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I searched the face she painted for a sign of familiarity. I looked through the brush strokes of the background and pictured the curve of her hand when she painted the eyes. I tried to see beyond the stiff texture and the smell of childhood from the paper I was holding, a craft project she brought home from preschool. One of many subjects her mother and I sort through over time to decide what stays and what eventually will go, visual representations of her imagination time stamped by her age.

“Who is this?” I asked. A question laced with enthusiasm in hopes it would be contagious. There’s a thin line between complimenting and offending when attempting to guess the subject of a new, brightly colored creation. I waited for her to respond with a friend’s name from her class or a character from one of her favorite movies or an imaginary person she dreamed up while discussing art, but she didn’t answer with any of those. She stated who I was looking at without even thinking about it.

“Me!” she said. One word. Short and sweet.

My wife and I exchanged a glance, a parenting moment we’ve perfected over the last several years, a conversation between us full of words that aren’t verbalized, confused and concerned. Our daughter has brown hair, not blonde as this picture depicted. Our daughter has the perfect blend of my dark brown mixed with her mother’s natural auburn, a beautiful shade not found in a bottle or a salon, a color all her own. We relayed those same thoughts to her and listened to her explanation in return.

“That’s me,” she told us again.

She told us her two best friends had blonde hair, which is true, but differences between people is what ultimately brings them together. She told us her favorite princesses had blonde hair, which is true until we reminded her of Belle and Snow White. She told us she wanted to dye her hair but she knew we wouldn’t let her, which is true for now because the color of her hair shouldn’t be on her current list of priorities. She tabled the discussion and told us we would talk about it later, which is true, we will if she chooses to.

Several months have passed and she hasn’t mentioned it, but I know the day is coming when she’ll ask to straighten her curls or curl the strands that have straightened themselves. The day is coming when she’ll want to cut it short or grow it out or highlight it or streak it or dye it all one color. That day is not today. However, we saved the self-portrait she painted when she was four because as much as we try to help her see herself through our eyes - we realize it’s just as important we see her through her own.

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