Katie was fussy. Over-hungry. We were just sitting down to a late dinner, something quick after a long day. I'd made the mistake of asking her if she preferred mayo or pesto on her turkey and swiss sandwich while she was lying on the couch, squashing the wings of the fairy costume she was wearing while watching "Barbie Swan Lake". She immediately called out, "Pesto." But of course, what I forgot is that when she's not really listening, she just replies back the last choice you offer her.
I realized I had made the mistake of thinking she was paying attention when she spat out the first bite of her sandwich, tugged at her neck, and cried, "I don't like this!"
"You don't like what? Your sandwich?"
"Uh huh!" She grunted, still tugging at her collar.
"You said you wanted pesto. What's wrong with your collar?"
"It's itchy! How come every costume I have is itchy?! And I thought you were putting pesto on my paaaaasta." She picked up her sandwich and threw it back onto her plate.
"Hey, hey, heeeeeeeey, now!" I pushed her plate away from her pending tantrum hand. "Don't ruin a good sandwich because you're crabby."
Katie sighed dramatically and sat with her arms crossed, bottom lip sticking out cartoonishly. I wanted to laugh. I'm like Mary Tyler Moore during Chuckles the Clown's funeral. Always laughing at inappropriate moments.
But no one died here. It was just a little low-blood sugar whining. Something I feel quite competent at handling after nearly six years of practice.
"Just take your costume off if it's scratchy. You don't have to watch that fairy princess movie while wearing a fairy princess dress. You're not even watching it now. It's time for dinner. When dinner's over you can watch it in your underpants. It's no big deal."
Katie dropped her arms straight to her sides and dropped her jaw. "I can't watch it in my panties, Mama!"
"Why not?" I cut her sandwich in two and fed it to the dogs. I got up to make her another sandwich.
"I have to wear the dress to be beautiful!" She cried out.
"Ha!" I couldn't help it. It burst out of me just as I opened the refrigerator door. When I took out the turkey and cheese and mayo and closed the door, I saw Katie's face and realized she was serious.
I set the sandwich fixins on the counter. I felt defeated. How could my child - MY child - feel that way about herself?
"Katie. You do not need that dress to be beautiful." I looked in her direction from over my glasses as I assembled her new sandwich.
She sat back in her chair, turning her head slightly and looking up at the wall as if she wasn't listening to me. Like she does when she knows she's in for a lecture.
"You know what makes a person beautiful?"
I waited until she looked at me and shook her head.
"A dress does not make a person beautiful. How much love that person gives is what makes a person beautiful. Being loving makes a person lovely." I cut her sandwich diagonally so she could get the widest bite without getting any of the crust, which she never eats even though I'm not inclined to cut it off for her. Some day she might like it and until then she could throw it to the dogs.
Katie said nothing, unsmiling. But she was at least looking my way as I returned the items to the fridge.
"If someone has on a beautiful dress," I continued, "but she's acting all mean--bossing everyone around, shouting, pouting, acting like no one else's feelings matter--is she still beautiful?"
The corner of Katie's mouth twitched upward, slightly. "No," she said, finally.
"Was Snow White beautiful when she was at the wishing well, singing to the birds, even though she was wearing rags?"
"Yes." Full smile. Snow White has long been Katie's favorite of all the Disney Princesses.
"You do not need a dress to be beautiful, Katie. To be beautiful you just need to be kind and loving." I set the sandwich down in front of her.
"Thanks, Mommy." Katie reached back and unfastened the Velcro closure to her costume, returned her hands to her plate, took a bite of her sandwich, and smiled wide, with mayo on her cheeks.
The next morning I awoke to Katie lying next to me in bed. We started talking about her birthday, which is coming up. I asked her if she feels like she's getting older.
"No, not really." She said, twirling her hair.
"Really? I can tell you're getting older. You're learning so much every day."
"Yeah, like it's good to share your toys." Katie stated.
"Yeah," I agreed. Hanging out with her cousins this summer is giving Katie plenty of experience learning the merits of sharing. Like not having your mom yell at you and taking your toys away until you can share them. But I wanted to see if last night's lesson sunk in, so I asked, "And did you learn something last night at dinner too?"
"Oh yes!" Katie rolled over and looked at me face-to-face. "I learned you don't have to wear a fairy princess dress to be beautiful."
"That's right!" But before I could start nominating myself for parent-teacher of the year, Katie continued her thought.
"You just have to be kind and have long, beautiful eyelashes!" She fluttered hers like an experienced princess.
I didn't argue with her. Instead, I returned her butterfly kisses.