“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?”
This year, I have finally introduced the magic of the classic Disney movies to my girls. Until now, I have not allowed them to view anything that had any type of particularly scary villain, which pretty much eliminated the classic Disney movies. After all, if you think about it, movies like The Little Mermaid, 101 Dalmatians, Sleeping Beauty are pretty…. well, violent, actually. So, until this year, even sweet Bambi had been forbidden because the momma died. Go ahead, unglue your jaw from the floor to laugh at me, call me un-American, then remind me that evil is part of the world, I can’t safeguard them forever, they need to learn how to handle less-than-perfect scenarios and any other arguments you want to throw at me. I promise you, I’ve already heard them. But…. the truth is… no one knows all that better than me. Still, I didn’t want them watching it, so we stuck to movies like TinkerBell (not Peter Pan) and Chestnut. This year, I slowly began introducing movies; first came Cinderella, then Bambi, followed by 101 Dalmatians, The Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, and, yes, Snow White. Of course, Disney isn’t called magical for nothing: the girls love them, and I have missed them. I’m certain this year will see us catching up with the ones we have yet to view together: The Lion King and Aladdin.
Snow White is one of their favorites. The mean queen-lady scares the crap out of me and Alight, but they love the rest of it enough to withstand her and, well, she has me thinking tonight.
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?
Now, of course, I understand that her mirror was magic, and she knew it was magic, which could explain why she asked it a question. But, by definition, a mirror is something that allows us to see our own reflection. When she looked into the mirror, initially, before the question was asked, what would the glass have shown? It would have shown her. But she wasn’t looking for her reflection, she was looking for someone else….. whoever was the “fairest of all.” She wanted the mirror to tell her that she was the fairest of them all. She wanted to look at herself in the mirror and be convinced that she was the most beautiful, the nicest, the most perfect of all the women. But, of course, the mirror told her she wasn’t.
I hate mirrors. Psychologically, I think they are important to the development of a child’s self-esteem, so I put them up in the girls’ rooms when they were little. I wanted them to have a mirror so they could get comfortable with their appearance. And I’ve always made a conscious effort to not say anything demeaning about myself as I dress; I’ve tried not to make a big fuss out of “getting ready” because I didn’t want them to think that what they looked like was the most important thing. A mother is the first female young girls have to model, and I wanted them to see someone comfortable with her appearance, someone to whom appearances was rather low on the list of priorities. What they don’t know, though, is that the reflection in the mirror and I have serious issues.
I know psychological tricks to viewing my reflection “fairly” and “objectively.” I know clever twists of words that can help boost my ego, interesting psychological facts from real studies. Intellectually, I know all the facts, all the statistics…..and I know the Bible, too. I know it says that people are made in the image of God. To exclude myself from that group would be rather ridiculous; therefore, since God is perfect, I can’t be all that terrible. So…. I know all the right stuff. But I also know other things that the mirror doesn’t show. For instance, I know that that smile and confident tilt of the chin might as well be a costume. I know how to talk, I know how to laugh, I know how to teach and how to listen. I know how to play with children, how to slide down the slides and crawl in the tunnels and trumpet like an elephant in the jungle. I know how to create games. I know how to write. I can put on the costume at a moment’s whim. Even when I’m physically and emotionally drained, I can shove it all aside whenever I want to; I know how to push my real emotion to the floor of my heart until I’m alone. In other words, the reflection that I see in the mirror, the one that other people also see, is sometimes, just a shell. It’s just a costume I wear because I want people to be happy, because I want so desperately to belong and because I want to feel unconditionally cared for.
Underneath that smile, behind the twinkly eyes….. then what? What if all that was stripped away, what if I was the Beast? What, then? In the movie, of course, he’s a gentle and good soul, so Belle still loves him. In reality, though, I know that not all people are gentle and good. When I look in the mirror, I don’t really see the shell anymore—instead, I stare hard, trying to catch a glimpse of whatever may lie beneath it. When I’ve done something particularly good—or when someone tries a little more than others to make me feel respected, or liked, or loved….. then I can walk away without feeling like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. But, most days, it’s like I’m the sea witch in The Little Mermaid: I see a fake reflection in the mirror. Unlike Ursula, though, it bothers me when the “authentic” and exterior reflections don’t match. I walk away from the mirror feeling like a clumsy, oversized teenager who still finds herself embarrassed at tripping over her own laces.
So, then…. who am I?
I’m comfortable in suburbia. I like modern conveniences, like Wal-Greens and Sonic. I love finding treasures in unexpected places, like the beauty of some of the city’s parks and our downtown library is among the most beautiful I’ve seen. I also enjoy being close to multiple avenues of play, with things like the zoo, the Discovery Center, Let It Shine, the Nashville Children’s Theater and such close at hand. I love meeting new people. Secretly, I even rather enjoy traffic jams, because they force me to slow down. But, traveling down I-65N the other day, I passed downtown Nashville. Four lanes of traffic and guardrails does not sound like serenity, even to this comfortable-in-suburbia-Tiffini…..but, on the other side of the guardrails, stretched hallmark buildings that have stood tall since my childhood. The Batman building, the dome of NES and others and, above the rooftops, was the most beautiful sky: purple with hints of pink. I drove past, feeling the edge of my heart melt. Nashville is my home; it’s an unconscious anchor that I love and, no matter how beautiful the places I may have visited are, none of them are Nashville. I love this city.
As I began to contemplate on my love of this town, it eventually drew me into thought about the other aspects of who I am. Though Curious George may initially label me as a city kid, that’s not entirely the truth. Though Nashville keeps me grounded, parts of me continually long for the serenity I’ve found only in Georgia. There’s a place called Pine Mountain, there, where forests are thick, cabins with fireplaces are plentiful, horses abound, deer trod and time crawls. Give me uninterrupted time to play barefoot with my girls, miles away from the nearest McDonalds, follow that by allowing me to curl up in a porch swing with my Bic writing pen, and you’ll discover that the Tiffini who is infamous for being unable to relax can actually breathe deep, filled with peace. There’s a pond near Nashville that’s tucked away, deep within a park. You have to look for it. You can’t drive to it, and it’s not on any map, not even the park one. But, once you find it, you see that it’s an alcove, with water that you can wade in while the trees sway above you, leaves falling on top of you. City life is five minutes away, but, there, it doesn’t exist at all: all that matters is you, the water and the sounds of squirrels that call the area home. While I’m comfortable in the middle of the busy city, my heart overflows when I am in the midst of silence and the country. People laugh at me all the time because I don’t wear shoes— I slip them off whenever it is at all possible. I teach barefoot. But not just because it’s comfortable. I also do it because it helps me hold on to the part of me that longs to be as secluded as Thoreau.
The truth is, I think we all have a bit of both in us. Some of us claim that the country would suffocate us, would make us feel claustrophobic. I couldn’t live in a place that didn’t have fairly quick access to the city. Like I said, I’m a bit spoiled, and I like my McDonalds. To be bluntly honest, I also like having a bit of space, a bit of privacy that sometimes is hard to find in the country. But I don’t do well when I go for prolonged periods of time without finding a hideaway, a secluded spot for me to relax and think in. You see, I can hurry and schedule and plan and laugh and smile. But, for me, most of that is an act. With all my heart, I want to belong. I always have. And I want, most of all, for the people I care about to know I care about them, especially my girls. I want the people I love deeply to know that I love them deeply, and I have a terrible fear of being forgotten.
Until a few years ago, I had this terrible, terrible feeling that I would not live long enough to see my little girls grow up. I used to have nightmares about dying before they were old enough to remember me. Sometimes I still do. Believe you me, that is more than enough motivation to light a fire in me; it’s more than enough incentive to play from dawn to dusk, to never turn the TV on and to burn the midnight oil writing letters, making scrapbooks, making books so that they will have a way by which to remember that their mother loves them more than they will ever understand. Believe you me, the idea that I might die before Breathe and Alight are old enough to have clear memories of me playing with them is all the motivation I need to exhaust myself, ensuring that doesn’t happen. To that extent, I can be good at coming up with creative plans and games and the like. But, the truth is, none of that is really just me: it’s a product of fear and intense love.
I’m a mother, and a teacher; a writer and a daughter; a friend and a love. And, when I look in the mirror, I see each of these roles. I see the work I must do to ensure that all of the people whose lives I’m blessed to be a part of are enriched, not hindered, because of me. My primary role is care-taker, mainly of the girls, but, really, of everyone I know. It’s what I’m good at: peace-maker and problem-solver. Those are jobs I employ. But, in the dark, alone with the mirror, when the costumes are put away…. then what?
Mirror, mirror on the wall….
Fear, doubt and scars form a large part of the interior—-and how could something so filled with such memory, with such darkness, be pretty, or good? Worse, how could it be worthy?
The Bible tells me I am a child of God. It promises me that I’m “white as snow”, that I’m beautiful. It calls me a princess. I wish I could say that, when I look in the mirror, I see Jesus smiling at me, reminding me of all the ways in which I’m unique and special and beautiful. I wish I could say I see His approval shining back in the mirror at me. I hope that others do. I try. But, most days, the reflection I see is broken. As I write that, a thought floats across my mind, awakening goosebumps. Isn’t that the point? A small smile comes. We just celebrated Jesus’ birthday. And that beautiful story happened because I’m broken. It happened because I’m not Wonder Woman, or even Cinderella. No, I am just as I often feel: scarred, scared and awkward, a misfit, hoping to belong. And those are the people for whom Jesus was born. Without those people, there wouldn’t have been a need for that beautiful redeeming story of hope.
We’re probably never going to be satisfied with the reflection we see in the mirror. I used to look at pictures of myself while simultaneously comparing myself to other women I saw. I was bigger, or smaller, or “about the same”. My hair was “like that.” Feeling like Ariel at the dinner table and a fork, I try hard all day long to fit in. Whenever I leave the security of my house, I try to be all the things I admire in other women: confidence, beauty. Instead, I usually end up feeling clumsy and awkward. But I’m not. It’s not a fashion show; it’s not a beauty competition. It’s not all about the others in the land…..it’s about the one in the mirror.
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is fairest of them all?