When Hallie was just a baby I was often panicked about whether or not I was a good parent, and if I would be a good parent as she got older and the parenting issues became more complicated and with longer lasting implications.
My heart fell into my feet yesterday, and I stared at Hallie willing myself not to cry, not to overreact, but to think the moment through slowly and figure out an appropriate response as she stood there and stared at me, perhaps not realizing the bombshell she had just dropped on me.
She's just over three years old. We were getting ready to go to the lake to play with some friends we were meeting there. She was so excited, and had been running around the house all morning practicing swimming like a turtle. She even taught Hanna how to do it. I got out their swimsuits and put them on, because I wanted to make sure that we had suits that fit, this being the first time we've gone swimming this season. Hallie was bouncing off the walls full of exuberant toddler energy. Satisfied that the suits fit well, I left to go take care of other things, packing towels and sunblock and a picnic lunch. She's just over three years old. Did I already say that?
Hallie found me, and had a sad look on her face. "I need a new swimsuit." She told me. "Why?" I asked her. "Because this one makes my belly look big."
I just stared at her. Does she mean that? Does she know what she is saying, or is she just parroting something she has heard other people say? (Me? Have I said that?) I took a deep breath, told myself to relax, and said, "Hallie, your tummy is beautiful."
"No, mommy. This swimsuit makes it look too big. I need a new one." She said, as she compulsively ran her hands up and down her precious toddler belly. Again, I just stared at her. What is the appropriate response here? Part of me was sort of glad that we were having this conversation when she was three, because if she had been thirteen I have a feeling she would have been talking about it to her girlfriends and not to me, and what would they say? It scares me...
I said, "Hallie, I think that your tummy is perfect. I think it is beautiful, and I think... I think... I think I am going to have to put some kisses on it now." And I leaned in and blew raspberries and kisses all over it, tickling and hugging her at the same time. It worked of course, and she was off like a rocket, giggling and squealing. But she came back a minute later. "Is your tummy big, Mommy?" I looked down at mine. Sure it was bigger than I wished it was. But I thought about the response I had given her about her tummy, and it made me think of what my mom would say to me if she were here. 'Your tummy is perfect. I think it is beautiful." So I was being honest when I told her that I thought my tummy looked just fine. And I'm going to try really, really hard to remember that when I look in the mirror. For her sake, and mine.
And part of me still worries, and wonders. Was that the correct response? Should I have done differently? What will I do if/when she faces these worries again later, when she might really mean it?