When I was pregnant with Sara I prayed for a girl that would be healthy and strong. Smart. Good-hearted. Kind. And thin – I so wanted her to be thin.
And she is all of those things.
Even when she was a newborn, Sara was thin. Not unhealthy, never underweight, but never one of those chubby babies with plump, squishy thighs and lips that permanently pucker from the flushed pillows of their cheeks. She always had a neck, unlike those sturdy babes whose heads seem to sit directly on their shoulders, and she was born with a strong body that allowed her to lift her head, just the slightest bit, on her second day. I know the soft focus of her eyesight didn’t let her observe the details of that cold, quiet hospital room, but I still remember thinking She’s taking it all in.
Sara’s baby body was soft and pink. Her head was covered with a fine smooth coat of sandy hair – I had not thought to pray for the head full of thick, wavy hair I always wanted – and she had a small, round nose. Her lips made a perfect kiss, rosy and full with a perfect Cupid’s bow. And she had the most perfect chin I had seen. I don’t know why I was so taken by that chin; maybe it was because, unlike most other babies I had known, you could actually see it.
Her arms and legs had small, shallow folds, what would have been deep fleshy creases on other babies. Most people love a big, fat, baby – and I do, too – but I found relief in the sight of healthy but lean limbs on my sweet girl. I remember my father, when Sara was about five months old, holding her one day and worrying that she was trying too soon to support her own weight. “She’ll be bow-legged,” he said. But I wasn’t worried. I knew she was strong already. She was born that way.
In time the sandy hair lightened to a burnished gold, a twist this mousy brunette never would have predicted. Her lips stayed full and issued quick, wet kisses any time you could catch her long enough to beg one. And her body stayed slender. She had a force, was a force, that I didn’t expect. She never stopped moving, from the minute she woke to the minute she fell asleep. She crawled, cruised, and climbed her way through the first seven months, until the eighth when she pulled herself up and began to walk. We were at my dear friend’s house, and I remember standing in her kitchen watching in happen. Elaine looked at me and said “Sara’s walking, Ket.” I think she was telling me because she knew I wasn’t convinced it could be happening. But it was.
It wouldn’t be accurate to say that I’ve worried about Sara’s weight over the years. There’s been no reason, really; she was blessed with her father’s build and metabolism, and she is so active that there is no time for the calories to convert to the fat that my own body hoards. Even when I was pregnant, and going sleeveless in November from a heat I couldn’t escape, Rob joked about the fusion reactor I had growing in my belly. As she grows we still fuel the machine, sometimes endlessly, but the tank, it seems, is never entirely full. She has that magical mechanism, hidden somewhere deep in her developing brain, that tells her when she needs more and when she has enough – just enough, and never more.
That must come from her Papa, too.
She is seven now. Still deep in childhood but always changing, in small but incessant steps, from a little girl to a woman. I’ve had these seven years to get to know her body: when it’s hungry, tired, or sick; how far it can climb up a tree; how soon it will need a new size; how long it will glide through the water (until you pull her out - wet, happy and exhausted). I’ve had years to study it and I suppose I know it better than anyone, but I’ve come to realize that I don’t, and will never, truly understand it.
Sara is altogether comfortable in her skin. She uses her body in ways I’ve never been inclined to do, and understands how it works in ways that I, at 35 years her senior, will never know. I’m convinced that she has understood, almost since she could walk, that her body is a means to an end, a vehicle to all kinds of experiences – “Adventure!” as it is known in our house – that are only open to those who can do. And so she does. Her body is strong and she knows it. There is nothing she will not allow it to do, and there is no fear in trying. It is a complete trust in her body not to fail her, a trust I have never experienced in my own.
I am glad that she possesses this confidence, and I’m comforted in knowing that it is paired with enough sense, usually, to keep her out of harm’s way. (And where her sense leaves off, there is Mama’s overly cautious nature and Papa’s commiserative understanding of Sara’s.) But I’m troubled, too, because I don’t know how to teach her about this kind of body, one that is both lithe and athletic, lean but powerful. Where Sara is all hard angles and strength, I am soft curves and weakness. She is sturdy bones and muscle where I am heavy and weak. The girl is strong; I am not.
I have no experience with the body she is building. I don’t know what will soothe it when it’s fatigued from over-exertion. I don’t have advice on how to move it in a way that is easier, or more difficult, or more fluid; I certainly can’t demonstrate a perfect cartwheel or a feminine carriage. I don’t know how to dress it in a way that flatters rather than hides. Her body, in many ways, is a complete mystery to me, and when it is all said and done I’m afraid that my ignorance is somehow going to fail her.
So I suppose all I can do is ask: Lord help me understand this answered prayer.