Dear Lily June,
I’ve never been a woman to accept a compliment gracefully. Either I’ve outright disagreed (This old thing? I’m only wearing it because even the moths in my closet have better taste…) or I’ve “boomeranged” the verbal gift (You must have accidentally caught a reflection of yourself in my eyes. You’re the beautiful one!) And that’s when I’m trying to be polite. When I’m not, I’ll full-on swat that thing away from me like it’s a bee on fire.
With your dad, for instance, whom I love and feel safe and comfortable with, I’m apt to be a lot more blunt. When he says I’m smart, I say, “Yer” (our short-hand for “You are”). When he says I’m nice, I say “Whatever” fairly meanly. When he proffers I’m beautiful, I imply that he might be a psychopath with congenital pupil defects. It occurs to me that this may not be the best example to set for you, little lovely, as you grow older and find yourself fending off compliments with the Awesome Stick I was apparently whacking you with like you were a pinata in the womb.
In fact, things have gotten weirder for me now because I’m already getting handed your compliments, as if I, as your mother, have a box I could put them in for safe-keeping until you’re of age to enjoy them. The other day, for instance, at a co-worker’s Christmas Eve shindig, her neighbor saw you on my lap and said, “She’s just beautiful.” My response seemed to rub her wrong when I held you away from me for a bit to admire you and sighed, “I know.”
Now, I get that, by some act of alien magic, your impeccable looks and unfathomable intelligence were implanted somewhere from outer space directly into my uterus like I full-on birthed a TARDIS baby.
What I don’t get is why some people would assume that I assume you get those unimaginably impressive qualities from me. If you were a miracle, I was your vessel, not your maker. I’m no more divine than maternal Tupperware. I just kept your parts fresh and sealed in for the embryonic portion of your life. Hey, remember when you wore my body like Krang’s human-shaped exo-suit from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon? we’ll one day reminisce. Those nine months were cra-zy.
In the meantime, the beauty that’s spread across you like mold arching its fuzzy back over a seven-month-old sugar cookie? That’s all your own, my dear. (Apparently, I failed to mention I’m bad at giving compliments, too.)
The point is this: Compliments directed at you don’t make me any less uncomfortable, because unlike those directed at me which I flat out don’t believe, the ones directed toward you hit me the opposite way. They bang like a carnival hammer at a high striker game inside of my heart, and my pride goes rocketing skyward. I truly believe I do know how amazing you are. I know you’re worthy of any and all praise anyone in this world can sling at you. What I didn’t know, in the moment of the neighbor noticing you, was how to linguistically behave at someone pointing out what, to me, has become completely obvious: You. Are. Incredible.
In the same way, I didn’t know how to respond without feeling like my tongue was a jumbled-up jump rope when my father said over the phone after his holiday visit that, “[Lily] is such a gorgeous and happy baby. You and [Ryan] really are doing a great job as her parents.” In that combo-compliment, the whole family was taking a hit in the smiley column. So, in a moment like that, do I, like a director filibustering to God on the Oscar stage on behalf of the nine-zillion people who work on a film, accept the award for Best Family for all three of us? Is there more graceful way to do this than the advice I’ve joked to your dad that I’m going to teach you: In response to any compliment from anyone, Lily, flip your hair back over your shoulder and say, “Yeah, b*tch. I kno-ow!”?
I know now what I should have said in the past–in any complimentary situation– was this archaic yet magic incantation: “Thank you.” That’s what this article on “How to Accept a Compliment with Class” says to do. In my favorite suggestion of the piece, Brett & Kate McKay say, rather than deflecting, deflating or rejecting a compliment, to instead
“Be a man and eat the discomfort yourself instead of tossing [the compliment] back like a hot potato.”
And yet, I think some part of me will always start to sweat like I’m under the interrogation bulb of a bad police drama when a compliment is flung my way. The point is, I hope to be able to hide that sweat from YOU by the time you can understand what’s going on. After I somehow find a way to accept the compliment in a such a graceful manner that even the complimenter feels as if they’ve struck pay dirt for the soul by paying me notice, I hope you’ll turn to me and say, “Wow, Mom. You accepted that compliment so dryly.”
And I’ll turn to you and say, “Thank you, Lily. I couldn’t have done it if it weren’t for you.” And that will be true, I hope, I hope, I hope, Lily. Add that to the book of etiquette you’re going to, someday, teach me.
- “BakedPotatoWithButter” by Renee Comet (photographer) – This image was released by the National Cancer Institute, an agency part of the National Institutes of Health, with the ID 2653. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BakedPotatoWithButter.jpg#/media/File:BakedPotatoWithButter.jpg
- “TARDIS2” by The original uploader was Zir at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:TARDIS2.jpg#/media/File:TARDIS2.jpg