Sunday, October 28, 2012

Concerning My Stomach, Which Is Still So Big

When I was pregnant with Peregrine, I worked part time teaching music at a small private school. I told the kids about my pregnancy early on, and they were an eager audience all the way through. They monitored the weekly growth of my belly and the baby it carried. They kept me supplied with guesses (and actual money bets) on gender, suggestions of names ("Sean O'Reilly Nelson! That's a good Irish name!"), and plenty of free child-raising advice ("Let him watch Star Wars by at least the third grade!"). Then the school year ended, I had my baby, and when Peregrine was about seven weeks old, I started teaching again. My students were thrilled to finally meet him, and continued to ask weekly about how big he was and what new skills he was learning. But, at least for the younger ones, they didn't stop there.

I've been working with children for many years now, and in many ways, I'm used to their unfiltered honesty. Most of the time, it makes my day.

Mrs. Nelson, nothing in the world is as beautiful as your skirt!

Mrs. Nelson, you look a princess!

Mrs. Nelson, we've just voted, and you're our second-favorite teacher in the whole school!

Other times, it's mortifying.

You have hair under your arms! Did you know that both men and women have hair under their arms?

Why are you growing a mustache?

Mrs. Nelson, I can see your belly! I CAN SEE YOUR BELLY! That is against the school dress code, didn't you know that?

Other times, I have no idea what to think.

Mrs. Nelson, I like your hat--it looks like a Nazi hat!

Let's just say I've learned to hold my vanity pretty loosely.

Still, I couldn't help but be a bit taken aback when this one came out at first-grade circle time.

Mrs. Nelson, why is your stomach so big when you already had a baby?

Hello, daily dose of postpartum body love.

Adults are always so polite about it. You look so great for having just had a baby! Wow, you look like you're practically at your old weight! And it's not like they're not sincere. We know, as adults, that baby-growing takes a toll on bodies. We know the weight doesn't just magically disappear. We know that people need to feel good about their bodies, especially when their bodies have been through such upheavals of change.

Kids don't know these things. They just notice what they see.

And really, the only way to respond to an honest question is with an honest answer.

So I said, "Remember how big my stomach got when I was pregnant with Peregrine? Well, it's still really stretched out from how big it was. It will take awhile to get small again."

And they took it in stride. Question answered. They weren't judging me for not losing weight. They just wanted to know. They're learning everything about the body in first grade. You have a right and left side to your brain. The bone in your leg is called a femur. Your stomach stays stretched for awhile after you give birth.

I'm grateful for that day, for that moment, for having to face that question honestly and answer it in simple, true words a six-year-old could understand. Because I'd asked that question so many times myself. Only I wouldn't say it out loud, for fear that it might be true. For fear that my stomach might actually still be big, even though I'd already had a baby.

We need both, I think. The encouragement from other adults. The reassurance that we still look good, great even, that our bodies are awesome and resilient and our beauty is still there. That we aren't ruined because babies use our bodies as houses and restaurants and stretch and sag and change them.

But we need the honest curiosity, too. The questions that need answered. Because it's good to have to answer them. It's good to have to say what's true. To have to say, well, a baby grew in there and stretched it out. If nothing else, it makes you realize how awesome the first part is. And that somehow makes the second part a little bit awesome too.

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