Can we teach our children a lesson that we have never learned? That is a question that has plagued me since my magnificent child was placed into my certifiably inept hands...
Some people are a bit startled upon first glimpsing a person with physical differences. I imagine it is particularly hard for new parents who first learn of their child's unique body at the moment of his birth. I never experienced that shock with Angel; I have only ever known her exactly as she is, and I WANTED her from the moment I laid eyes on her. In my eyes she is true perfection.
But that doesn't mean that parenting a child with physical differences is never hard. For me the struggle with her differences lies merely in anticipating the pain they may cause her later in life as she comes to fully understand that there even are differences. At three and a half she does not seem to be quite aware that there is anything particularly unusual about her, though several children that we don't know have done their best to make her aware of it in various public settings...
She may be perfect in my eyes, but it is her eyes that matter. What will they see? As she gets older and becomes more aware of the looks and comments coming from strangers, will she grow to hate her body? What voice will resonate loudest in her ears?
....the voices of strangers saying, "that is weird"?
....the ever present whisper of her mother telling her, "you are magnificent"?
I struggle with figuring out how best to lead, guide, and teach her to truly know her own value and worth in this world. Am I qualified to teach something I never really learned myself? I worry constantly that I am bungling the lesson. I can't seem to help but constantly declare "you are so CUTE!" It bursts from my mouth in astonishment many times a day. I just can't wrap my mind around how anyone can be so astonishingly adorable! But what if her mind translates that to mean that appearance is terribly important? Am I accidentally sending the message that I love her because she is cute? Will braces and acne and awkward teen years yank away her knowledge that she is loved and lovable? Of will it be done by a child who hesitates to take Angel's unique hand in their own during a game of Red Rover?
I hated my own body for years and years, though the only thing that made me stand out in a crowd was that I am very short. And yet I had no appreciation for the remarkable machine that my body is, for the healthy gift that it has always been. I was deeply struck by a point in the last Harry Potter book when Harry is facing what he believes will be certain death, and the thought comes to him...
"why had he never appreciated what a miracle he was? Brain and nerve and bounding heart..."
And why did I not appreciate that miracle for so much of my lifetime? I feel downright ashamed now about the fact that I truly HATED my body for most of my life! It was not tall enough or thin enough. As a teenager I actually researched the possibility of excruciating and expensive limb lengthening procedures to add height to my 5'0" frame! It seems so ludicrous now to have obsessed so much over so minor a detail. Though no doctor has ever considered me overweight, I have in the past embarked on some mad diets that went way to far.
But I feel pretty confident that I will never again hate my body the way I once did, for I now see the true beauty in the design; the remarkably artful machines that all bodies are, in whatever form they take. That is not to say that fleeting thoughts of desired changes to my body don't crop up now and then, but any time the notion of wishing my body were anything other than what it is crosses my mind for even a moment, I think of my Angel girl. I remember how I yearn for her to know with utter certainty that she is 100% magnificent exactly as she is, and I realize that means that I must be as well.
A letter to my Angel dove...
Most Precious Girl,
Moment after moment I am in awe of you! Of how beautiful you are, how cute, how funny and clever, how sweet and charming…it does not even seem possible that one baby could get such a HUGE share of these traits. I thought to myself the other day that the insane amount of adorableness you contain makes you a freak of nature. Then it dawned on me that someday, you may hear that very term thrown at you in an ugly way. My heart dropped as I realized that you might never know how MAGNIFICENT a creation you are.
Few people can ever truly accept and recognize their own value and virtue. But will you, with your unique physique, someday be prone to under-estimating your own priceless value even more than most people sell themselves short? That thought boggles my mind. EVERYWHERE you go people adore you. The nurses at the pediatrician’s office pour into the hallway to see you, the nursery workers at church fawn over you… you had an entire CPS office adoringly watching you through the two-way mirror while you played at a visit! The ECI workers who came to evaluate you could not stop exclaiming “You are so stinking CUTE!” I know lip service, and this isn't it! They don't say these things for my benefit; they say them because they, like me, are astonished at the incredibly precious gem before them.
All mothers think their children are beautiful.... Perhaps it is some evolutionary safeguard having to do with passing on one’s genes and continuing the species. Maybe it is tied to hormones and pheromones and the process of giving birth and creating a life. But how much credence can you really give to the opinion of someone admiring her own handy work?
But of course, none of that applies here! You are not MY magnificent creation! My own genes are not displayed before me. Your priceless value does not in any way reflect or add weight to my own. I hope you will appreciate that this gives my love for and awe of you all the more credit, for it is entirely YOU (and not the part of you that is me) that I adore!