I used to weigh myself five times a day. I would step on the scale before peeing and after peeing just in case there was a small difference that would make my heart flutter. I would weigh in right before bed, knowing that there would be at least a 1-2 pound drop in the morning. The numerical difference would nourish me.
But even with the victory of loss there remained a litany of faults needing correction, perfecting. I would wash my hair three times before exiting the shower. I would stare with dead and angry eyes into the mirror for hours, inspecting. Every clogged pore and out of place hair examined, squeezed, plucked. I minutely ran my fingertips over my face, carving any asymmetrical bone structure into my mind so that my hatred wouldn't be able to dilute when I stepped away from the reflection. I endlessly searched the mirror as I posed, determining at which angles I would need to stand in this outfit for optimal thinness. Always inspecting. Every stride past large store windows offered another opportunity, to worship or pay penance.
Stand up straight, suck in belly, measure steps to minimize thigh movement, take up less space. Take up as little space as possible. I bounced my legs while seated and drank my water frigid, internet tips for burning more calories.
Please God, I do not want to be a woman, I want to be a feather.
As a girl, praise came fluid and fast for taking up little space, both my voice and my body. I was a natural introvert and excelled from the start. The shy middle child wedged between two boisterous bookend siblings, it was an easy victory I did not ask for. Though truthfully the ready approval from adults was too delicious not to savor, and I was witness to the grass on the other side. My brother and sister regularly received derision and jabs from the same people who commended me for my meek existence. They were too loud, too much. Why couldn't they be less? I could be less. Growing up with chaotic personalities in chaotic situations took my slant towards restraint and forged it into a hell bent addiction. The unapologetic humanity of my siblings was jarring; why couldn't we be feathers? I plucked, weighed, counted, scrubbed. For years all I knew was discomfort and the unrelenting need to fix, clean, hide—I had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
My daughter wrested my control away before the umbilical cord was cut. I had diligently prepared for a natural water birth, seeking peace. After four days of unending, unmedicated labor she greeted us through a sliced open uterus as I trembled on the operating table, cold and drugged. She had an unshushable, mighty roar and still today her presence is something of a battle cry. Hello! I am here! It felt dangerous to me, so accustomed to saying sorry.
My former steel resolve was devastated by extreme sleep deprivation. We woke two to ten times a night until she was a toddler, a schedule and lifestyle that is often revisited today when she is ill or overwhelmed. I remember around six months into motherhood I looked around the house and realized every flat surface was covered in laundry, paperwork, toys. My skin crawled and yet all I could do was shrug. Relatives who knew me as an anxious adolescent marveled when they watched me wipe away snot, spit up, and chewed up food with my bare hands. Who was I? I used to hide behind her whirlwind aura like an apology, too caught up in my own desire to perpetually fade in the background. I wanted praise for not bothering anyone. For being put together and unobtrusive. For being quiet, for taking up little space. Thankfully, oh so thankfully, she ripped up that notion into tiny pieces, confetti announcing our arrival instead.
At first it was simply defeat and survival that made my white knuckles drop my obsessive compulsive security blankets to the floor. What else could I do? There were diapers to be changed and mouths to be fed and legs to be chased. But then there was a shift, tectonic plates making way. Survival became freedom. My “I can't,” became, “I don't have to.” I don't have to be unobtrusive, I don't have to be put together, I don't have to be less. I don't have to apologize.
And now it turns out I have my own unshushable, mighty roar. I can stand up for others, I can stand up for myself. I can find joy when, where, and how I want to. I can speak up or fall back based on my own boundaries and desires. I can be in my body as it is without justification. I can enjoy beauty without leaning on it as a pillar for purpose or worth. I can be angry. I can be sad. I can ask for help. I can take up space.
And so can she.
We are the ones. When you hear screaming in a restaurant, it's us. When you see a small human sprinting in wild glee across Target, it's us. When you dodge flying wood chips at the playground, it's us. When you give side eye to the disheveled, plump woman with the drooping ponytail who can't (won't?) control her child, it's me.
We are also the ones who make room for others. When you are on the edge of a breakdown in Target and a stranger comes up to let you know you're not alone, it's us. When your kiddo wants to tell a nonsensical joke to a random grown up and have them laugh out loud, it's us. When you have to carry a screaming child out of the restaurant surfboard style and need someone to not point or scoff, but toss you a smile, it's us. It's me. Because when we give ourselves permission to be who we are and do what we need to do, we give others permission to do the same.
If you are scared that you're messing it up, if you look around and feel like you were dealt a more difficult hand than most, if friendship has wounded you, if marriage is hard and parenthood is harder, if you're sick of apologizing, if you are so very very very tired, you can sit next to me.
Not a feather, but a soft place to land.
Motherhood hasn't been a magical cure-all. I still wrestle with mental health and would very much prefer my house look like a magazine spread instead of a shaken up snow globe. But I haven't glanced in a shop window in years. Because her existence is not a nuisance. And neither is mine.
I am not a feather—I am the whole damn mother goose.