“Careful, be careful,” I hear her tell her imaginary friend through the bedroom door. And I wince. Those words are exactly the opposite of the brave spirit I want to instill in her.
Before Reagan was born I determined I wanted to raise her to be brave and adventurous with a curiosity to see and learn without fear. I wanted to give her the opportunity to try things, to succeed and to fail. And within reason, the space to get hurt. Rather than telling her to be careful I would be more descriptive in helping her learn to be wise and observant to what’s around her, or so I planned. Now I find myself telling her to be careful regularly – when she jumps off the ottoman or carries her stool in to the kitchen. “Be careful, Reagan,” as she scales her changing table.
I thought I could get a few minutes. We’d played out in the snow for nearly an hour and watched her favorite cartoons. Surely, she could play quietly for a half hour while I blogged. That’s when I noticed her using my glass of iced tea as her cowgirl-rubber-ducky’s swimming pool. Ahhhhh kids!
As I poured myself another glass of tea and snagged a piece of dark chocolate from the kitchen cupboard (because clearly I deserve it, right!?!), I began to recount the blessings of motherhood.
You know the scene: the uncomfortable chairs, room full of strangers, a squirmy toddler or two, waiting.
Waiting for your name to be called, for things to get started. Maybe it’s just an annual exam or the exciting first ultrasound of your pregnancy, maybe it’s a worrisome mole or a follow-up with a potentially life-altering diagnosis, or maybe it’s an emergency. You’ve probably experienced more than one of these scenarios in your lifetime. I know I have.
As a single 20-something, I loved being aunt “Rayree.” I relished every moment with family and especially times with my first nephew and niece, showering them with love and affection, and going out of my way to be present during holidays and special occasions. I don’t mean to brag, but I was a rockin’ aunt.
Then I met my husband and had a baby, and began my transformation to less-rockin’-aunt.
For the last two years I have singularly chosen what my precious babe would be for Halloween: a ladybug and a little chicken respectively.
The costumes were purchased weeks in advance. Who am I kidding? I bought her first Halloween costume the December before while I was still pregnant (I got a good deal!).
Fast forward to this year. Reagan is two and starting to have her own opinions, so in late September I began asking her just what she might like to be for Halloween. We scoured an entire rack of 2T costumes at a consignment sale.
I walked into the new-to-me church feeling a little hesitant. It’s not that I have an issue with church per say, but it’s always a little uncomfortable walking into one where you don’t know anyone (yet).
But this church had something very special going for it. Something that had me falling madly in love with it before even stepping a foot inside the door. You’ll understand why soon.
“We need to move.” I texted my husband. Our home was unfit for human occupancy as wild vermin had taken up residence. The outbreak was widespread and blatantly vicious. “We need to move,” I texted a second time to emphasis the urgency.
The specimen of my concern was a foot-long, slithering garter snake. I hate snakes. After snapping its sharp little fangs at the dogs, it slipped into a hole in the cement at the base of our garage door and out of sight.
“They live under the garage floor,” the reptile-honoring-man-I-married texted me back.
They? He had discovered the snakes three days earlier while mowing and had decided to withhold the information. I can’t imagine why.
“I need to move. Possibly without you.”
Marriage is a delicate dance with emotions and feelings that ebb and flow. Although I wouldn’t truly leave my husband over a harmless – or so he tries to convince me – snake, it does point out yet another difference of opinion between J and I. He sees the snakes as a helpful part of the local ecology, eating up bugs and causing no harm. While I feel the goose bumps race up my back just thinking of snakes living mere feet from where I cook and eat, and, in my mind, ready to strike at any moment. Finding ways to overcome our differences is what makes a marriage, and really any relationship, work. In our case, that involves talking it out. Here are a couple helpful tips when having this kind of conversation:
Set aside time to talk when you can both focus on the issue. Talking via text during the work day is probably not going to resolve things in the best manner possible. It can also be hard to focus on a difficult discussion when actively caring for young children. Find time (after bedtime?) to really focus on each other and the issue.
Table an issue if it becomes too heated. Some decisions may need to be decided upon quickly, but taking even 10 minutes to calm down can help get the conversation back to a good place and keep you moving forward.
Be willing to give in. You can’t win everything, all the time. And part of a healthy relationship is – at times – conceding. Because you love your spouse, sometimes you have to let them have the final say. And because they love you, sometimes they will let you have the final say.
While we’re still negotiating how to handle the snake situation (moving is by far the best option, clearly), many issues we’ve faced, and will face again, aren’t as lighthearted, and stretch and strain our marriage. Having healthy boundaries in our disagreements help us move forward together and united.
What’s your best tip for handling conflict in marriage?
“Look at this,” I moan in disgust pinching a handful of stretch-marked, flabby skin from my mid-section. “Why do you even like me?” I ask J dejectedly, adding insult to injury as I place the value of my personhood on the perceived failings of my exterior.
“You had a baby,” he patiently soothes. “You are beautiful and wonderful, and a good Mommy.”
But I hear none of it. Too focused on the imperfections in the mirror. If I could just lose 20 pounds, then I’d be happy, I tell myself.
And I believe it.
I remember the first time my mom mentioned my weight to me. I was in 6th grade. She doesn’t remember, but I can vividly see us standing in the kitchen and my dad telling her she was silly, and that I looked great. A girl needs a dad like that.
It was silly, and that’s probably why my mom has forgotten the conversation. I was fit and healthy, and looking back now, just starting to add a few girlish curves. But I think it’s around that time that I started to realize my mom wasn’t happy with her body. After giving birth to my youngest brother – her third child – she’d struggled to lose the last 10 pounds of baby weight.
My mother was (and still is!) beautiful, vivacious and simply fabulous but I don’t think she always saw it. She was too focused on those 10 pounds.
And now, I’m repeating the cycle. So focused on my imperfections – so focused inwardly – that I sometimes miss out on the joy of just being me with the ones I love.
What would it look like for me to break the cycle before it reaches the next generation – to learn to appreciate my body so that I can teach Reagan to value hers? One thing I know, this change has to start now. Today. With me. Steve Maraboli wrote, “There is nothing more rare, nor more beautiful, than a woman being unapologetically herself; comfortable in her perfect imperfection. To me, that is the true essence of beauty.”
And so today, instead of focusing on the things my body isn’t and can’t do, I’m choosing to focus on the beauty of my body, the perfect imperfections. The stretch marks that grew as my body expanded to hold and nurture my precious baby. The round arms that offer comfort and hugs to family and friends in need. The pale legs that carry me out into the sunshine to work and make a difference in the world.
And as I focus on living a healthy lifestyle (because even as I learn to value my body, I want it to be healthier so I can do even more with it!), I want to teach my daughter to appreciate her own body and show her how to best take care of it.
Some days I will fail, but I pray that God will give me grace and help refocus my vision when it begins to settle on negative thoughts so that I can see myself the way he sees me.