It happened today. A day I’ve dreaded since my little girl was a baby.
We were getting ready to go swimming. Crowding around the bathroom sink with her little brother, the three of us busy dodging elbows and weaving through legs while searching for an opening to rinse and spit. Amid the chaos she stopped, looked me straight in the eyes and barely audible through her sad, embarrassed tone said, “Mommy, I feel like this bathing suit makes me look fat.”
I froze as my heart broke. Thoughts like molasses, I sensed them trying to call an emergency meeting while unable to break free from the muck. The only clear ones I could make out were “How did this happen? My baby. She is only 6. What do I say?”
Believe me when I say while I’m certainly not batting a thousand in the “saying the wrong thing in front of my kids” department I have made a tremendous effort to give my daughter a picture of a strong woman who is grateful of her body…lumps, stretch marks, loose skin and all…ever since she was only a few months old. When my kids ask why my belly sticks out so much if there’s no baby inside I tell them it’s because I grew two babies in there. That it had to stretch out in order to keep them safe and cozy until they were ready to come out into the world. That it was their first home. Then we give my belly a gentle pat and say thank you. The kids usually give it a big hug and kiss and we all smile.
Don’t get me wrong, I struggle on a daily basis with the body image mess we are all in together. It’s not easy to stay positive when you work hard to be healthy and people still ask if you’re pregnant three years after giving birth to your youngest. I do talk about it but reserve those conversations for my therapist’s office and adult only gatherings when the kids are well out of earshot. Knowing I struggle with it causes mommy guilt to kick in when moments like this morning happen but I know deep down she didn’t get it from me.
So, in the bathroom this morning I started looking for something to blame. TV? Probably. Friends? Maybe…when I finally realized it. What I need to do at this point is accept the inevitability of it. To trust the foundation I’ve worked so hard to build and start planning ahead. Instead of preventing the moment, be ready for it next time. Figure out how to combat the nasty self-loathing buds of societal pressure looking for a place to grow in my precious baby’s mind. How to do this without being dismissive, condescending or overly protective when I still struggle with it myself? That’s the latest question that will be keeping me up at night.
Sarah Stith lives in Boulder with her husband and 2 children (3 and 6). Before moving to Colorado, the family lived in Brooklyn, NY where Sarah worked as a dresser at The Lion King on Broadway. She now works from home and manages to find time between breaking up arguments to build her organization, “Raising Little Heroes,” a group devoted to finding volunteer opportunities for families with young children. She also writes about her life on her blog, “A Day in the Life of My Little Brood.”