My daughters. They look like this. Check it out.
Ignore, yours truly. Anyway, the two cuties got me thinking about my girls and differences. That got me thinking about Caitlin and her discovery of all things brown. There are no lessons to be learned or ideas to be spread here. This is just a story of my little family and how very smart a four year old can be. She is teaching me a thing or two...
Brown is kind of a thing in our house. It is the color of some of my favorite things. Chocolate. Tea. My worn in faux-Uggs. It's also the color of my daughter, Caitlin. She is brown. Her hair, her eyes, and her skin. I'm brown too, my hair and my eyes, by alas my skin pales in comparison. From the moment she was born, the first comment is not how beautiful she is, or how kind she is, but how brown she is. And that is ok. I'm not alarmed or offended. I've embraced it. I love her color, but the truth is it is quite shocking. Her father is white, I'm paler than the average mixed Mexican American, and Mac, well Mac is the fairest of us all.
I'm used to brown. My family is brown, and I was brown too, until about high school. My father has very dark skin and is often asked if he is Native American. So brown is a gift. It's a testament to culture and bloodlines that should have faded by now. I look at our little American family and often wonder how we got this little brown beauty. I'm grateful. It's a reminder of what is behind my last name that is sometimes a betrayal of who I am, Mexican. Mixed. Brown.
We often talk about Caitlin's brown-ness. Family and perfect strangers. It's very common for strangers in Target or the grocery store to comment on her beautiful hair and skin color. Until recently I paid no mind. I agreed that she is beautiful, but I'm biased as she is my beauty. It's just been in the past few months that I now realize that Caitlin herself has picked up on her differences. The difference in skin color between her and her sister. The difference in hair color between her and others. It's little comments that now have me worried... Have I drawn a line in the sand? Have I put too much emphasis on color? Maybe, but Caitlin surprised me with her own conclusions on her identity.
It all started with Selena Gomez. She is beautiful, so beautiful in fact that she has bewitched the also adorable Justin Beiber. It's no surprise to me. What was a surprise was Caitlin's instant attraction and awe at her. I remember the conversation:
Caitlin: "Mommy, who is that?".
Me, busy as usual: "Oh that's Selena Gomez. She's on that wizard show you like".
Caitlin: "I like her because she is brown like me. Do you think she's pretty?"
Me: "She is beautiful just like you"
Caitlin: "Yeah cuz she's brown"
Now to you as you read this, it may seem like just another conversation about the people on TV. The newest teen sensation, the newest person to idolize. To me this was a major breakthrough on many fronts. This was a moment that my daughter was able to see herself, on TV, materialized. She had in a sense found her first role model. Maybe I'm jumping the gun, maybe I'm reading too much into it, but I remember the feeling. Finding someone to idolize.
Maybe if Jennifer Lopez, Selena Gomez, or even Eva Longoria had been on the scene when I was in high school I'd feel differently about this situation. They weren't. I have vivid memories of the summer I was 15, and trying in vain to be Alicia Silverstone in that Aerosmith commercial. I wanted to be blonde and skinny, with great abs, and I wanted to wear combat boots with a flannel shirt and jean cut-offs. I did 100 sit ups a day for a month. I was still fat, ok not fat, but not Alicia Silverstone. She was the hottest thing that summer and it killed me to realize I was never going to look like that. Not just the abs, but the blonde-ness as well.
I'd like to believe that if Jennifer Lopez was shaking what her momma gave her, and embracing her body, I would have too. If Kim Kardashian (love her or hate her) was on the scene, a curvier body wouldn't have been so awful to have. I was 15. I was a long way from healthy body image. TV, music and fashion was a long way from diverse. That's why I'm so happy now.
My daughter in all her wisdom of 4 years, has found her self image through Selena Gomez and the Disney channel. I love that she is equally excited about Rocky from Disney's "Shake it Up". Caitlin will tell me that she likes Rocky because "She is brown like me". Rocky also dances like a pro, wears super trendy clothes (without showing skin), and is the smartest kid in her class. Now, if Disney can just keep her and Selena Gomez out of rehab I'll be happy. On a serious note, I'm so thankful that they are there for Caitlin to idolize, and know that beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors.
When I started writing this blog, I didn't intend for it to be a soapbox or love letter on race. I'm sorry if it turned out that way. I've never felt like race was an issue in my life. I was just struck by the observations of my four year old daughter. She really did notices those differences and paid attention to what others were saying. Am I to blame? Perhaps. Maybe I shouldn't point it out the differences. Somehow, it's really too late for that.
I've always tried to embrace all people in all walks of life. Black, white, brown, gay, straight, other. It's how I was raised. How could it have been avoided? My father is Mexican and my mom is white. It's also a lesson I want to pass on to my girls. You know, "Don't judge a book by its cover" and such. I hope that I can do this lesson justice. I want them to embrace differences and individuality, while being individuals themselves.
Thankfully the lessons will be easy to teach. I have been blessed with two girls who are as different as night and day. From looks to personalities. It's funny when you really think about life and love, having babies and creating beings. When I look at John and myself, I think how in the world did we get so lucky. These two girls who, at birth, had their own ideas about who they are, and who they are going to be. Teaching acceptance should be a piece of cake. As long as we start at home. Embracing the differences that make us individuals. Embracing the individuals that make us a family.
So I'm down with brown, and all the lessons it continues to teach. It's also the color of chocolate, so theres that too...