When she studies me, she focuses on my face, my expressions. She doesn't realize I've been wearing the same leggings for three days now.
I fully admit it: my body's not what it used to be. Once slim and trim, it's now squishy and curvy. My hips have borne a child; my waist has weathered a pregnancy. It's inevitable.
Some days these physical changes bother me, especially when I go shopping and try on clothes. I try to not let my pant size define me as a person, but it's tough to let go of a past version of yourself when you simply want to look your best.
My self-image doesn't matter to my daughter, though. I didn't have time to shower today, but she's oblivious to the fact that my hair is overdue for a shampoo. She doesn't notice any evidence of blemishes or scrutinize imperfections on my skin. All she sees is her mama. The woman who is her world.
When she studies me, she focuses on my face, my expressions. She doesn't realize I've been wearing the same leggings for three days now. She doesn't care if my tops are mostly floaty. The quality and constancy of my mother's heart mean more to her than my outfit. My presence in her world is paramount. She doesn't know I sometimes feel ashamed for wearing elasticized clothes instead of “proper” pants. She just loves it when we wear matching leopard-print or twirl around in our pretty dresses.
Today has been one of those no-nap write-offs. I am weary down to my bones, washed-out and waiting for me-time. I'm changing into my pajamas when she calls out for me from her room. The demand is screeched in true toddler style, as if something terrible is about to happen. I rush in, frazzled and half-dressed, afraid something has fallen on her. She just wants me to clean her hands. I sigh and continue the rest of the bedtime routine.
When I haul her into her crib, she stubbornly stays standing at the bars, not quite ready to settle. Instead, she gently lays her head against my bare belly. I feel her hands begin to stroke my arm softly, back and forth, back and forth. It brings back memories of when she was a baby and we had regular skin-on-skin time.
I sense she is feeling a little forlorn about something, so I bend over the rails to comfort her, to rub her back. She's still quiet, so I croon to her in that age-old way mothers do. The soft glow of the nightlight bathes the room in a kind light. My hair is falling around her, enveloping her in a curtain of comfort. It almost feels reverent when she runs her fingers through the strands.
We are in our own mother-daughter cocoon. There is no one else in the world in this moment; the difficulties of the day melt away into the dark. All she cares about is snuggling closer and having some one-on-one time with her mama.
I want to remember this forgotten feeling of being beautiful. The sensation of little hands stroking my hair in wonder. To her, I am the model of what it means to be female. I need to let her see what loving yourself looks like, and that starts with accepting the person looking back at you in the bathroom mirror.
This interlude will remain special to me for many reasons. It showed me that my daughter could intuit my feelings and make me feel better. She may be only two, but she has learned the power of being able to give comfort. That's a beautiful gift.
It's incredibly important to be at peace with yourself, both inside and out, but being a mother has taught me something else. It's equally valuable to give weight to what our loved ones think of us. Their perception is worth something, too.
My husband's eyes are less critical and more loving because he can see into the soul of me, not just what's on the surface. My daughter doesn't zero in on one body part of mine and obsess about it like I do. Instead, she takes in the whole of my heart, and reflects the beauty back to me tenfold.
Tara Mandarano is a writer, editor and poet based in Canada. She balances life with a tyrannical toddler by consistently reading past her bedtime. Her essays have also been published on The Huffington Post, Mamalode, Parent.co and Mothers Always Write. Her poetry has appeared in The Sunlight Press. You can read more of her work on her website, www.taramandarano.com.