Isn’t a thing I’m supposed to say. I'm not supposed to say that my stomach isn't as flat as it used to be and c-section scars actually don't fade until you can barely see them. Apparently hip-dips are a thing now, and I don’t know if they’re trendy in a good way or a bad way, but I’ve been giving mine the side-eye every morning for the last several years. But who cares? Why am I even reading articles about that? I'm supposed to say I made humans! Whole people came out of me! I love this scar. I love the lived in look of my navel and the way those little veins snake up my thighs. These are the truths I'm supposed to believe because feminism and girl power and love and motherhood and all the body love hype that I champion.
But I haven’t felt like I thought I would.
When I was in college I took a personal leadership class, and in that class I learned something called The Formula for Change. In order for this formula to work the vision for change and the dissatisfaction for the current situation both need to be high in order for you to actually make the change in your life. When the professor explained it, I took copious notes. I remember writing down the equation and studying it carefully, sure that it was something I would never forget. Thirteen years later I can’t recreate it, but I think that’s okay. I remember the gist of it, and it’s this: if I want change I need to be ready to take action.
There’s a scene in Legally Blonde that’s really the turning point in the whole movie. After Elle Woods has kicked it into gear at Harvard Law in order to prove herself as a serious student, one of the professors announces that he is taking on first year interns to assist in a murder trial. In the scene, we see the crowd of students outside the professor’s office looking at the list of interns posted on the bulletin board and hear the rush of excitement as Elle’s ex-boyfriend Werner and his new girlfriend Vivian gush over the fact that they earned spots on the team. Elle pushes through the crowd as a male voice says “that leaves one spot for—”. Elle scans her finger down the list, turns through the crowd with her signature determined walk, throws her right pointer finger down and yells “ME!”
For the last six years I’ve given my body away in really beautiful, substantial ways. I fostered a baby, then adopted that baby. I was pregnant twice in a very short period of time. I nursed babies and rocked babies. In fact, I still give my body away all day everyday. I carry toddlers and schlep backpacks. I bend over to pick up socks, and Legos, and crayons. I wipe noses with my fingers and catch vomit in my hands (Literally. Last week. At 4 a.m. On a camping trip!) I’m writing this with a two-year-old pressed up against me and every time I shift my body weight she grips my thigh with her chubby little hand and roughly whispers “can’t leave,” as though I’ve been traveling abroad for a month without her rather than spending the better part of every night of her entire life sandwiched between her small sweaty body and the prospect of uninterrupted slumber.
Sidenote: what all those parenting experts don’t tell you about the attachment parenting style is that the children get attached to you. Not just in an I-feel-super-loved-and-secure kind of way. I mean really, actually attached. They latch themselves to your body like sticky, graham cracker covered leeches and instead of sucking your blood they slowly eek the energetic life force from your being, but you love them and they’re darling, so you let them stay because you’d be so desperately sad if you plucked them off and flung them onto their own beds for goodness sake, but ohemgee coffee is just not a strong enough replacement to combat the ferocity of their pull.
But back to me.
That’s kind of the point: back to me. It’s hard work to circle ‘round to this practice of maintaining personal space (what with those precious leeches and all). It sounds selfish. It’s hard to say and hard to write, and for me, it was harder to do.
For the last six short (long?) years of motherhood, three wild babies, and hours upon hours of giving my body away, I had some dissatisfaction about the fact that I just couldn’t claim personal space with any kind of consistency. My desire for “getting my body back” was never about looking 25 again. I’m not trying to turn back time or erase the existence of the parts of myself that I’ve grown into over the years, but I want my body to return to me. I had given it up and given it away, and I wanted to feel like I belonged to myself again. Just a little bit. Every day.
Then a new gym opened up near my house, and somehow I became one of those 5 a.m. first-class-of-the-day people. This seems insane. I know. I’d roll my eyes at myself so hard if I wasn’t completely obsessed with this new habit.
I love how I feel at 6 a.m., stepping out into the cool morning air to greet the sun, knowing that I beat her, that I started my day first, that I reached out into that little patch of morning and planted my flag on it.
On Saturday, I went to the local running store with my middle daughter. I didn’t need anything. We were in the shopping center for other errands, so I figured we could just pop in and scan the sale rack. As I browsed, my daughter went over to the shoes and carefully removed three different pairs of sneakers.
“Which one do you like best?” she asked. I pointed to the black ones with hot pink laces.
“Those are fun,” she said. “But when I’m a running mommy, I’m going to pick these.”
She held up a mint green shoe with lavender accents. “I’m gonna be so fast,” she said.
I hope she is. I hope she remembers this.
I hope I remember so that I can whisper it back to her in 30 years. Go. I’ll tell her. Be a running mommy.
This isn’t just about my body. We all know that, right? For all intents and purposes my body is like, you know, good. It absolutely does all the things it’s supposed to, and for that I am unendingly grateful. This is about my entire self, about all the parts of me. The parts that existed before three little people filled my arms and my heart, and the parts that will continue to exist long after those people have fully grown.
I think I lost myself for a while there. It’s understandable. I don’t think I totally knew that until I found a way to get her back.
I’m amazed at the connection between the mind and the body. How just a small change in physical activity can facilitate a vast shift in perspective. The time I’m spending to come back to myself could include any activity, but for me, it’s exercise. It’s returning to a routine I had set aside for a season. It’s returning to something that I loved for no other reason than I love it. It’s knowing that I’m able to care for myself better and care for my family more fully because I’ve looked at the calendar, circled a time slot, and every day when my alarm goes off, I push through the crowd of time and space, throw my pointer finger down and say “ME!”