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Before going back to finish school a few years ago, I spent the summer at home with my girls – aged one and three at the time. It was one of the best summers of my life. We lived at the wadding pool, played in our sprinkler – and took long, slow walks on shaded streets in our neighbourhood.

Everyday we picnicked on our green blanket. Putting them in day care and returning to school that September was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

It was during that magical summer our Lilieth developed a reputation as the “boy” in our family amongst our neighbours. While her older sister Rosa, I’m convinced, is a reincarnation of Coco Chanel (she’s been choosing her own outfits since before she could talk), Lileith spent much of that summer either in or trying to get into the closest mud puddle she could find, wearing as few clothes as her moms would allow. Often we’d come home and I’d carry her directly to the bathtub, not letting her touch a thing along the way. She was joyfully dirty.

That was one. Now meet an almost-four-year-old who’s spent three-quarters of her life in daycare, exposed to gender-policing preschoolers carrying Disney Princess knapsacks, and two tired moms at home who have gradually allowed more offensive pink toys enter our home by – what, osmosis? Where did this Polly Pocket and My Little Pony crap come from?   

And now, still three years old, our Lileith is obsessed with pretty. I’ll go check on her, and she’s spent the last 20 minutes in front of the mirror putting on pretend makeup. She wears costume jewellery to daycare. Several times this winter she didn’t want to wear her previously adored Spider Man boots.  You know why.

And then it comes. The P-word.

Do I look pretty?” she’ll say, putting on a tiara.

No! I want to wear a skirt! I want to look pretty at daycare!” she’ll insist during her morning grumpiness.

It’s constant.

There’s a difference between “pretty” and “beautiful.” A quick Google definition search produces this:


 “Attractive in a delicate way without being beautiful.” Oh, gag me with a spoon.

I have lots of things to say to Lileith when she says the P-word. I tell her it’s not important how she looks, it’s about how she feels. I tell her she’s beautiful and that I want her to feel that way always. I tell her wearing jewelry/a skirt/pretend makeup do not make her beautiful; beauty is  on the inside.

I think she hears:  “Blah blah blah, pretty. Blah blah blah, inside.”

I tell her there are more important ways to be: Brave. Smart. Kind.

So, now she whispers “pretty.” I’ve heard her say: “Shh … Mommy Meri doesn’t like that word.”

I’ve failed.

At the grocery store this week, my girls were doing laps around the grocery cart as I unloaded our food. I entered the wrong PIN the first try with my bankcard, and then forgot my points card, forcing the kind and patient cashier to wait on us while my girls went nuts and I became one of those mothers other mothers judge, and at times like this, rightly so. When we finished, the cashier smiled at me and my girls.

They’re both so pretty,” she said.

I looked at my girls, and saw two set of deep, dark-brown eyes look up at me.

Thanks,” said.

Then we went home and watched Shrek The Third, and – at least – both my girls really loved how the princesses rescued themselves from Prince Charming and reenacted the scene with several improvised karate chops added in before going to bed.

Meri Perra lives with her partner, two daughters, tiny cat and massive cargo bike in Toronto’s downtown east end. She’s not pretty.


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