Performing in Listen to your Mother last night was a truly wonderful experience. I’ll share more about it soon, but wanted to share the piece I read.
This is Just my Body
“So, do you know what you’re having?” the mom standing next to me asks. It’s the first week of September, and we are at the back-to- school carnival. We connected momentarily when we realized we were both moms of kindergartners. “Huh?” I reply dumbly.
“A boy or a girl.”
“Oh, I’m not pregnant… I have to go find my daughter,” I stammer, and make my getaway.
On the walk home, I try to figure out where I went wrong. I’m wearing trendy yoga clothes, with no stains: the Boulder mom equivalent of dressing up. Now, I’m not signing modeling contracts any time soon. My body is not flawless, and it is becoming increasingly clear that there’s a lot of “flawless” at drop off and pick up… but pregnant? Pregnant enough to say something?
And then, the very next afternoon, another mom I’ve never seen before. “When are you due?” “I’m not.”
Two months pass. I’m leaving a mommy and me class with my younger daughter, when our teacher pats her stomach and calls to me, “You’re looking great, Megan!” I mumble “thanks” as I rush out. In the parking lot, I consider going back, and telling her I’m not, in fact, pregnant. But I can’t do it, not in front of the other moms. So I send her an email, the gist of which is “I’m not pregnant; this is just my body.” She sends back an apologetic email.
I wish I could say that our email exchange made me feel better, and that I moved on appropriately, but these three interactions continue to affect me deeply. One of my strengths has always been my ability to connect people, whether it be leading wilderness trips in college, organizing grad school happy hours, or starting a book club as a new mom. I assumed that, at my daughter’s new elementary school, I would fall into such a role.
Instead, however, I mostly keep to myself, immersed in my phone and in my toddler at drop off and pick up, aside from conversations with a few moms, with whom I’ve preemptively dropped not-so-subtle hints like “Oh, I’m so glad I’m done having children.” In conversation, I constantly wonder: is this person looking at my body? Do I look alright? I have lost confidence. I have gained anxiety.
I struggle to process these women’s remarks in the context of parenting two daughters. I am wary of my body now. I bemoan my metabolism, and at the same time, I feel defensive on my body’s behalf. My body has carried and birthed two babies. My body has breastfed for thirty-four months. My body has backpacked through Maine and Switzerland, and kayaked in Alaska. My body does yoga, skis, and runs. My body teaches my two daughters, who are looking to me, learning from me, to figure out how to exist in this world.
I don’t know the answers. I know that recently, when my 6 year old and I were at the library, she pulled out the “My Little Pony” movie I remember from my own childhood. She put the movie back, saying, “Actually, I don’t like the fat ponies.” It was the first time I’ve heard her use the word “fat,” which I would like to think is a testament to my parenting, but is more likely a reflection of living in the fittest city in America. We don’t see many different types of bodies here. What will my daughters internalize—will it be that their mom is strong, with an imperfect, yet powerful body? How I wish this were enough to counteract the new, sexy version of “My Little Pony,” and all it represents.
Of course, none of this is new. When I was growing up, both my mom and my grandmother were runners. I can remember running my first mile with my grandmother when I was six, and sometimes when I run, I still hear my mom teaching me to breathe to the rhythm of my stride. I am the third generation of women who has initiated her marriage proposal. I’ve certainly had strong female role models. And yet… I remember knowing, in first grade, that I was not one of the “cute little kids” who was beloved by the sixth graders. I remember knowing, in third grade, that my best friend was thin and beautiful. I remember a high school English class, when I was first challenged to examine advertising, and my indignation when I realized that the way I saw myself was partly because of calculated messages from society about what it means to be female.
One night, before Valentine’s Day, my kindergartner was in tears. A friend had told her that she ran out of valentines, and had enough for everyone in the class except her. This was the most recent in a string of kindergarten conflicts, and I’ve been unsure of how to respond. Are the girls who make such remarks in kindergarten the ones who grow up to comment on each other’s bodies as adults? Do I teach her to speak up, to say, “it’s not okay with me when you talk to me this way”? Do I teach her that this is the way girls are, the way women are? It occurred to me, as I’ve grappled with both my own issues and hers, that I am learning, with my daughters, which voices I will listen to, and how to dismiss the voices that do not serve me. We must steel ourselves against this complex culture, and at the same time, we must move forward and figure out how we might create change.