Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Dear Mama-of-a-Tween-Girl (Epistolary Wednesday)

It's Wednesday, and I'm writing letters...
Dear Mama,

So you’re in the dressing rooms with your tween daughter. It’s that sort of purgatory where the minutes tick by while she decides that something is too see-through or too baggy or too tight when none of it is and it’s not. It’s the place where it takes so much longer than you could ever imagine to try on a pair of mesh jogging shorts and a sports bra and decide whether they’re the right fit. You want to help, you are here to help, so you fetch different sizes and run them back to the dressing room. You describe the sizes, the fits, the colors; you make your recommendations. Finally, the two of you narrow down the yesses and you pile up the nos. In the silences of waiting on such decisions, you notice how beautiful she is—how she glows with the energy of the sun, as if she’s absorbed it all those hours at the pool and the beach and the backyard, and she radiates it back through her rosy skin and glossy brown hair. She’s growing up. She’s a mini-you, sort of; you can see all the likenesses and all the differences and you think about yourself at this age. Her image, under these fluorescent dressing room lights, is for you at once nostalgic and prophetic, conjuring what was and proclaiming the possibility of all that is to come.

Here in this same space, you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror as you sit on the bench in the long hallway outside her changing room. These glimpses prove you’re different than that sundrenched younger woman you once were. Also, those five pounds you keep trying to lose for good just keep creeping back. And weird, spidery webs are whispering into the veins on your legs, something you never in a million years imagined could happen because you were young and you were going to stay young forever. Hormonal changes have turned your hair, once glossy, into a frizzy nest that you work so very hard to keep straight, and your eyes show the tiredness of three babies, ministry, a marriage, life.

These observations run in your head as you wait, and you remember the women who mothered you, standing in front of mirrors, placing critical hands on stomachs and sucking them in; you remember the frenetic attention to the shapes and sizes of various body parts (the ThighMasters, the Buns of Steel videotapes?). But you determined long ago that you would not be that kind of mother. You knew in your guts even before you were able to articulate it aloud: What your daughter needs more than mesh running shorts and a sports bra is for you and all the other mamas to gag the reel of our internal commentary and criticism.

You know that the gift you can give her right now--that will last the rest of her life--is that you Lock It Down and Honor Yourself in her presence. You’ve probably done a great job up ‘til now, Mama, setting a new trend in your generations. You’ve barely heard a single self-critical comment from your tween’s mouth because she hasn’t learned this kind of criticism from you. You’re doing great. But she needs you and me to do great longer. To continue to resist joining the endless and predictable moaning and woeing over our changing mama bodies that are beautiful and wonderfully made and transformed by all of the glories and trials we’ve borne. Her future, 35-year-old self needs your help right now, because when she stands in the mirror juxtaposed with the bursting youth of her own children, you want her to embrace herself whole-heartedly; you want her to love not just her hair but her beautiful wisdom and her hospitable way of being in the world.
Also, your daughter’s right-now security and confidence hinges very much on what you say and how you carry yourself in the world. Even though she’s not asking out loud, Am I Okay?, I’m sure she’s she’s wondered silently at times. Mama, if she can just stand in the aura of your own self-acceptance—along with your spidery veins and squishy tummy from all those babies—she will be able to do the same for herself. If you can love yourself so generously, then of course (as her logic will flow) you can love her, too. If you can gaze back at yourself in that dressing room mirror without flinching and without reproach, well by God, she could expect you to do the same for her, beholding adoringly not just her glorious physical being, but her thoughts and her heart, when she Fails and when she Falls Short (and she knows as well as you do that she will and she has).

Do you remember your own grandparents, all mole-speckled and wrinkle-creased? If you had the right kind of grandparents, then you know that you and they weren't all tripped up over their age. They offered something infinitely more significant than sun-bursting youth: It was Acceptance that began with their very own selves and oozed out into a wide chocolatey puddle that clung to your glorious tween ankles. We can do the same, Mama. If we feel we have no script of our own to speak from at this moment in the lives of our daughters and in our own maturing womanhood, we can at least channel Grandma. Our scripts may be in production, but we'll have them in hand soon. Some of them, right now, are just being workshopped.

Here’s to you, Mama. And to our girls.

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