In my mind, they hear my patient tone and see my love of reading. But reality is more complicated, and they don’t just see the things I like about myself, the things I want them to see. The girls ask why I am drinking Diet Coke and the boys ask why I am eating salad for lunch, and I offer vague and unconvincing answers about the rest of the baby weight and trying to stay healthy (as if diet soda is healthy).
I did not enjoy pregnancy, and I never got those euphoric breastfeeding feelings that people tell you about, and the pounds did not melt off like the lactivists promise. But I tried to think of my body respectfully: Look what it did. It grew this little person and nourished him for a year. The softness shows what it can do, what it has been through. It is a badge of honor. Working out jeopardized my milk production, and so I willingly chose milk production over weight loss. When my pants did not button, I remembered what Anne Lamott said about her thighs, how she called them the aunties and rubbed lotion on them. How every part of us deserves care. I got pedicures and bought new clothes.
It was easier to be tender with my body when I was still nursing. After we were done (13 months and 7 days, if you are counting, which I was), my hormones were crazy and I got all puffy and the pounds still did not melt off like it was suggested that they would once Atticus weaned. When I looked in the mirror, I could not summon any kindness for myself.
Atticus is the kind of kid who falls and bumps his head and keeps on going. For all of his toughness, he touches Big Bunny with the same reverence that I saw on others’ faces when Atticus himself was a baby. He rubs her fur the same way that people touched his head and marveled over his toes.
And sometimes he gently rubs my hair that same way. He pats my tummy and giggles at my belly button and hugs my thighs. He delights in me the same ways that we marveled at his tiny perfect body almost 17 months ago.
I did not expect to learn about being tender to my body from a rough-and-tumble toddler. But he is strong and sweet, and he reminds me of my own strength and helps me to be kinder with myself.
The truth is that I don’t get a free pass on this body image thing just because I’m raising a boy. The boys at school talk about weight and food and struggle with their appearances, too. I want to teach Atticus to have a healthy attitude about his body and to have respect for women’s bodies, and that means that I have to model both of those things myself.