“Your belly is fat right there.” she said, poking her four-year-old finger gently at my middle.
I looked down and almost defensively blurted out, “No, actually, my belly is not fat right there.” I almost responded as if I’d been attacked. In tone, if not in words, I almost revealed to her that sometimes, I still feel fat right there.
Instead, I said “Oh?” I tried to pass off her comment with an air of nonchalance, as though she may as well have said, “I played in the sandbox at school today.”
Of course, she didn’t say that. She said that I was fat.
There was a time when I would have crumbled under those words. During that time, when I looked in the mirror, I saw a belly that was fat right there. So I whittled it away until the entirety of my skin and bones amounted to little more than 80 pounds. I skipped meals for days, obsessed over my appearance, and everyday convinced myself that my belly was fat.
I didn’t stop until my belly really was fat right there. My ankles, face, arms, and feet too; all fat with the shape of her little body and the extras that pregnancy packs on. I pulled on clothes that squeezed the parts of me that swelled and anorexia finally released its grasp. She arrived and the baby weight stayed for a while, but the hugeness of her life obstructed my view of my belly. So I stopped looking. In those days, the size of my body, the numbers on the scale, none of it mattered anymore.
But now she is growing. Now she is hurtling through childhood and now it matters. It matters that I used to see fat right there. It matters that sometimes, I still do. What I did about then and what I do about it now matters too. It matters that she gently poked my middle and said ‘fat’ and I wrapped my hands around my body as if I were 16 again. I thought I had overcome and that for all of my work to be right here, I’d sail through these moments with the wisdom and grace of years. But she said ‘fat’ and any wisdom or grace I thought I had vanished. I stumbled and she moved on before I could say another word.
Of course, there will be a next time. In parenthood, there is always a next time. And the first time a little girl says fat is never the last. She’s started the clock and now it’s on. And I’ve got work to do.
I’ve got work to do so that the next time, I won’t stumble. So that next time, I can say, gently, that no, my belly is not fat right there. It is soft with the memory of having grown life, her life, to be exact. Next time, I want her tell her that after watching my belly stretch to protect her life, I love every inch of it. I look down at that soft spot in my middle and I feel powerful. I wear that soft spot and the pregnancy stretch marks that zig zag across it like badges of honor.
Next time, I want her to know that my belly is not fat right there. It is invincible.
And hers is too.
Related post: To My (Maybe) Daughter