I am the queen of the backhanded compliment. Naturally, I don’t give them … I receive them. More accurately, I seem to attract them, like bugs to a windshield; which is pretty much how I feel after I receive one. For some reason, the compliments people give me are always followed by words like “for,” as in, “You look really good … for someone who’s had two children,” or “You look so young … for someone your age.”

Overall, I think most people are pretty cautious about giving backhanded compliments. You can always count on your kids, however, to speak the truth and knock your self-esteem down a few pegs.

Such was the case one morning while I was getting ready in the bathroom and I overheard the kids talking in the hall.

“Where’s mom,” asked my son. “We’re gonna be late for school.”

“She’s in the bathroom putting on her makeup,” replied my daughter.

“Why does she have to wear make-up?” asked my son.

“To cover up her zits and wrinkles,” replied my daughter.

I grimaced at my zits and wrinkles in the bathroom.

“Besides, it’s not her make-up that takes so long. It’s blow-drying her hair,” said my daughter.

“Why does it take so long for her to do her hair?” asked my son.

“Because it’s dull and lifeless,” replied my daughter. “She needs to blow-dry it to add bounce and shine.”

“AAAHHHHHEEEMMM,” I yelled from the bathroom. “I can hear you!”

They appeared in my doorway, without the slightest trace of guilt on their faces at having been caught shredding my self-image. True, it’s not like they insulted me to my face, so there was nothing backhanded about their comments. But even so, one would hope that when you happen to overhear someone talking about you, it would be in more glowing terms than “dull and lifeless.”

“So, you think I wear too much make-up,” I asked my daughter who, at age eight, had yet to discover the wonders of Clearasil and concealer.

“Mom, you don’t NEED all that make-up,” she said earnestly. “You’re beautiful without it.”

I waited for the “but” or the “for,” but none came.

“What about the zits and wrinkles,” I asked her innocently.

“Mom, that’s just outside stuff. When you’re a good person, you’re beautiful on the inside and that’s what’s important.”

If she had been an adult, I might have rolled my eyes cynically. But from a child, it was the ultimate compliment.

I gave her a hug. “Thanks, Puss. I think you’re beautiful, too.”

She grinned and stepped back. But then her eyes widened.

“What?” I asked.

She pointed to my head. “Hey mom, did you know you have a ton of gray hairs on the back of your head?”
This is a repeated Lost in Suburbia column, which has appeared in GateHouse Media newspapers since 2008. As Tracy Beckerman’s main column is shifting focus - her kids are grown and she has moved back to the city - we are rerunning her earlier work for readers who may have missed these the first time around. You can follow her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LostinSuburbiaFanPage/ and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/tracybeckerman.