At least once a day, I get thrown a curveball by one of my kids… A question I can’t answer, a situation I can’t explain, a fear I can’t quell. In this time of political unrest around the world, hurricanes and tornadoes all over the news and, perhaps most unnerving, sex and body image discussions happening on Instagram and on the playground, how does a parent answer the tough/ awkward/ scary questions without causing more anxiety? I always thought I’d have an answer for everything and got cocky when I nailed the first few… I got “Mommy, where do babies come from?” the other day from my four-year-old. He thought he had outsmarted me but this isn’t my first rodeo… “Go ask your dad,” I told him. See? Easy.
A few weeks ago, that same four-year-old asked me, “Mommy, what does nervous mean?” I told him it’s an exciting feeling in your tummy, a few little butterflies flying around and making you feel a bit scared but mostly excited about something. And then I wondered why he was asking. “People keep saying I must be so nervous about kindergarten. I didn’t think I was, but maybe I am.” Ohhhhh, ok. So my kid was super excited about starting this new chapter but now other people attaching emotions to it that he didn’t even know existed.
These little minds are a so malleable and fresh. They literally only learn what they are taught. What a crazy thing to think about. A totally clean slate that slowly gets muddied with the truths and hard lessons of real life. Sure there are scary things that we learn because of evolution and survival instincts and thank God for that… but what about the lessons we learn that completely affect the way we evolve as people?
I distinctly remember the first time someone mentioned in passing (and not to my face) that my thighs were big. Up until that exact moment in time, I was blissfully unaware that thighs could be anything but the part of my body that attached my torso to my knees. In a split second and, without meaning to, that adult changed the entire course of my life. Okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic (but then again, so was calling my pre-pubescent and perfectly-shaped normal thighs “big”) – but after that comment, I began thinking about how the way I looked was perceived by the outside world.
I’m not blaming that indiscreet and judgy adult – because if it hadn’t been her, it would have been the next one to comment – my gymnastics coach, a boy in my swimming class, a mean-girl on the playground, a fashion magazine lecturing me ever-so subliminally that I wasn’t good enough, tall enough, pretty enough or, yup, thin enough. Now that I’m a mom, every time I open my mouth, I’m aware that what I’m saying could get misinterpreted by one of my kids or one of my nieces or a friend’s kid or really anyone little within earshot. But it’s hard! It’s hard not to say “I feel fat” today or “Ugh, I hate my hair” or “I look so gross” or “I’m not eating carbs.” We all have those days and it’s impossible to censor our feelings 100% of the time, despite our best intentions.
I worry when I tell my three-year-old daughter that she’s pretty or cute. I try to re-balance her universe by telling her she’s smart, thoughtful, kind, funny and a good friend… I worry when she sees me curling my hair and asks if she can try it. I stumble over my words when she asks why I wear makeup. I worry about what to say when my son as tells me that pink is a girl color and blue is a boy color. Most of it is innocuous and the answers slip by without so much as a follow up question or comment, but I live in fear of the day that I say the wrong thing and scar them for life. Or they overhear me talking to a friend about something that no little kid should ever hear. I’m not talking about the odd Fuck, that ship sailed a long time ago. It’s about self esteem and judging other people based on things that don’t matter, and about giving kids the tools and the confidence to stand up for each other, to feel good about themselves and their choices, their bodies and their minds. It’s about shaping these little brains to believe that we are all created equal and it’s only our decisions and the way we treat others that makes us different. It’s a hard lesson to teach when none of us follow those rules most of the time.
I’m not sure what my point is here. I think I just need to know that I’m not the only one who feels like she’s fucking up on a daily basis. Am I?