Many nights during the week I find myself stopping in front of the mirror while holding my son. He's just finished a bath and his soaked head pops up through a the oversized bath towel that serves as a body wrap two or three times over. There is the way he brings his shoulders forward and clenches his eight teeth as he navigates the cooler, dry air outside of the tub. It's a sight I find hard to walk away from.
Usually, I catch a glimpse of him first, then only after I register his reflection do I see the two of us there. My eyes lock with my reflection, my arms wrapped around his still brand new body. I've never been involved in something as meaningful in my life and right now I can just stop and watch him for a second. His eyes, however, dart around everywhere but the mirror - usually transfixed on his mom but sometimes studying the toilet paper, his toy airplane or the empty towel rack. Maybe the skylight above. But he doesn't see me, and moreso he doesn't see himself. In a way, this relieves me greatly.
In many cases, most cases probably...the mirror doesn't engender warm feelings from me. It reminds me of what I'm not that I wish I were, and it brings to mind what a better version of that might look like as embodied by people trying to sell such things. It reminds me that other people tell me I could be a little closer to whatever ideal if I only worked harder in one respect or purchased something in another respect. As if such materialism (and that's how I see it) actually results in any more fulfillment. All of this provides me with an intellectual reason to dismiss the mirror. Who would want to actively participate in such a game? But it also - counter to reason - heightens my awareness of myself, my body, and how I could and should make these things better - all pushing one to feel like they should require validation or admiration based on how they present physically.
To a degree, narcissism is learned. So I need to remind myself not to pause for too long in front the mirror. This thing, it is not a lesson I want to teach him, though I am sure if I manage to avoid it, someone will find a way to him. There are too many powerful forces waiting to exploit what can be gained by his seeing himself, studying himself, and eventually, possibly, feeling like what is there is not enough for one reason or another. To reject this outcome he will need to stand anchored, firmly, as a cultural tsunami crashes onto and over him, not once, but repeatedly. Most likely though, I won't manage to avoid teaching him a little bit of narcissism myself. I am, perhaps, a little too proud of us. Aside from this pride, all too often I buckle under the weight of the wave. Maybe the best I can hope for is to teach him to stand up again after he is knocked down and to once again - avoid and reject the mirror. Look outward to the world for answers - and to look inward only once you can see past your face and your body.
Still, after the baths, the mirror is different. I love it, the togetherness it shows. And yet every time I stop in front of it I fear his eyes will stop darting around, he will lock on his own reflection and become interested in it.