By Laura Mills 

    The other night at dinner, my almost three-year-old pointed straight ahead of her and proclaimed, “My shadow!” I followed her finger and saw an image of her in the side of my glass. I explained to her—as I had done many times when we had looked into mirrors—that what she was seeing wasn’t a shadow, but a reflection.

    She blinked at me. “What dat?” 

    In the past she had just made a face in the mirror and we had moved on. But now, for some reason, she wanted information. I thought for a moment and then explained: when we see a reflection we see a person or thing as it really is, how it really looks, and when we see a shadow we see a person or thing’s dark shape. She seemed to mull this over for a few moments, and then she continued eating, apparently satisfied.

    But I wasn’t. The idea of confusing a reflection with a shadow struck me…. My daughter has been very interested in shadows lately, stopping here and there to observe hers or mine, orienting her body so she could see herself walk on my “head” or dance with “herself.” She understands shadows, images we see because our bodies block light coming from the opposite side. But reflections…they’re a more difficult—and more intimidating—concept. We see them because the light bouncing off our bodies hits a surface and then bounces back to our eyes. Where shadows leave room for interpretation and imagination, reflections show it like it is.

    I wonder now how many times I’ve confused a reflection with a shadow…my own, someone else’s, or that of a circumstance. In general, as adults I think we believe we know—or tell ourselves we know—what we’re looking at, what we’re dealing with. But after this conversation with my daughter, I’ve been feeling that we might need to pay a little more attention to the workings of the light around us….