I want to teach my kids to love themselves. Not to nitpick at freckles or hair color or overbites. Not to worry if they are the shortest in class. Not to care if they like different clothes from their friends. Or if they like to play different sports.
I initially worried that, at this point in my life, I was not in the best position to teach them that quality. I'm no longer young. I have (as my daughter points out... and counts) lines on my forehead. I have arthritis and a squishy belly. Depending on my mood and the time I'm willing to spend, my hair alternates between done just right and being twisted into two little "Princess Leia" buns, roped into two french braids or yanked back into the ubiquitous "mom ponytail".
But as I think on it more, this is the PERFECT time. About to turn 40, I suddenly find that it's no longer about what I look like, or how many friends I have... but how I got here. And I love it. I love me.
At 17, I hated myself. I was blonde, tan, had a 23 inch waist, belonged to every school organization you can think of, had a number of friends and "princess" tiaras from school to show my worth. And I hated me. I'd gotten past an abusive relationship only to doubt my every step rather than applaud my strength. At 20 I hated myself. I was an A-average college student and had a well-muscled frame that reflected my new interest in weight lifting. And I hated me. Trying to find myself in relationships, trying to find my faith in campus organizations, trying to spread my wings 900 miles from any support system, I constantly teetered on the edge of major depression. The hatred continued as I struggled with depression, alcohol and more in my 20's. Self doubt lingered in my early 30's as I gave birth to two kids and struggled with working after the first and staying home after the 2nd.
I turn 40 in August and I remember my mother saying she liked life after 40 because, quite frankly, you "just stop giving a shit". And she's right. But it's more than that. It's that I really, truly, have found a way to love me, because of the road that got me here.
I love the lines on my forehead, because they are there when I make funny faces to make my kids laugh. I love my arms, even though they are not yet in shape, because they have carried two kids... sometimes at once - across playgrounds, through pools, up stairs and in rocking chairs. They have held crying babies, puking toddlers and sad kids. They've hugged little ones who have played their first tee-ball game or conquered their first somersault in gymnastics. I love my hands, arthritis and all, because they look like my mom's. Hands that dig in dirt, finger paint, remove splinters, stroke feverish heads, cook meals, apply bandages and never flinch at blood, poop, puke or snot. I love my body although it has sags and squishy places because it CARRIED and was the SOLE FEEDING SOURCE of two humans. Because when the kids were born, even though I had C-sections, as soon as they could, the hospital placed my babies on my chest. Why? They've discovered the best way to warm a child, any human really, is not heated blankets or incubators, but skin-to-skin, belly-to-belly contact. I love my voice because EVERY DAY my daughter asks "will you tell me a story", not because it matters what I say in the story, but because she likes the comfort of hearing me. I love my legs, even when they betray me with arthritis and sciatica, because they play soccer with my son, jump on the trampoline, and run races with the kids.
Parenthood may not be "pretty" in the ridiculous media-TV-model sense. I'm not super thin, my make up isn't perfect (it's often non-existent), my hair isn't perfectly coiffed and my clothes aren't the current fashion. But I really and truly have never felt more beautiful than when I was pregnant, when my children tell me they love me or when my children hang on to me because to them I am strength, I am safety and I am Mom.
I hope in this current state of mind I can teach them that they are beautiful just as they are. Not because of what's held in the mirror, but because of the AMAZING potential they carry in their teeny bodies RIGHT NOW. They don't need anything else. No one to build them up, no clothing to dress them up, no crowns to validate them, no tools. Their little selves contain the seeds to an amazing life. They just have to be. Be themselves, be open, be kind, be love, be unique. They are the beautiful future and because I was blessed enough to bring them into this world, I have never felt more beautiful.