I promise to protect your body image.
I watch you. I watch you roam around the house in your big girl underpants, high and ever so wide on the side, baggy legs and all, and I smile to myself. I smile when you occasionally choose modesty, particularly when a friend has come to spend the night and you each vye for who shall use the bathroom first. This same little girl, just six, has the confidence of a supermodel as she bolts around the upstairs with her three brothers, sharing the bath tub or just dancing stark naked, happy as a clam simply because she can and is. The joyful self image that you radiate makes me filled with happiness but also a little heartache.
Just this morning, you scampered around upstairs with me as I hurriedly got dressed from the mound of clean laundry on my bedroom floor and did a quick teeth brushing and contact lens routine. As I concentrated on the task at hand, I allowed my mind to sweep over to my only daughter and her breathless chatter. "It's not fair!", you said again as I fully tuned into your ongoing one-sided conversation. You are the first to repeat my general response of "who ever said life was fair?" And so, I was surprised to hear you employ a method that had historically gained results in our household of six.
In a rare showing of kindness, I took the bait and queried what was not fair. Wow, what we hear when we pay attention. I know my attention is divided between daddy, your three brothers, particularly the littlest one, just two and a half, with his own unique set of extra special needs. I too often forget what your needs may be and though you are a shining star of confidence, I could cuddle you more often than I do and listen, really listen to your chatter that I often try to block out. I promise I will do better, I thought and so, I stopped thinking and listened.
You shared the particularly audacious claim from your good friend that she weighed 40 pounds and her accusation that you did not. What an insult you clearly felt, on the verge of spiteful anger and I could see the reciprocity brewing in your quick mind, too sharp for someone in kindergarten. And to make matters worse you claimed, it was not even true. I quizzically watched as your scantily clad self stepped on the scale, shoved between the tub and a stainless steel dog bowl in my bathroom. I should have known you were right, the needle hovered right over 40. I inwardly smiled at this now, even more fueled indignant attitude, furious with this perceived slight and audibly "humphed" before asking me my truth. You asked so plainly and so free of the reservations that I would like to shield you from but I know they are coming.
What was my number? Ahhh, the encounter I had been dreading the last thirty long seconds. I sensed your little girl anger and imagined the what next in the situation. I briefly anticipated your oncoming lovely innocence, a tsunami reaching my beach of shame and imperfect love of my own self. Yet, I was willing to concede to the genuine nature of my daughter's proposal, especially since I knew I could win at this game. What was my number you asked and after a deep breath, I hopped on the scale with confidence yet on the inside I felt like the lamb to the slaughter. Yep,159, it said so right there with a small hovering red needle, maybe 162 if I took my right hand off the wall.
"It's not fair!", you moaned again. Never had I been put in such a contradictory position with my true self. I have lamented the extra 20 or 30 pounds I've been carrying over the last 8 or so years. I am not blaming you or your three brothers for this change in my body, but readily acknowledge my indulgence of cream filled coffee, pasta, pimento cheese sandwiches for lunch and Utz barbecue chips as a late night snack. My daughter, I am so filled with awe that you think me perfect, genuinely envious of my bragging numeral on the old scale. In a calculated and perfect response, I was convincingly smug with my success and assured her as she grew up, her number would increase too.
My body image may not be perfect but I promise that I will give you the best possible chance to be healthier than I, both physically and mentally. I will do my best for you to be ready for the snide comments that may come but I promise, they will never come from our house. I will always cheerfully suggest a banana after a bag of chips and then perhaps a yogurt and continue to encourage healthy choices and moderation. Sometimes though, I will join you for an ice cream sandwich for breakfast or stop by Krispie Kreme when we venture out of our small town and see the light shining over the "Hot Now" sign. I want you to see me enjoying a cupcake at your birthday party and I want to share a grilled cheese in the late afternoon sun beside a glistening pool.
I regret the period several years ago, before your birth when I was so eager to look like my old self, I forgot I was Mama. I was so tuned into myself that I forgot little people were watching me and taking innocent notes and unconsciously tucking them into the recesses of their minds. Yes, your two older brothers not quite aged one and three at the time. I remember your big brother commented quite casually that I only liked to eat salad and soon after, asked why I didn't eat breakfast. I was struck with shame and though my body was slimmer, it was not worth it. I was inadvertently raising your brothers to think they should marry girls who only ate salad, did not take time for an egg & piece of toast, and certainly deserved just the crusts.
I will be ready when a friend accuses you of weighing too much instead of too little. I hope you will remember how easily I jumped on the scale and comforted you at your too low number. I hope you remember a mother that was fun, went under water in the pool and enjoyed an ice cream cone from our local drugstore. As you grow up into a lovely young woman, I will talk to you about the friends you may be encountering, maybe even unbeknownst to me and quite possibly their mothers too. Unfortunate surely, but likely to occur along the way if at all similar to the experiences I encountered in my own childhood. I will hopefully always find more time to exercise and embrace everything in moderation. I will continue eating salad and pizza on a day off from school with you, even if it means that I shall err on the side of chubby. I promise that I will never model deprivation even if it promises the thinness I have inwardly desired and struggle to leave behind. That perfect body is not worth the sacrifice of your jubilant cheer at my number, so very insignificant for what is truly at stake.