I took my younger daughter, Sammi, to the pediatrician’s office today for some routine vaccines. While we waited for her turn, I noticed a woman across from me with a preschool aged daughter, sitting in front of an infant carseat. The baby in the carseat began fussing, and the woman said — tenderly — “Oh sweetie, you’re fussing already? You haven’t even had your shots yet.” Then she reached down and lifted a bundle of pink into her lap.
Remembering those early days, I smiled at her and said, “If you need a hand, I’m happy to hold her for you. It’s been a long time since I had to bounce a fussing baby. I’m not tired of it anymore.”
She smiled back and said, “Really? If you don’t mind…”
“Not at all!,” I interrupted, making my way across the room to her.
She continued, “…you could take him. He’s starting to squeak too.”
That was the first I had noticed the second infant car seat. A delicious baby boy smiled at me from within it. I unfastened the distantly-familiar shoulder straps, pressed the button to release the buckle, and slid one hand each under his round head and his diapered bottom. He gurgled at me, and I sat him in my lap facing his mother, my arm across his bared stomach.
When the mother was called by the nurse, I carried my new little baby-friend back to the exam room, nestling him in his car seat and waving goodbye. Then I returned to my nearly-eleven-year old, who just this morning had looked like a little girl next to her teenaged sister, and now suddenly looked like what she was: a preteen, just a hint of changing skin and growing limbs and, indeed, puberty easing its way across her path.
“Mommy?” she said, watching me watch her, “What?”
I told her how soft a baby’s belly is, how I’d forgotten how magical it can be, and as I told her that, I thought about how impossible it was to me that she was this old. In most of her years on earth, we were dodging such a host of medical problems that imagining her teen years seemed unlucky. Somehow, holding that tiny baby made me see Sammi’s age as more real than I’ve been willing to admit. She’s heading into the storm of it now, the second infancy and toddlerhood when she’ll grow faster, learn more, and react more intensely than she has for the last few years.
This piece I wrote for my friend Juliet Bond’s blog “Not for Ourselves Alone: Gender Politics and Parenting in the 21st Century” seems even more meaningful as my second daughter steps into the role I recall. She is not me — and neither is her sister, a reality about which I need to remind myself regularly — but like all women, she will need to navigate her feelings about her body and how she covers or doesn’t cover it. There will be not-enoughing and too-muching coming at her from all sides — unwittingly from me, I’m sure, and deliberately from fashion and cosmetics and celebrities and friends.
May she find many, many things that fit her just right.
I Was Still a Little Girl, I Was A Little Girl in a Bra
I needed a bra in the middle of my sixth grade year. Like my mother, and her mother, and probably her mother, my breasts grew early and eventually large. I was eleven when my mom bought me what she called a “training bra.” In reality, it was just a regular bra. It felt awkward – scratchy and thick, with buckles and hooks that always tangled and dug into the soft parts of me that still felt like a little girl.
But in truth, I was still a little girl. I was a little girl in a bra.
My nipples hurt as they grew, and I remember the justification for bra-wearing was that they poked out visibly under my shirt. Something needed to cover those tiny bumps. Those bumps betrayed that I wasn’t a little girl anymore.
The problem was that once I was wearing a bra, it was easy to see that, too. I could see the outline of the bra straps through my shirt, could see them in the back, too, as I looked in the mirror. I was so small everywhere else that not only was I one of the first girls in my grade to wear a bra, but I was also the littlest of all of them. I was so short that the straps had to be tightened as high as they’d go, and one day, I remember loose ends of my bra straps sticking out near my armpits when I wore a tank top.
“Hey, Debi,” a boy whose house we were visiting snickered at me as he shot baskets in his driveway, “the next time you wear a tank top, maybe you ought to wear a bra that doesn’t hang out of it.”