We were sitting across from each other, at our chipped white Ikea kitchen table, the tinies were eating oatmeal, I was eating peanut butter toast, the baby was chucking bits of food off her high chair tray, and I was studiously ignoring it. My coffee was almost ready. We were talking about the day ahead. First, math, then maybe playground? I want to ride my bike. Okay, we can do that. Laundry absolutely MUST be done (note: it did not get done).
“Mum? I want to lose some weight.”
My heart has started to pound, my wrists feel weak, my palms, oh, my God, now? already? this morning? SERIOUSLY?!
In an instant, I thought of that letter I wrote to my daughters, about how I wouldn’t call myself fat. I thought of how we studiously avoid television or access to commercials, how we limit music, how I keep magazines out of our home, how I avoid the mall, how we homeschool, how we try to celebrate and affirm womanly beauty in many ways and forms ….and still.
Oh, darling girl. How are we here … already?
I laughed nervously, oh, don’t be silly, I sputtered.
“I’m not being silly, Mum.” Serious blue eyes across the kitchen table, shaggy blonde hair slowly growing out of her pixie cut, long limbs swinging beneath her chair, then the baby chucked her plate to the floor with a crash. Anne is nearly six now.
And in that sentence, my baby girl of the triangle mouth seemed to grow up before my eyes. I couldn’t dismiss her, move her onward and elsewhere with laughter or distractions. She meant it. Now.
I got up for my coffee. I was stalling.
We talked at the kitchen table this morning. we talked about her body, about her self. It turns out that she’d heard my sister and I talking about how I wanted to lose a bit of weight, we hadn’t known she was listening, but she was (aren’t they always?). And she thought, well, if my Mum wants to lose weight, I probably do, too.
She said, “people ALWAYS tell me I’m thin and I’m tall, so I don’t want to be fat” and I couldn’t breathe for just a second, I didn’t know what to say. She is very tall for her age, all legs, naturally thin, she takes after my husband’s sisters in her body shape and every one feels the need to remark on her physical stature in some way. And already, she feels labeled.
It’s in these moments, the ones right now, on the ground, in my real life, with my own child sitting across from me, that I can only pray I don’t screw this moment up. You can read, you can prepare, you can think, you can philosophize, you can hypothesize, you can cast judgements on others, but when it’s your sweet and perfect and wild and tender baby girl, there, tall and thin and waiting for something, she doesn’t even know, does she? But she is, she’s waiting for something, from me, in that moment, and all I could think was, “I have no idea what to say now.”
I don’t have words to say that she’s beautiful and perfect. That it doesn’t matter, that I don’t care, that she’s healthy and strong, that life is about living and working and loving and not about what size your clothes are, that I like her just the way she is. There is something in me wants to lay down rules, to order her to not “EVER say that again!” but I don’t want to do that and I don’t know what the hell I’m doing half the time, do any of us?
You’re healthy and you’re strong.
Fill your mind and your heart and your life with things that add to you, darling, don’t consume yourself with restrictions and deprivations. Just fill up with all of the good and glorious stuff of life, and grow, grow, grow. Grow up to love Jesus and love people, grow up to be fully alive in your own life, it’s wild and it’s precious, and you only have this one, you know. This is your childhood, please, just go ride your bike, read a book, build a house out of Legos, let me wash your hair in the bath tub, I’ll use the baby shampoo that you still like so much, and I’ll pour water down your back in rivers, I’ll sing “Danny Boy” into the echoes of the bathtub, I’ve been singing it to you for your entire life, I’m so in love with you, honey, and I’ll tell you again and again, in a million ways, that to me, you are beautiful, and you are enough, just as you are right now and then and someday, always enough.
We finished our breakfast. She wanted seconds. I lathered on the butter. She asked me if I liked my own body, and, like a prophet, I said, yes, yes, I do. I like my big breasts, I nursed all of you, I like my belly, I carried three huge Bessey babies past term, you know. I like my arms, I like my blue eyes, I like my freckles, I ran a 5K on these legs, you know, aren’t they strong? (Even though I don’t like my own body, not really, not most of the time, because all I can see is what I wish was there, and I want to fit into cuter clothes, but I wanted to believe it about myself, and so I said what I wanted to believe) and she looked like she believed me, she said, “I like your body, too, Mum, because you’re warm, I like to be close to you. I don’t think you need to lose weight. Let’s just not do that.”
Speak those things that are not, as they will be, I whispered, and I said, I love my body, too. I like to be healthy, too, but we can’t do that without worrying about that stuff, right? We both like our bodies, isn’t it great?
And that will have to do for today. Who knows about tomorrow?