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Healthy Body Image Team Blogger, Strong Momma Heidi
It’s Tuesday night and I’m standing shoulder to shoulder with a group of other moms watching as our three and four year old daughters twist and tap their way through their very first dance class.
About six months ago in for a parent-teacher conference at my daughter’s daycare. (Let me reiterate that my daughter is now three, so at this point she was not yet three.) The woman who sat across from me was not more than 21 or 22, just having finished her degree in early childhood education, but who has not yet experienced having her own children. I like her alot, Ms. Ashley. She loves the children in her class. She is kind. She is friendly. She greets each child with eagerness and enthusiasm each morning.
Ashley began the conference walking me through how my daughter can recognize fourteen letters and seven numbers on the first try, and is spot on with her colors and shapes. I wasn’t sure if I should be concerned about her letter and number recognition ability. It hadn’t occurred to me that this was something the daycare was actually tracking or that I should be tracking. Ashley must have mistaken my pause in response as worry, and quickly assured my that my daughter was performing perfectly well for her age.
But I hadn’t been concerned with that. All I was thinking was please tell me my daughter is not an asshole. All I really cared about, all I still care about, is making sure that she’s not going to grow up to be a mean girl, that I’m not raising somebody who’s going to grow up to care too much about her body or anybody else’s body. I never want her to see her body as something that can be the center of pride or ridicule. No. I want her to see her body as something that propels her through life.
Since starting to consider fitness and wellness as an integral component of my lifestyle and who I am rather than something I just “did” to stay fit, I’ve been more than determined to pass this lifestyle along to my children. I bring to them gym whenever I can. I have them help me make green smoothies for breakfast, sometimes even convincing them to take a sip. I rallied my gym owner to begin a Fit Kids class on Saturday mornings not only so that I can attend boot camp when I don’t have anyone to watch my kids but also so that I could introduced them to the place, the people, and the activity that I love so much.
So far, it’s working. They love the kids class. They like to help me load plates onto my bar when I’m practicing lifts. They cheer me on during competitions. They delight in swinging from the ropes and rings and generally just being at the gym much in the same way I generally just like being at the gym.
About a month ago, I was convinced to enroll my daughter in the dance class by another mother, whose older child played t-ball with my son. And because she was not one of those moms prone to brushing her child’s hair into a perfect bun or crowding by the window, sharing war stories of the long days at home with kids, bragging about whose nap was shorter or who had had to wrestle three kids through Target that morning, and because I wanted this woman to be my friend, I’d registered and paid the very day she mentioned it.
I did not dance as a child. Or do gymnastics (though now that I’m a crossfitter, I wish I had!), and I definitely wasn’t a cheerleader. No, I was the first girl on the soccer field. Like, literally one of the first females allowed in the rec league in the 80s. And I played lacrosse. And I was a swimmer. I was an athlete, not a dancer (yes, yes, I KNOW dancers are amazing athletes, but I am talking about childhood stereotypes here).
Even now, standing here on a Tuesday watching her move her tiny body as gracefully as might be expected of a three year old, even after having watched the Olympics with my daughter, both fixated on the strong, athletic gymnasts and dancers bounding across the screen, competing on behalf of our country, something inside me still gives pause to having a daughter in dance.
But I am trying. I am trying to reconcile the glitter and tights and everything nice when what I really want is for her to throw on a pair of workout pants and a tank and hit the barbell. OK, maybe not the barbell. She is only three. And I want to see her on the field, playing with teammates, learning valuable life lessons about what it means to be part of a team working to achieve a single goal. What it means to be teammates and friends with the girls you play with.
I gently shift from foot to foot as I watch the girls circle the instructor and move into a single-file line. The only boy in the class, I think his name is Thomas, grabs my daughter by the waist instead of the shoulders. He’s only three, but I feel my body tense and snap my gaze to the instructor to see if she has noticed and will address the inappropriate touch. My gaze is quickly drawn back to my daughter though, who has spun around and pushed the little boy’s hands off her waist. I can not hear her words, but I can see her confidence. I watch as she takes his hand and places it on her shoulder, sure of herself and sure of the fact that he will follow her lead. And he does.
Around me on the floor, older dancers are slipping on ballet shoes preparing for their class to begin. Two sit closely beside one another, sharing a bag of grapes and Cheese-It crackers. I want to lean over and tell them not to eat the crackers, that they are garbage, but instead I eavesdrop on their conversation. They discuss math class, mostly. And who has already been asked to homecoming. They giggle. But they also talk about their dance and an upcoming competition. They discuss specific movements. They are just as any two friends, two teammates, might be preparing for a practice or game, staving off the jitters or adrenaline with intimate banter. They are exactly who I was as a girl growing up athletic. Exactly who I want my daughter to be, though perhaps minus the Cheese-Its.