06 February 2013 ~ Comments Off

build her up

Dooce posted her daughter’s 108-month newsletter this morning and it totally punched me in the heart. When Leta asked whether her mom was OK with her eating cereal for dinner, Heather thought back to the years of feeling physically inadequate, to the kids who teased her. She knows Leta’s becoming more and more aware of the world and people around her, that she must’ve heard something at school that made her wonder if eating cereal for dinner would make her fat. The following absurdly heartwarming discourse was the result:

So I leaned forward on the table as I gathered my thoughts and said, “If you’re hungry, I think you should eat until you’re not hungry. If that’s one bowl of cereal, that’s one bowl of cereal. If it’s two bowls of cereal, it’s two.”

You wrinkled your forehead a bit and then pushed harder. “But what if two bowls of cereal make me fat?”

“You know what?” I said. “If two bowls of cereal fill you up then dinner was a success. It doesn’t matter what you look like.”

“It doesn’t?” you asked.

“No,” I answered. “You want to know why? Because you’re absolutely perfect and always will be.” I then lifted up one of your arms to make a point. “Even if this hand right here grows to be as big as a house, it will still be a perfect hand.”

You giggled and shook your head. “I won’t be able to pick up a spoon and eat cereal if my hand is THAT big.”

“Well then, I’ll get you a bigger spoon,” I said.

This seemed to satisfy you, but I wanted to make sure that these words lingered long after that meal. “Leta, you are my favorite person,” I said.

I got a little teary-eyed thinking what it would’ve been like to hear something like that when I was a child. In the middle of the elementary schoolers asking, as elementary schoolers do, exactly WHY I was so fat. Somewhere between my fellow trumpet players asking the only other female in our section to pull back her hair and show us all how SHE didn’t have sideburns, and the high school kids who didn’t get me labeling me a lesbian because clearly no guy was ever going to take a liking to a gargantuan, hairy girl-thing. Maybe while I was chatting with 45-year-old skeezes in AOL chat rooms, pretending to be 22 when I was really 15. Or when I was gazing forlornly at the precipice of ending my life because I was convinced I’d never be truly happy a single day in my life.

I don’t necessarily blame my parents for never expressing my uniqueness and beauty. I was their third child, separated from my closest sibling by 9 years and birthed on the brink of my parents’ marriage collapsing after nearly two decades. There were a lot of other things for them to worry about, like child support, court proceedings, going back to work after leaving college to get married and raise babies, getting remarried to extramarital affairs, picking up the pieces of their lives… making new lives after 20 years of being each other’s everything. I can’t imagine a damn thing harder.

Still, though, it would’ve meant a lot to the woman I became. Even when you have the clarity of mind to look back and see what messed you up along the way, that doesn’t fix the problem. When I saw a therapist a few years back, I beat him to the punch on diagnosing every single problem I had. But that didn’t make me cry any less, or make me stop wishing I could just disappear from the world forever.

I guess the most important thing I took away from Heather’s story is that, no matter what you say to your daughter (or your son), it will leave a mark, whether anyone realizes it or not. She is making sure her mark on Leta is filled with love and encouragement, self-acceptance and healthy attitudes, kindness and strength. The mark my parents left on me was more along the lines of responsibility to the detriment of joy – fiscal, personal, etc. It was more about good grades and finding a job. The practicality of the world overshadowed my ability to enjoy it, to fully live. And I find myself regretting that to this day. I hope Leta never regrets anything. Not a single thing. I’ll never meet her, or her mom, but they deserve a life of freedom, not bound by the hang-ups that cast shadows over what it means to be truly alive and fully happy.

[Above excerpt © 2013 Armstrong Media, LLC.]

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