February 10, 2012
By Ekta R. Garg
During the Christmas holidays, Five participated in her first-ever dance recital. Aside from the excitement of performing on stage and wearing her costume, the other thing she anticipated with glee was putting on makeup.
Both Three and Five have watched me get ready for an afternoon or evening out, and both of them examine me with great interest. It didn’t take either or of them too long to use the words “mascara” and “lip liner” for the right items, and whenever I wear any makeup Five in particular will comment and ask (with a little knowing smile) whether I applied any of these things.
So when we got the information for her recital, she read with jubilation the section that said she had to wear makeup. And the night of the performance, she stood as still as stone as I carefully applied each element. She asked questions quietly, but she didn’t move even one millimeter as I went through a routine with her that I’ve performed on myself countless times through the years.
For weeks after the recital whenever we talked about it, she always mentioned the makeup and how much she enjoyed looking at herself with it on. By the end of the recital she willingly let me wash it all off; she wasn’t used to wearing makeup, and it made her physically uncomfortable. But she held the vivid memory of her mirror image in her mind and enjoyed it.
So, of course, at one point we had the discussion of when she could start wearing makeup regularly. When Five was a baby, I thought we would be talking about this when she was at least, oh, 35 or 40. Okay, maybe more like 8 or 10. But thanks to those makeup viewing sessions and the impetus provided by Five’s recital, we had the discussion much earlier than I would have liked.
It was a short discussion, however. Although old enough to ask the question, she’s still young enough to trust my judgment with minimal argument. So we didn’t talk about it for too long, and I made it clear to her—and she understood—that makeup was not for young girls. Yes, I assured her, she was a big girl, but she wasn’t old enough to wear makeup.
Last week on our drive home from school, we stopped at Papa Murphy’s to pick up some pizzas for a dinner with friends later that evening. I got out of the car and helped Five out of her car seat. She stood up in the car in front of her seat, and as she did so I suddenly spotted something in the now-empty seat.
“What’s that?” I asked, even as I recognized the full tube of brownish pink lip gloss.
Five snatched it up, clearly feeling like I’d caught her red-handed.
“Nothing,” she said quickly.
“What is it?” I asked again, not making a fuss but letting her know by my tone that she should answer.
“It’s just lip gloss. My friend, C., gave it to me.”
“But you’re not going to use it, okay?”
She shook her head immediately with the surety of something she had accepted as fact a long time ago.
“I’m not going to use it; I’m just holding it.”
I let the matter drop for the moment as we went inside and had the pizzas made. I carried the heavy load back to the car and made the pizzas comfortable next to me on the front passenger seat as Five got in the back and buckled herself in.
“[Five,]” I asked once I’d gotten settled behind the steering wheel, “you said C. gave you the lip gloss.” I left the sentence there in our familiar family rhythm of starting discussions halfway through and letting the next person continue them.
“Yes, but I’m not going to put it on.”
“Does C. put it on?”
“No, she doesn’t.”
“Okay,” I replied. “As long as you know that you’re not supposed to use it and C. doesn’t use it either, you can keep it.”
I wanted to honor the fact that her friend had given her a gift out of kindness, but I also wanted to reaffirm the fact that Five was too young for makeup.
I thought we’d settled the matter. When we got home, I plopped the pizzas on the kitchen counter and followed Five up the stairs to help her change out of her uniform and into some more casual clothes. She went to the bathroom, and I went into our bedroom for something. Just then we heard my husband enter the house and greet Three.
When Five was done peeing, she followed me into our bedroom.
“Don’t tell Daddy about the lip gloss,” she said furtively, wanting to make me an accomplice.
“Why?” I asked curiously.
“Because he’ll get mad if you do.”
I shook my head. “If you’re honest with Daddy and tell him what happened, he’ll never get mad at you. Just remember, you don’t have any reason to hide something if you didn’t do anything wrong.”
She protested weakly for another minute, but I reassured her that being upfront was the best tactic. We both went into Three’s room where the girls share the large dressing table so she could change her clothes.
My husband came upstairs calling for Five. He went into our room to change out of his hospital scrubs, and after Five finished dressing I encouraged her to talk to her father.
She went to him timidly and told him about the entire event. My husband caught my eye for half a second and he got my unspoken message that Five had cleared everything with me first. He listened to Five’s entire story and reassured her that he wasn’t upset at all.
I’m glad I had the opportunity to reinforce for Five that she shouldn’t be afraid to tell the truth, and I hope get many more opportunities like these in the future. But I also found it interesting that she had internalized without any prior discussion that her father may not like something so grown up. She had understood at some level that although the charm of the lip gloss lay right in her hand, its practical application wasn’t meant for her quite yet. And she was okay with that.
Maybe we’ll make it to 35 after all without makeup!