One of the things I hope for Dylan is that he grows up with a positive view of his body and the bodies of those around him and that he grows up with a healthy view of sex and his sexuality. As he gets older, those two things will diverge into different, huge topics, but here in his infancy they are close to the same thing. A positive view of the body sets the stage for healthy sexuality later on.
Nurturing a positive view of the body takes many forms with an infant because caring for a baby is already so physical.
Naming Body Parts: There are ample opportunities to talk about Dylan’s body parts with him, such as when we play tickling and “I’ve got your…” games and when I’m changing his diaper or clothes while talking about what I’m doing. It’s easy to name nose, arms, legs, feet, toes, and belly. I try to branch out, too, and point out the wonderful variety of the body. Elbows, thighs, neck, shins, calves, chest, back, cheeks, palms, soles, knees, etc. There’s so much detail to the body, and I like to point out and help enjoy all of it.
Naming ALL the Body Parts: Since we do so much naming of body parts with kids, it stands out if we can’t talk about their genitals as well. When I babble at Dylan while putting on his shirt, “Over your head, right arm in a sleeve, now left arm,” it means something if I don’t also talk about what I’m doing when I put on his diaper. It’s true that he doesn’t understand many of my words yet, but babies understand a lot more than we give them credit for, and they are always learning about what we say and do and what we don’t say and do. So when I’m changing Dylan’s diaper or bathing him, I talk about his genitals in the same happy tone that I talk about his toes when I put his socks on or his neck when I wash it.
Choosing Language: I don’t call Dylan’s toes his tinky-tees; I don’t call his nose his nee-nee; I don’t call his elbow his “over there”. It’s important to get used to calling genitals real words, too. I’m used to saying penis and vulva, but I trip over “testicles” and sometimes just say “balls”. I also use butt(hole) and ass(hole), since “buttocks” and “anus” are odd words to me. I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to use the “proper” terms, as long as the words aren’t baby talk or based in embarrassment. Infancy is the best time to start saying the words you want to use, so that you can say them with ease when your kid is old enough to know what you’re talking about and interpret your discomfort.
Touch: It’s important for me to be comfortable touching Dylan’s body parts. I don’t squirm or hurry when I wash his face, and there’s no need to squirm or flinch away when I’m washing the rest of his body, either. It’s also important that he be allowed to touch his own body. If he wants to pick his nose or play with his genitals or pull on his ear, that’s completely his business.
Respect: I already wrote about consensual parenting, which dovetails with healthy sexuality and body positivity. I view Dylan’s body as belonging to him, which it does. I seek his permission when I interact with his body as much as I can. He’s gotten old enough that when I indicate I want to pick him up, he reaches back to me which is really clear communication that he agrees to be picked up. I love that this kind of consent can be present in our relationship.
Comfort With Myself I am comfortable with my own body. I am as naked around Dylan as I was comfortable being naked before Dylan. I am comfortable naming my own body parts when Dylan touches them. I speak positively about my body. If I hadn’t already, now would be the time to stop any leftover negative body-talk such as discussing weight, the “need to exercise”, guilt words associated with food, etc.
Expressing Boundaries: I also express boundaries about my body. I say, “Don’t grab my eye!” and I move Dylan’s hands away from my face. Even as physically close as Dylan and I are right now, it’s okay – good, even – for me to express physical boundaries between us. We can begin to share a physical respect that goes both directions.
What other ways can you think of to encourage a positive view of the body with a baby?
It’s one thing to say, “I love my body,” and it’s another to truly dive into finding out just how big that love can be.
It’s one thing to have body acceptance, and it’s another to be passionate about my body.
It’s one thing to be myself, and it’s another to really let that self shine as brightly as possible.
It’s one thing to know that I’m a fat person, but it’s another to actually claim the space that I take up.
The literal taking up of space is the first thing I’ve been thinking about.
When I flew to Iowa for Thanksgiving, I noticed that my body was very tense during the flight as I tried to take up as little space in my seat as possible. Half of my body started to cramp, too, because I was slightly leaned away from the person sitting next to me.
There’s a lot of pressure on fat people to take up less space, and airplanes are one of the very public battlegrounds for that.
But, my body is the size that it is, and I simply must take up as much space as I do. None of that tension and stress actually made me any smaller. All it did was cause me pain.
So here’s what I did. Right in front of me was the tray table, which had a little lock right in the middle of it. That little lock was about at my eye height, and it was right in the center of the space designated for me. So I lined my nose up with that lock, squared my shoulders and my butt in my seat, planted my feet solidly on the ground, and then relaxed. Breathed. And really relaxed.
It’s kind of amazing how difficult this was. At first, every few minutes I’d look back at the lock and see that I was listing to the side again, subconsciously trying to put more space between me and the person next to me. Eventually I got better at holding my space, and the relaxation in my body was so worth it.
In the weeks since that trip, I’ve been paying attention to stress and my body. Whenever I am feeling emotionally out of sorts or under any kind of stress, I also find that my body is tightened up, hunched over and just generally constricted. If I take even just a few seconds to spread my arms out, roll my back around, kick my legs, wiggle my hips, I find that I’m almost immediately in a better mood.
I’m sure that many people find themselves tightening their bodies when under stress, but as a fat person I have the extra culturally induced baggage about being smaller and taking up less space. I have never been encouraged to actually embody my own body, to be my own size, to show off my own shape. I find that it feels extraordinary to stretch my body out and try to be big. As big as I am.
I put little notes around my living space that say, “Be Big!” to remind me to do this physical task of stretching out stress.
When I went to think of a name for the journey of expansion I want to take, I found that the phrase of this very first task already captures the feel of the whole project I have in mind. Each small task along the way is just a stepping stone to the larger goal of spreading out, stepping up, taking up room emotionally and physically. I’ll keep you updated as I go, and I hope you’ll join in with me.
I think my experience of life and death in food production is more like a seesaw of life than a “circle of life”.
In Barnward Irony, Gene Logsdon talks about his troubles trying to keep broilers alive in the heat – a problem we had at The Wallow in 2011, our first year raising broilers.
We are in a record-breaking heat wave as I write this, and as we are learning, these broilers have very little stamina in adversity. The first one to keel over from 98 degree heat we carried out into the airy woodland shade, dunked its head in water, sprinkled water all over it in fact, did what we could to lower its temperature… Seeing that it was going to die, we butchered the poor thing. Then we connived various ways to get more air into the coop. You might think that would be fairly simple, but we have no electricity to the barn (on purpose) and heat is not our only public enemy right now. Foxes have been carrying off hens regularly so I dare not open the coop doors and let everything run outdoors all the time like usual. Carol found an old screen door for the broiler side of the coop and on the other side I let the hens out in the afternoon despite fox danger. This resulted in a freer flow of air through the coop but it meant that I had to stand guard or make regular trips to the coop on fox patrol.
And then a friend points out that one day he’s putting all this great effort into keeping the chickens alive, and then the next day he’s killing the chickens. Meat production is like that. A back and forth between caring greatly about the lives of animals and then enjoying greatly their purposeful deaths.
I’m reminded of the two posts Joshua made after Jeebus died this summer, which are worth a re-read – Another Dead Animal and State of The Wallow Update: July 16, 2011 (FUCK IT ALL!) (no longer available).
We’re going into the winter now, where our relationship to the outside is much less hectic, nothing will die on purpose, and most likely no one will die on accident.
But it’s good to remember that it’s a seesaw.
Edit: I wrote this post last week and then scheduled it to post this week. I spoke too soon. Over the weekend, our silkie rooster was killed by (mostly likely) a hawk. It’s sad when an animal dies unexpectedly. I hope the rest of the chickens stay safe.
“The Silkie” was the neatest of all the 2011 chicks. He was a gift from our friend Kitty, and he seemed to have a personality. I loved watching him.
He was hesitant as he grew. This is the first day the chicks got let out of the coop to free-range, and he was the last to leave the coop. We didn’t know he was a rooster yet. It would be a few weeks still until he let out a cock-a-doodle-do and we knew for sure.
It’s been fun watching The Silkie run around the yard, run to keep up with the other chickens, try so hard to hop up on things, and crow so exuberantly in the mornings. I’m going to miss him.
Parenting isn’t hard.
Well, okay, sometimes it’s hard.
Sometimes it’s hard to contain all this love that I feel for my child, and I’m worried I’m just going to snatch him up and squeeze him to bits in a fit of overly-emotional love-smush.
Sometimes it’s hard to fathom the future and that someday there will be a 6 year old, an 11 year old, a 17 year old living here, and someday a 25 year old not living here, living out in the world instead where I can’t watch over him.
Sometimes it’s hard to love him so deeply and yet not be able to take his hurts away. I am sometimes bowed in this powerlessness.
Sometimes it’s hard to realize that I am his whole world right now and that his trust is vast and complete. I tremble before this power.
Sometimes I participate in a discussion about someone in public being mean to their child. By “being mean” I mean spanking, slapping, grabbing, yanking, dragging, yelling, name-calling, belittling, punishing and so forth. And there’s always someone in these discussions ready to declare that “parenting is hard” and we should therefore cut the parent some slack. And I just reject this wholeheartedly. It is not hard to not treat people like shit. Children are small, dependent people, and we should be doubly sure not to treat them like shit.
Parenting is the very act of caring for these smaller people. It should not be synonymous with treating them in abusive ways.
Say I’m in a McDonald’s. In a booth near me is what appears to be a romantically involved man and woman enjoying a meal together. Near the end of the meal, the woman accidentally knocks her soda over and it spills over the table and floor. The man leaps to his feet and yells, “Oh my god! I told you to be careful with that!” He grabs her by the arm and drags her out of the booth. “That’s the last time you get to have a medium drink!” He shoves her off to the side while he starts to clean up. “Go stand by the door, we’re going home right now.” After an initial little gasp at the spilled drink, the woman remains silent, body slack, eyes averted.
I would be horrified to witness this scene. I would worry about the verbal lashing, and I would worry about the physical aspects. Probably most people would be concerned on some level. However, when I witnessed that scene with, instead of a woman, a 10 year old child, no one batted an eye. It doesn’t even stand out. Doesn’t register. Some might even consider it “good discipline”.
But, it’s not. It’s just abusive. We would not say about the man, “Well, relationships are hard. He’s probably just having a bad day. Cut him some slack.”
On a “bad day”, I might grumble at Joshua. I might be a little curt, a little snippy. I would not pull his body around, hit him, yell at him, say belittling things at him, or order him about. We have a loving relationship together that doesn’t include those kinds of actions. Likewise, parenting is between parent and child but is still supposed to be a loving relationship together. People who are mean and abusive to children don’t have a parenting problem. They have an abuse problem.
Except it becomes a parenting problem when there are people running around saying “parenting is hard” as a way to excuse the abuse of children. I’ll bet there are people who aren’t actually assholes trying to be mean to their kids because they think that’s what parenting is. I’d like to put a stop to that.
Parenting is supposed to be a loving relationship between parent and child, and it should look like one, and that shouldn’t be hard.