I can hardly remember loving myself - and everyone around me - as naturally as she does right now.
She turns three tomorrow. We threw a little party for her yesterday – just our closest family – and celebrated the joy that her life is. She pranced around telling everyone “happy birthday” and dragging us each by the finger over to the table to proudly examine her unicorn cake.
When did I stop inviting people to share my joy?
My parents got her a big-girl bicycle, complete with streamers and a seat for her baby doll. Her eyes lit up as she proclaimed “it’s byoo-ful.”
When was the last time I felt that kind of breathless appreciation for something simply beautiful?
She dressed herself for her inaugural ride this morning - a flowy dress and sparkly shoes, bracelets, a hair bow, sunglasses - because to her, every occasion is one to dress up for. Life alone is reason enough to pull out her prettiest accessories.
When did dressing myself each day become a chore instead of a fun creative expression? When did I start feeling so uncomfortable in my own skin?
She jumped on her bike in the driveway, the possibility of falling or failing far from her little mind. Of course she would ride this bike. Of course she would be a raging success.
How long has it been since I’ve skipped into something new without weighing the cost, analyzing the risk, charting my inabilities and insecurities?
Her little legs struggled to find a rhythm with the big pink pedals. She grunted and pushed and pedaled backwards, finally turning around with her nose wrinkled up in frustration. “C’you push me for one second?”
How often do I let myself ask for help when I need it, without shame or embarrassment or self-deprecation?
She finally worked out the down-forward-push and she pedaled herself down the wildflower-lined drive, curls blowing in the October breeze, with her head tossed back and belting out Moana’s “How Far You’ll Go” in her sweet baby voice.
Oh, to feel so carefree and innocent again.
Later, as we make our way back toward the house, she climbs off her bike and pushes it the rest of the way home. “I’m a tired girl, Mama. Let’s go take a break.”
Why do I struggle to admit when I need a break? Why am I scared to rest my body?
She curls against me in her bed, rubbing sleepy eyes and fighting to stay awake. “Fanks for riding with me, Mama. Dat was berry fun.”
When did I stop finding joy in just being, without crossing off a checklist or accomplishing something tangible?
We were all little girls once, proud and joyful and innocent.
We didn't mind telling the trusted adults in our lives when we were angry or sad.
We weren't afraid to show them we were happy either.
We loved freely. We didn't avoid challenges. We didn't filter our entire existence through the ubiquitous analogue white.
We didn't shrink back, making ourselves smaller so as not to impose on anyone's ideas of how we should be.
We were just ourselves, without a thought given as to whether or not our self was acceptable, appreciable, or lovable. Of course we are.
We believed it to be true because no one had told us any differently.
And then someone did tell us differently, and we believed it.
Now we are a generation of women, of mothers, raising little girls who we desperately hope never grow up, never lose their sass even in the middle of an ordinary life.
We all grew up, and we got what we thought we wanted.
Only it wasn't we expected, and so we got quiet.
We got overworked and under-encouraged. We got shamed and depressed.
We got defensive and biting.
We got tired.
But they don't have to.
We can decide right now to change that narrative for our daughters.
We can decide to show them what it looks like to come alive.
We can model self-love and gratitude. We can display courage and unshakable faith.
We can root ourselves in the identity that Jesus gave us back in the beginning and quit all the striving.
We can be present.
We can be kind.
We can be encouragers.
We can be silly.
We can be bold.
We can show them what it looks like to not grow up.
Perhaps that's the best gift we could give them.