I know that look.

This was my 9yo today.

She doesn’t get into fights with other kids, just with us — about going to bed, or getting up, or drinking out of a cup with a creepy pirate on it, or doing any lesson other than theater or art.

Beyond throwing an eraser or stuffed animal in huffy anger, my daughter is not violent.

But that look… victorious and unrepentant, following her own moral code, a force to be reckoned with. This morning she got permission to paint in watercolors, and when both of us were occupied she got out her fancy oils instead — which she’s supposed to use with supervision only. That was, of course, the straw that broke the camel’s back, and what kind of a parent am I if I punish my daughter for painting a happy domestic Christmas scene?

This detail shows the girl sitting on a bench outside the principal’s office. The fact that one of her hair ribbons is loose suggests that at least part of the fight involved hair-pulling, but the pride with which she wears her black eye puts her way beyond the tomboy zone, deep in the land of prizefighter bravado. By way of contrast, the picture also shows the principal, a little thin man with glasses; though he’s seated behind his desk, in the position of authority as he hears the teacher’s report, the painter captures him at a moment of uncertainty — he’s either amused or shocked, and there’s no clue in the painting to suggest any reaction on his part will make a darn bit of difference to the girl. But the teacher is not a tight-lipped old maid; she is still young, and she looks worried, as if she wonders what will become of a little girl with that much fight in her.

Even in the 1950s, Rockwell seems to have known how impossible it will be for his society to accept this little girl, much less see that strength as a tools and a gift.

(Detail from Norman Rockwell’s  “Young Lady with a Shiner.” By the way, “Contrasting Views on Norman Rockwell’s America” is a great resource.)

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