It’s still ten days shy of your next monthly letter, but I have a few things to say.
Daddy teaches him everyday, that he has a place in this family, and that that position is an irreplaceable one. He is your protector, he is Mary’s protector, and he is even mine. It doesn’t matter that he is smaller than two out of the three of us right now or that at this point he’s barely old enough to even handle you, much less fend off danger in your tiny name. That is his role, his right, and his responsibility. As your brother and as my son. Period, daddy says. I often wonder what Matthew thinks that even means at his age -- or moreover, his puny height -- coming up only to my belly-button if he were to stand on the tippiest of his chubby little toes. But he has never questioned it, only taken it on with a poised, and self-assured pride; the likes of which might seem too big to fit the muddy sneakers of a stubborn three year old boy.
But he has only ever agreed. “Yes, daddy. I understand.”
He will question his bedtime and question my authority and question his limitations. From the moment that words ever began to spring from his lips, that headstrong boy has been one to question. He’ll question the green of the grass and why day turns to night and the prayers we say over our meals, but he will not question that. To that, he has only ever agreed. Every time that he is told. “Yes, daddy. I understand.”
The two of them are so close. I have a hard time imagining any father ever took so much pride in his son before the existence of their relationship. And I wonder if that’s it. Does he just love him too much to disagree? But ask Daddy at bedtime or bath time or any other time of the day that Matthew isn’t particularly fond of these days, and the quick-draw of his belt would tell you otherwise. Nobody ever loved their daddy the way that your brother shamelessly worships the very ground your daddy walks on -- but Matthew, well he’s an equal opportunity pain in the ass.
He is a boy.
And there it is. It’s in his genes, and in the generations before him, and in the society into which he was born. He is a boy, and that is his place. You would never have to sell him on it. He simply understands. And proudly so.
So here we are, you and I. Mother and daughter, and I have to admit, I’m not sure where to begin. I watch your father with your brother, teaching him the ways of his gender, and I feel a responsibility to you tugging away at my heart. What do I want you to take from womanhood; what do I want you to understand about true beauty…
When I chose your name, I chose Scarlett first. It was beautifully strong; an epic name. I needed something to soften it, but no middle name seemed to compliment it without watering it down. I fell in love with the name Rebecca, and in a sense, you were born… you had a name. The perfect balance of strength, and delicacy. In a word: Beautiful. And when you came into this world, you embodied that - To. The. Tee. I see it not only in your blossoming personality, I see it in your physical features. I look at you, and I swear on everything I’ve ever loved, you are the perfect embodiment of physical beauty.
And then I wonder, as I tell you unfailingly how beautiful you are everyday, if I’m doing you a disservice. If I’m putting too much of a value on your physical appearance. And that, ‘Oh, God, I’m not cut out for this’ moment sinks in. I’m going to ruin this child. After all, I’ve never been one to leave the house without make-up -- who am I to speak on the evils of placing value on physical beauty? Then you smile. And I can’t help telling you that you are so freakin pretty.
But if there is one thing I’ve learned in this early track through Motherhood, it is that this body… this body I’ve spent my whole life adjusting to and accepting and growing in; this body that conceived you and nurtured you and gave birth to you -- it is not me. It is only a vessel.
When you become pregnant, you learn just how not yours your body really is.
Hell, a few years ago I couldn’t boil an egg IF I TRIED, much less create life. But there you were, cradled into the nest of my womb; growing and breathing the way real live people do. I threw up nearly everyday. I was famished from dawn to dusk, but suddenly everything I ate tasted like battery acid. And the gas -- Scarlett, if you ever find yourself preparing your life for pregnancy, be forewarned: you will fart like there is just no tomorrow. Then pre-labor symptoms came. And every pregnancy book I owned was dog-eared to the chapters on Mucous Plugs and Bloody Show and other glamorous discharges of the very vaginal kind.
It was pretty sick.
Still, if I had to use a word to describe that time, anything short of the word Beautiful would be a terrible, terrible injustice.
Then, in labor, I moaned and I sweat, and I even threw up a little. I cried, and I pushed like I was taking a shit while a roomful of strangers watched things I’m glad I didn’t see happen to some pretty private places. And in the final throws of pushing you out, I roared like an animal. A dying, helpless, angry animal.
Still, nothing in this world, nothing, was as beautiful as that day.
Then I brought you home, and I won’t go into every HORROR of a woman’s postpartum experience. But I will say that, Honey, a woman doesn’t walk away from bleeding clots the size of grapes for six days unchanged. An experience like that just has a funny little way of humbling a woman’s perspective on physical beauty. But also? It does one hell of a number on her perception of inner beauty, too.
So I won’t, Scarlett. I won’t preach to you about the evils of make-up or curling your hair. Twirl in your dresses and paint your nails in horrible, trendy shades and camp in your closet from the ages of twelve to sixteen, if that’s what you want. Paint your vessel; love it, celebrate it, decorate it, nourish it. Because, kid, YOU’VE GOT THE GOODS. But do not become lost in it. Know that in both the worst of hair days and in the most flattering of light, that it is not you. It is only your vessel.
Just as you feed your body healthy foods, Scarlett, remember to feed your soul in equal parts. Always, always take care of yourself, working from the inside, out. Because that is where true beauty is grown.
Here is where I wanted to tell you what beauty is to me, so that I might pass down my motherly wisdom.
I wanted to write this to you today so that I might teach you a thing or two about real beauty, or the things you could do to achieve it. But I realize as I struggle to pin it down with words, that I may still be figuring it out for myself -- and that maybe that’s not such a terrible thing. The day I held your brother in my arms for the first time, it grew into something epic and almost untamable that exploded into my life, spilled over into my everyday in ever-growing amounts, and peppered even the darkest of times ever since. I kind of thought that all of the beauty of the world was wrapped up in him; that it would always begin and end with him the way that it did when I was only just beginning to wrap my mind around it’s force in my life. Then, still when I experienced all of the raw pain of a natural childbirth the day you came into this world, it changed again. I learned that even the deepest of struggles and painful of experiences can be a fountain of beauty -- and that it most certainly did not end in Matthew. And now still, as I learn the ins and outs of raising a son and a daughter of my own -- I find it changing still. Beauty is so many things to me, and to be honest, I’m still sorting through it all myself. So I won’t tell you. I want you to find it for yourself. And I want you to take comfort in knowing that if it takes more than twenty-five years and a daughter of your own to figure out completely, that that’s okay. Because a life spent searching to understand true beauty would be one life very well lived.
This was written as part of the Project 31 challenge over at She Breathes Deeply.