The other day, I took my daughter to the gym with me. Not for any super-compelling reason, other than convenience and lack of child care. My daughter is five, going on fifteen, and isn’t interested in playing with the “little guys” in the kids zone, where her 2-year-old brother goes. So, got the green light from my instructor ahead of time to let her come with me to one particular class I take, Les Mills Body Combat.
What happened in the 48 hours during and then following that class, and the lessons *I* would learn continue to surprise me, even as I type this out.
I prepared her for the class, letting her know that it would be similar to the gym class she got to try out at UFC Perimeter Gym, but with grown ups. I assured her she was welcome to join in with us, and that it was ok if she didn’t know all the moves. None of us did, really. But I also comforted her with the iPad (don’t judge me!), a pad of paper, and her markers. On the drive over there, I tried pumping her up, getting her excited about doing “mommy’s class”, without trying to push her too far. She seemed on board.
However, once we got in the room, and other people started coming in, her shyness kicked in, and she only wanted to set up camp and draw and play on the iPad. Fine. Mommy needed to workout, so I went about my ways, while keeping an eye on her. She occasionally came over to me, to ask random questions, really just needing reassurance that I hadn’t forgotten she was there, and giving her attention. I came over to her in between each track, grabbing a sip of water, planting a kiss on her sweet little noggin, and showing interest in whatever she was working on at the moment. I continued to lightly encourage her to get up and try the moves, if she wanted.
Long story short, she hopped up a handful of times to try to participate. The moves were complicated, and intimidating at any age. But she tried. She ran a lap with us, and the instructor gave her a high-five as she passed, just as she did for everyone else in the class. She ran in place, holding my hand. She attempted to do lunges and other complex leg moves. My heart grew full watching her.
She was doing what her mommy was doing. She was imitating me. I was her role model.
During and then after class, she showed me two pictures she drew. Both were stick figures of me kicking and punching, like I did in class.
She was watching me, her mother, work hard. She was watching me, her mother, keep going, even if I wasn’t perfect. She was watching me, her mother, do something to improve my health and fitness. She was watching me, her mother, and taking notes. She was watching me, her mother. Period.
The following evening, which happened to be July 4th, I gave the kids a bath, put them in their PJs, and we whisked them out to see the local fireworks. They’re kids, and they need to make memories. After she got her PJs on, she insisted on taking out my hair clip and using it in hers. I instead offered her a smaller one that would fit better in her hair.
She wanted her hair clipped up in the same manner I had been doing this summer.
She was watching me, her mother. Again.
After securing her hair in a smaller clip, she held her head up, chest out proud and said “now we’re twins, mommy. HAIR TWINS!”
That’s when the emotions began to overwhelm me. I am my daughter’s role model. I am my daughter’s example of what a mother is, what a woman is, what a girl is.
I. Am. Her. Example.
I honestly just assumed, since she is such a daddy’s girl, and seemingly only has eyes for her sweet daddy, that she wasn’t really paying much attention to me. That she was more apt to imitate him, not me. Boy was I wrong – this couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m getting a message from my daughter, loud and clear: daddy may be her prince and hero and ideal of a perfect man in her eyes, as he should be. But, just as I viewed my own mother through childhood’s eyes, I am her image of beautiful. I am her image of all-knowing. (Yes, she’s told me she thought mommies are supposed to know everything about everything.) I am her image of perfection, period. She doesn’t see my flaws as flaws, but just part of my perfect-in-her-eyes package.
It is up to me to show her what’s important. Our mantra for several months now has been “pretty isn’t important“. But those words mean nothing if my actions and my example don’t mesh with that mantra. I have this amazing, bring-me-to-my-knees humbling privilege of teaching this smart little girl to love herself, to love herself enough to take care of herself.
It’s my job to BE the good example. To live my life in an exemplary manner. My words need to match my manners. So while I serve my children milk and water, while I sip on (WAAAAY) too much soda or sweet tea, she is seeing my actions. Although she’s not interested in drinking either, she’s taken a sip here and there, almost as if she wants to like them, because she sees her mother drinking them. Or worse, when I serve my children a balanced dinner, yet sit down with nothing in front of me -or with some quick crap I grabbed from the freezer- she is watching me.
By the same token, she also sees me with a stack full of books at my bedside table. She sees me reading frequently, and sees the spark in my eyes when I do so. She sees me get up in the morning, and put on my workout clothes. She sees me scrutinize and compare at the grocery store, coupons in hand. She sees my husband and I discuss our meals if we go out, searching for good coupons or Scoutmob deals. She sees her parents say prayers before meals, attend Mass every week, and putting our strength and trust in God.
My daughter needs to see me mess up, and watch how I keep trying, how I don’t just quit. My daughter needs to see me defend myself, and not get pushed down and cower in times of adversity. My daughter needs to see me handle adversity with strength and grace, with poise and self-assurance – even if I’m secretly cowering in my proverbial boots.
She has asked already if she can come to class with me again. I will make certain she can do so at least a few more times before school starts back. I will hold my head up high, knowing my example during class is shaping a little girls’ mind, a little girl’s schema for persistence, hard work, and self-confidence. And perhaps I will even set us up with matching hair clips.
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