I feel pretty?

Rewind the clocks back to a nine year old version of me sitting on my grandmother’s bed watching her zipper up her dress, cinch her belt around her waist, and fasten her clip on earrings to her lobes.  Her waist looked so small, her fingers were so delicate.  “Grandma- you’re so pretty.  You’re so skinny.”  “Sarah,” she said to me “I’m slender.  Skinny is for crack whores.”

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My slender, lovely, loving Grandma.

Now, some find this story funny.  Others find it a little concerning.  To me, it’s an honest and endearing reminder of my grandmother.  The one who, good and, let’s face it, brutally honest, loved me to the moon and back.  But, it is also, in my adult years, a curious glimpse into body image and self awareness.

Like almost everyone I know, I struggle with my body sometimes.  I wish I was thinner.  I wish I could find clothes I feel good in.  I would love to take care of that underarm jiggle.  And I am taking steps to make positive change.  I’m working to feel better in those clothes.  I have taken stock of what I eat and feel good about how I have changed my daily intake.  I go to the gym and enjoy my workouts.  I play with my kids and run around in our backyard.  And here is where my quest for “slender” has taken on a different tone in recent years- I have these kids who soak up what I say and how I say it.

If you know me well, or honestly if you don’t, you might know that I come close to idolizing my mother.  She was smart and funny and kind and beautiful.  She taught me to be an independent and thoughtful person, but she did have faults and, one in particular, she passed on to me without even thinking about it.  She struggled with her body image.  In passing comments, in trying on clothes, in dressing for formal events- she had much the same struggle that many of us do.  And when she talked about it, or tugged at her clothes, or bought things without trying them on to avoid a different size, I heard her and worried about my own body.  I am now responsible for how I think and I am trying to change it, but those nagging concerns about my hips, my belly or my arms linger.

Another story.  In February 2012, joined by my husband and my father, I found out that our first baby was a girl.  I was so excited- I knew she would be a girl and now I had confirmation.  Justin and I already knew her name- she would be named after our mothers.  Nina Patricia was already a source of joy and pride.  And then, I started to overthink having a girl.  I started reading article after article about how to talk to girls about their bodies, how to love themselves.  She wasn’t even born yet and I was telling people to make sure not to call her cute or pretty or beautiful first.  “Isn’t it interesting,” I would say, “if we just make sure to call her kind or smart or thoughtful first, her whole self worth will change.”  ……

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My hope for my children is that they see what I see.

So, here’s my question as I consider my body image and how to talk with both my children, daughter and son, about our insides and our outsides- what’s wrong with being pretty?  When my daughter asks me why we go to the gym, I tell her that I exercise to be strong and healthy.  Which is true.  But I also exercise to be pretty.  Pretty as I see it.  I am DEFINITELY influenced by media and what popular culture thinks of as pretty, but I know what makes me feel good.  A hard work out, the right jeans, and a little make up helps me feel pretty.  And along with pretty comes confident and strong- when I feel pretty, I feel more prepared to take on the world.  It’s a loop really.

So, here’s where I am.  I want for Nina and Ryan to learn how to be confident about themselves.  But I also want for them to know how to use the tools at their disposal responsibly.  I want to teach them good eating habits, sure.  But almost more than that, I want to teach them how to move their bodies, how to feel good about their clothes, how to be proud of their appearance.

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Feeling pretty is important and fun. It’s just not the only thing.

I am happy when people tell Nina she’s smart and kind and funny and brave because she is those things.  But, I also like when people tell Nina how pretty she is, how gorgeous her hair is, how great her smile is.  Because both will be important- in the right measures.

An open letter to the well meaning people in Trader Joe’s

Picture this: a woman in her mid-thirties. Hair in a messy pony tail, yoga pants, UGGS and a sweatshirt on. Her two small children are energetic, talkative and sometimes impatient. The young girl, maybe 2? 3?, is pushing a child sized cart next to her mother. Even as the mother warns her daughter to “be careful”, the young girl pushes her tiny cart into a wall. There is laughing, chatting and then, coming as quickly as it leaves, crying. The baby is in the cart this whole time and is chewing on whatever he can get a hold of- a toy, an apple, the shopping list, his shoe….  You’ve seen this woman in the store…or you’ve been this woman. I was this woman the other day.

I was in Trader Joe’s the other day with my two children. They are 2.5 and (almost) 1, so they keep me on my toes, but I was armed with a list divided into categories, applesauce for my son and the multiple activities that Trader Joe’s provides for my daughter.6a00e554d86f248833013484b79c1d970c-800wi But, she’s a toddler and about half way through the store, she got excited and her small cart (with our juice, yogurt, black beans and apples, toppled over and brought her down with it. She often bounces back from that kind of spill…but that particular day, I was not so lucky. So, on came the screaming and the crying. As I bent down to sit on the floor with her and help her calm down, the advice started coming. A woman nearby shared, “You know, they have lollipops here.” Then from another patron, “Maybe you shouldn’t let her carry such heavy items in her cart, they tip easily.” Followed by: “Your son is chewing on his shoe…”

Thank you. Really, thanks for the support. But I’ve got it. It might not look like it, but I promise, I’m good. And that, I think, was the source of my frustration as I gathered my daughter up and replaced the shoe with Sophie– these strangers were making me feel like I wasn’t capable. With a smile on my face, a lot of F-bombs in my head, and my son’s rogue shoe in my hand, I made my way to the check out and told myself to ignore the well-meaning tips. Because they are well-meaning. But does that mean they are actually helpful?

Upon reflection, I started to think about how often we assume our way is the right way or we know the answer to the problem. How often we believe that we know what’s best for everyone else out there. This video certainly speaks to how some parents feel an innate right to judge others for their choices. Who am I to tell any parent, or anyone for that matter, how to conduct themselves? I may make different choices, but does that make them better choices?

Ultimately, I want to be quietly supportive when I see a mom with a kid melting down in Target. I don’t need to tell her what to do- I assume she knows what to do. When I talk to my friends who don’t have kids, I don’t want them to feel like they need to defend their position.  When I speak with my students and they share varying opinions on feminism, gay marriage, and abortion, I feel happy they were comfortable enough to share. It isn’t up to me if people buy organic. I hope they are deciding instead of sliding into these choices. I want to talk to people and have good conversations, not judgmental ones. My husband and I try to make informed and thoughtful decisions…sometimes we miss the boat, but that’s ok. As my Dad says, “That’s why they make erasers.”

The thing with the Trader Joe’s experience is that everyone who shared small tips or suggestions with me had good intentions. I’m good with advice when I ask for it, but maybe on that Trader Joe’s floor, while my daughter was crying and my shoe-chewing son was looking on, I needed some quiet support.

It’s not you, it’s us.

We are breaking up with our daughter’s preschool. And the thing is, it’s not anything they did. In fact, they are amazing. They love and respect children. They have intentional activities supported by theory and experience. They communicate often with the children and talk to them like humans. They believe that children can do for themselves.

But we have to break up with them because we’re moving. We will be too far away to keep driving to this school. My husband and I found a wonderful school for our daughter to move to. During the tour of the new school, she jumped right in and started participating. She looked like she belonged. She told us she liked it. It is, by every metric, a wonderful school and we are excited for the next steps. And still, I feel sad. I’m sad to leave this place that has cared for and taught my daughter during her first year of school.

A friend suggested that I write a thank you note to the school and her teachers- she suggested it might help assuage my sadness….

Dear Ms. Debbie, Ms. Sarah, Ms. Kelly, Ms. Rachel, Ms. Jen, Ms. Ellen, and the countless student teachers:

Thank you for holding my daughter’s hand after I left on her first day.

Thank you for holding my hand after the door closed and she happily started to play.

Thank you for encouraging our whole family to get involved with the school community.

Thank you for paying attention and having opportunities that appeal to my daughters’ interests.

Thank you for not yelling, not getting mad, but encouraging my daughter and her friends to resolve their problems.

Thank you for letting sheep come to school and keeping him safe.

Thank you for encouraging my daughter to get messy and then clean up.

Thank you for singing funny songs and dancing even if you look silly.

Thank you for writing me updates every day to keep me in the loop.

Thank you for asking me to volunteer in the classroom.

Thank you for the parties, parades, and events.

Thank you for exposing my daughter to people, traditions, and ideas different from her family.

Thank you for helping my daughter start to learn empathy.

Thank you for caring about intentional teaching and letting kids be kids in equal measure.

Thank you for reading book after book after book without tiring.

Thank you for getting down on the floor and playing with the kids.

Thank you for all the care, support, and interest you have given to our family. We will miss you, but we take with us the lessons you taught our daughter and our family. We are so grateful. It means the world.

love, Sarah