“Mommy! When did you do THAT?” my three-year-old asked me in awe after she noticed my fresh pedicure. She crouched down near the ground to get a better look, carefully analyzing the hue of pink on my toes. She approved my color choice and EVERY HOUR FOR THE REST OF THE DAY she begged me to please, please, please paint her toes. When I finally gave in she informed me that her left toes would be pink and her right toes would be purple.
I’m embarrassed to say I flinched at her suggestion. I attempted to reason with her and launched into an explanation about how it looks better when we match and use one color. But she persisted and stood firm on her request. I took a breath preparing to counter again, and then I caught myself.
I swallowed the Type A, rigid nonsense I was spewing and told her to pick whatever colors she wanted. She could barely contain herself as she sorted through my nail polish collection. I realized by reframing that moment I was doing more than just approving her nail polish color.
What I was really saying to her was:
It’s good to be creative:
At three and a half, you love color! Every day there’s a new “favorite” and why should nail polish be any different? Be proud that your fashion sense doesn’t conform. There’s so much time to worry about what people think. When you’re 13 I’m sure we’ll be having a very different conversation. So for now—do what you want and do it with pride. Your creativity is blossoming more each day and I promise to embrace it.
I value who you are:
You don’t have to be just like me and that’s okay. We can disagree and like different things. It’s empowering to make your own choices (within reason—you are still in preschool after all). As you grow and learn more about the world around you I want to show you that what you think matters.
As your mom, I will try to let go:
Up until now I have made every decision for you. I decorated your nursery. I chose your clothes. I bought your toys and books. I’ve decided what you’re eating for each meal. But now that you’re becoming a person with your own identity and opinions, I need to let you have a say. It goes against everything that is natural for me, but I will do my best to let go.
Once we settled on a couple of colors, we spent the new few minutes excitedly talking together, filing nails and then carefully painting. My daughter’s grin was wide the entire time as she beamed with pride over her choices.
The next morning when she woke up and kicked her little mismatched toes out from under the covers, I was reminded of her spirit, perseverance and individuality. With her eyes barely open and messy curls splayed over her pillow, she glanced down at her feet. Her face lit up as she remembered her toes were painted. She gave me the biggest smile and said, “Look, Mommy! Remember what we did? Left in pink and right in purple.”