One of those “moments” in parenting happened to me this morning…the ones you wait for quietly, all the while hoping they just won’t. I’ve wondered which ones will arrive, but it’s tough to imagine anything other than joy and wonder could ever land on either of my children. Knowing better, the minute I laid eyes on each of my squishy, newborn beauties, I accepted that things will happen, and I made them little heartfelt promises that I’d try really hard to not be wearing my crappy parent pants on those days.
Today, I was wearing my tired and trying really hard pants, which is probably as good as it gets these days, when I found a certain small girl sitting on her bedroom floor, looking in the mirror on the back of her door, with her outfit in her hands. She wasn’t moving, and she was wearing a pink leotard on a school day. At this point we’re 5 minutes from departure time, and things aren’t looking good for timeliness. So I started joking and acting out some big thing about not wearing a leotard to school under an outfit because your business can’t breathe and you’ll be stuck in the bathroom forever if you have to pee, because you have to take your WHOLE outfit off, and it’ll be super embarrassing when your teacher taps on the bathroom door and needs you out of there because so and so is getting ready to pee their pants, and you are NAKED, and so on. She thought this amusing, we laughed, and then I asked, “what are you doing anyway?”
Earnestly, she looked up at me, through her almost seven year old eyes, and said in a very small voice, that she was “trying to figure out how to make “this” go away, so she could look like Queen Elsa, because Queen Elsa doesn’t have “this,” as she ran her flat hand in a brushing motion downward over her little soft belly, as if to slice it off. Then she curled inward, drew her knees up, and wrapped them with her arms. I sat down on her toybox, suddenly very still inside.
When she was ready, she crawled up into my lap, and curled into a ball. In hushed tones, we shared the joint sadness of never being able to look like Queen Elsa, the beautifully depicted matron of Frozen. When she could look in my eyes again, and had nodded her head for a good long while, I told her why: It’s because drawings and dollies don’t have guts. She had learned the job of the intestines in school last week; thank you universe and sweet Montessori school for that. I showed her my nice soft belly, and we laughed and joked a little about GUTS. We thanked our nice soft bellies for not squishing or pinching our happy little guts, who are trying to work really hard in there.
We talked about how in some houses, dollies and princesses and movies with these flat, pretend bellies are not welcome, because they often lead to this very sadness she was feeling right now. I told her, little girls need to know their soft beautiful bellies are normal and beautiful, and not compare themselves to beautiful imaginary characters. We joked about how weird it would be to be only as tall as one of her barbies, and have that creepy smile that never, ever goes away. We posed like that and laughed and laughed, and her little brother posed like that and we really laughed. I told her that her barbies are welcome here, as are the princesses, but she needs to remember they are toys, imagination fuel, and pretty characters to look at. They are not real.
I didn’t stop there. I told her there is a problem in our people, and sometimes a person has it, and they make their tummies and bodies sick because they can’t love their soft bellies. We talked about how this isn’t a sick like a cold, so you can’t just catch it in the air, but instead it’s a hurt in the mind, and the heart, and where these wonderful people were supposed to learn to love themselves, they just didn’t. I told her how there are safe places and people who help them fix the hurt and learn to love their whole bodies again.
Then, I asked her if I could tell her a secret, and she said yes. I hugged her wide and warm and firm. I told her she is a beautiful child, and a beautiful person, that her silvery green eyes are big and round and full of sparkle and love, and she has a soft dusting of freckles across her nose, just like Queen Elsa’s, and she has long and perfect feet, and beautiful knee caps, and her hair is silky and brown and long and gorgeous, and her smile is warm and right. I told her, as her little soft belly touched my big soft belly, that our bodies are just as they should be, and normal and healthy and good and strong.
Then, she got dressed in her sparkly green, sequined dance outfit, put a silvery blue Little Mermaid dress on – as a cape, and asked me if I could put her hair in a side braid like Queen Elsa’s. She packed a little pair of shorts and a t shirt with her school name and logo on it, for later in the day when this get-up felt too tight and certain parts couldn’t breathe, and she went off to school with her head held high and her belly soft just like it should be.
In my heart, where I guard my worries and keep them sedated, well fed, and tamed so they can’t bite me, I put a little earmark, so when this comes up again, I will remember to hug her and let her be sad she doesn’t look like the beautiful and hope crushing visions we are surrounded by as normal, healthy people, every day. I will feel sad with her, and show her where we do choose to look for inspiration instead. I will remind her beauty is shapeless, and that she is capable and strong, and her ears do not stick out too far, and her hair is just as good as hair that is drawn onto a cartoon character or the extensions placed onto a beautiful but digitally modified model, because it is real and her body is doing its best.