Her eyes were serious and focused as she traced the constellation line across my chest. “Mama,” she asked, “what are those?”
“They’re moles, sweetie,” I explained. Whether I was born with them or they popped up as a result of my adolescent penchant for lying out in the summertime, they’re there -- a tiny little spatter of dots right below my collarbone.
Suddenly, she began taking off her right sock. I didn’t think much of it, as she’s never been one to like anything on her feet ever since she was a baby. Then, she peeled apart her fourth toe and her pinkie and pointed excitedly to a tiny brown speck buried deep within the crevice. “I have one too, mama!” She explained before high-fiving me.
How had I never seen that before, but she had? When did she separate those two toes on her own and marvel at the miniscule pinmark she found? I imagine it must have been one evening before her bath, or early one spring morning, when she slept barefoot with the summer sun pouring in from her bedroom window.
It starts so young, this learning of our bodies. I’m almost 31 and I’m still learning mine. I discovered that a set of solid abs can quickly give way to a squishy, absolutely beautiful belly capable of giving life. I’m learning that my arms can carry 10 grocery bags in on one try, and that my legs can support the weight of two toddlers climbing up them. I’m learning that it will take longer than that six-week postpartum checkup for me to feel physically and mentally back to normal (and that’s more than OK).
But if I’m still discovering these things, where does that leave my curious and inquisitive three-year-old? How can I guide her toward a spirit and attitude of unabashed acceptance toward that precious and capable body of hers? As she grows, she’ll only become more conscious of the world around her, and how society and perception affects our body image. Will she be tall like her papa, or short like her favorite aunt? Will she need braces on her teeth or will we spend an afternoon choosing glasses together one day? Will she speak like me or have her grandma’s wide gait? Only time will tell, but we’ll take that journey toward self-acceptance together.
I believe it begins again every morning, fresh and hopeful as the sunrise. When she wakes, I remind her to stretch. I tell her to bend and shake out the sleepies, then we throw a little pop music on and dance in her bedroom before heading downstairs, where her brother awaits with the oatmeal. When we run to the swing in the afternoon, I let her go a little faster than me, so she can see that her legs are strong and willing.
At least a million times a day, I grab her in my arms, squish my face close to hers and tell her how beautiful she is. Not only that, I remind her, but she’s also strong and smart. She and I swim slow and steady laps in the pool during the summer and we take nature hikes along the creek behind our house on warm winter days. We walk up and down the long, winding driveway at my parents’ house and talk about our big days. As she falls asleep, her head resting sweetly against her favorite floral pillow and her purple, beloved “Benjamin Bear” under her arm, I smooth her hair back and rub her back, reminding her whose she is and everything she will do one day.
And I believe it. Like any parent, I truly believe my children will achieve far greater things than I ever dreamed about, and certainly more tech-savvy ones. I believe they’ll stand up and stand out, on those steady and growing legs of theirs. Right now, they’re still wobbly. They’re slow-moving, especially on days when we really need to be at preschool in five minutes but they insist on putting on their shoes alone. They’re unsure, especially when we’re in a crowd and they know nothing but to instinctively hold onto me. They’re also still small, and sometimes forget that they’re big kids and ask me to hold them or curl up in my lap.
But one day? They’ll outrun me and the little line I draw to measure their heights will surpass my own. They’ll have children and grandchildren and they’ll marvel as I did at how something so tiny and heavenly can be created by a flawed and human body. It’s an incredible thing what ours can do, and I’m trying every day to reveal to them that everyday magic.