laughing is better

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I have an eight-month-old baby girl. One of the things that makes me panic and mad at the same time is when a close relative, someone who is very much in our daily life, calls the Baby “ugly” or any supposedly endearing versions of it. Granted, the word “ugly” in Cantonese isn’t as harsh sounding as it is in English and while I don’t like it, it really isn’t all that uncommon among the older generations. It serves as a form to keep kids looking well-mannered, I guess. This is how it is often used:

“Oh don’t make that face! How ugly looking!” (remember this is talking to an infant, not even a toddler)
“You’re smiling too wide it’s not pretty!”
“Oh that pouty face! Don’t make such an ugly face Baby! Smile! Look pretty!” (our beloved infant does not know to pout on purpose)
“Oh look at her semi-smile! You’re a sly little one!”

One time Baby pressed her face against the net of her playpen. It has the effect of someone pressing their face to glass, which is pretty funny! A grandparent walks in, this time with a little more urgency than affection in his voice, “Stop, Baby! That looks horrible! Sit, otherwise I won’t pick you up!”

When they say these things, they say it with love and they are poking fun at Baby. With that in mind, I try not to get hung up on their choice of words (actually, no, I do object very much to this disapproving and unconstructive choice of words!), but I cannot get over even the slightest frown or tone of disapproval, and the possible implications for her self-awareness and self-esteem if this sort of remarks continue. On a regular day, if I’m in good enough mood, I’ll laugh and say “I think she’s hilarious!” (new choice of word). If I’m tired and mad, I’ll say “What’s that got to do with it? Baby you’re just playing, aren’t you!” And if a long response is required one day, I’ll say:

“Children remember what we say! When she’s older and she’s having fun, she’s joking and laughing her head off, what if your voice comes into her head at that moment telling her “Don’t make that face! Don’t laugh like that! It makes your mouth so wide! So ugly and un-ladylike!” What if she stops laughing because of it?”

Dear Daughter, you are amazing as you are. Don’t listen to them, even if they’re adults.

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