“One more, Honey.” Kathy Morton held the square, flat box with the pink wrapping and big white bow out to her daughter. “Happy third birthday, Big Girl.”
The excited child pushed aside the pile of already opened gifts and reached for the box with an excited squeal. Her small, delicate fingers began to tear at the colored tissue and all of her concentration became fixed on removing the ribbons separating her from her gift. As she leaned forward, her long, light blonde hair fell forward, covering her face and blocking her bright, blue eyes. Seemingly without noticing, she raised one hand just long enough to push it back out of her way and then quickly returned to her single minded work. At last her diligence paid off and the ribbons slipped free, quickly followed by the box top.
An even louder excited squeal erupted as Jennifer pulled out a blue and white checked dress and stood, scattering other presents, but holding the most recent offering up in front of her. “Oh, Mommy, it’s pretty! Put it on!” she cried. “I want to put it on.”
Smiling at her child’s obvious joy, her mother led her into the girl’s bedroom and in only a couple of minutes returned with Jennifer dressed in the new garment. The dress was long, reaching almost to the floor. The large checks of white and light blue were enhanced by decorations of ribbons and small white embroidery at the collar. She bounced into the room behind her mother, now and then stopping to look down at herself in obvious pleasure. Then she stopped in front of David Morton and said, “See, Daddy. Pretty dress. Pretty me.”
“Yes,” her father answered, smiling at her. “You are a very pretty girl. And it’s a beautiful dress.”
“I want to see,” the little girl cried, and started towards the bathroom with its large mirror over the sink. Her parents followed her. The girl looked into the mirror, but her height was such that she could see little more than her own head over the counter. She tried to jump up high enough to see and then looked around for something to climb on.
“Hold on a second, Jennifer,” her father cautioned. “Remember, no climbing on the sink. I’ll hold you up.” So saying, he scooped up the girl and held her above the counter, watching her excited face as she studied herself in the mirror. When he put her back down, she again tried standing on tip toe to get a further glance of herself.
“I think she likes it,” Kathy said, smiling at the girl’s antics.
“I’m sure she does,” her father agreed. “Too bad we don’t have a full length mirror in here.” Then, struck by a sudden thought, he added, “But I think I know just the thing. Wait here a minute while I see if I can find something.” With that, he left the room.
Kathy held Jennifer up again so she could see herself and listened while the child told her over and over how pretty the dress was. In five minutes or so, Kathy heard the folding steps leading to the attic creak and her husband descending. But instead of returning to the bathroom she heard him move into Jennifer’s room. She was just starting to lead her daughter in to see what he had found when she heard him call, “Just give me a minute before you bring her in. I’ve got another surprise for her.”
So Kathy waited with her daughter, both admiring the new dress, while in a minute or so hammering sounds began to come from the other room. In another minute, David called out, “OK, bring the birthday girl in here.”
Jennifer gave one more long look at the mirror and then yielded to the tug of her mother’s hand and followed her into her bedroom. But when the girl entered her room and saw what her father had brought, she gave another squeal and ran over to where he was standing. She gave him a big hug and then, still saying, “Thank you, thank you,” over and over turned and looked at herself in the tall gilded framed mirror her father had attached to her wall.
Kathy stared at the mirror. A foot and a half wide and over five feet tall, the mirror was surrounded by a heavy gold tinted wood frame carved in an elaborate pattern of flowers and leaves and hearts. It looked like a piece from another time, something which might have been popular half a century or even a century and a half ago, but it looked to be in nearly new condition. The glass was heavy, clear and unscratched and the silvering was totally intact. For several seconds she stared at it and then asked, “Wherever did you get that, Honey?”
“Oh, just something I picked up at Walmart. No, we’ve had it up in the attic along with some of my grandparents other stuff. It might even have been from their parents. I remember when I was little, my grandmother had this beside her bed. I remembered that this was stored upstairs. I just thought it might be just the thing for Jennifer.”
“Oh, yes, Daddy!” the little girl cried. “I love it.” She was standing in front of the old mirror, twisting back and forth, sometimes twirling all the way around, admiring herself and her new dress. “It’s wonderful!”
When Jennifer was nearly six, her parents took her to see the classic movie, “Snow White”. Although the mirror in the movie didn’t look anything like the one in her room, Jennifer was fascinated with the talking object. For weeks after, her parents would sometimes hear her in her room intoning, “Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?”
Jennifer had frequently spent long times looking in the mirror and talking to herself, but the concept that the mirror could talk back to her was something she had never considered - until seeing the movie. Now she stood admiring herself - she was really a very pretty girl - and quoting from the movie. The mirror in the Disney movie spoke in an adult voice and was shown as only a face. However, in Jennifer’s mind her mirror took on a different personality. As she spoke her questions, she visualized in the mirror a boy of her own age and heard his comments in a young boy’s voice.
And the young girl did not limit herself to simply quoting from the movie. If she had some other topic on her mind, she would discuss that with the mirror, so her comments and questions were wide ranging - as were the responses she heard the mirror place in her mind.
Even at her young age, Jennifer did not really believe the mirror was alive or that it actually answered her questions. She realized that she must be creating the answers herself, but this didn’t reduce the satisfaction she received from these discussions. Her parents sometimes overheard her holding conversations with her mirror, but saw no problem with that. After all, most children created fantasy worlds in their minds; Jennifer’s just included someone in an old mirror.
As Jennifer grew older, she no longer quoted the Snow White lines to the mirror; however, she still used the object to help her sort her own thoughts. Whenever she had a big decision to make she presented both sides to her mirror and often seemed to be listening to advice from within the glass. She knew there was no one actually living in the reflective world, but it helped her to sort out her own mind to visualize the response as coming from another person. Without conscious thought, she kept the image of a boy about her own age - maybe just a little older - and as she grew older, so did he. She thought of him as the older brother some girls had but that she lacked. Someone, not an adult, she could look to for advice and not be afraid to tell her secret fears.
Once, when she was eleven, Jennifer’s school class was going to put on a play. For two weeks the class had read the play and planned their performance and on Friday, parts would be assigned. Jennifer had come to strongly associate with one of the leading girl characters in the piece and desperately wanted that part. The only problem was that Alice, a sometimes friend and sometimes competitor, also wanted it. For days Jennifer thought so intently on this that she became almost obsessed with it. When Friday came she was so worked up she could hardly eat her lunch, her stomach felt tied in knots and she had trouble thinking about anything else at all. Just before school was let out, the teacher began to assign the parts. When she came to the coveted role, both Jennifer and Alice were on the edge of their chairs and it was obvious to the teacher that this decision would be really important to both girls. Both of the girls were good students, had wonderful personalities, and got along well with the other students. As the teacher studied them, she could find nothing to help her decide which one deserved the coveted part. She called both girls up and asked each if she wanted the part. Of course, each enthusiastically said she did, so the teacher settled the problem by a coin flip. Jennifer lost.
The teacher could sense Jennifer’s disappointment and felt the crushing emotion along with her. However, she couldn’t help but be impressed with the way the little girl handled it. She still managed to smile and congratulated Alice. She was given another role - a supporting role of a friend of Alice’s main character - and seemed to genuinely accept the part. Jennifer was definitely mature for her age and the teacher once again thought of her as “eleven going on thirty”.
To Jennifer the loss had been a tremendous blow. Still, her pride would not allow her to show how disappointed she was, and she strained to control herself as school ended and she walked rapidly home. With only a quick word to her mother who was busy washing dishes, she went directly to her room and closed the door.
.... There is more of this story ...