I took Mari—my first-born, my sweet girl, my baby—school shopping this weekend… in the ladies’ section. It seems my days of buying pretty little dresses and jeans embellished with sparkles and rainbows are numbered.
And now, my heart is broken.
And I have the shakes.
Because my Mari—my first-born, my sweet girl, my baby—is only 10.
And I just wasn’t prepared to watch my 10-year-old daughter suffer through the gut-wrenching fitting-room agony of having to squeeze and pull and stretch into a children’s clothing size that officially is no longer available to her. With her little sister flitting about in one super-cute outfit after the other, Mari and I had to fold each of the near dozen pants I'd hauled into the fitting room and put them back on the shelf. Our march from GapKids to just the plain ol’ Gap was a reluctant and slow one; I did a decent job of hiding my tears, but my sadness was unmistakable: When—and how!—did my 10-year-old child get too big for a size 14?
She is athletic and active—a lover of pasta, but also healthy portions of rainier cherries and juicy nectarines, sautéed string beans and okra and even brussels sprouts. She’s not prone to snacking, and would just as soon drink water than suck down punch and carbonated drinks. Even at her tender age, Mari is conscious about how her food choices can help or harm her body, and so really, she’s done nothing to warrant being banished to the land of low-cut tops and barely-covering-the-crack jeans reserved for the more daring—the more adult.
No, this is my fault. My baby’s inherited her mother’s blessed/cursed curves—the wide hips and the thick thighs and the uber-round bubble booty and the tiny waist that render good pants fits virtually impossible, sans a paycheck’s worth of cash wasted on tailors charged with getting the clothes to fit right.
And I feel absolutely horrible about this.
I remember what it was like to have to bypass all the cute, colorful clothes in the Garanimals section at Penny’s and Macy’s and go down the escalator to the junior’s section with my mom; as I recall, she wasn’t too thrilled about the switch, either, and made a point of letting me know this by not-so-subtly suggesting I lay off the Oreos and do some exercise so I could get back into the children’s section. Mind you, I was skinny as a rail, save for the butt and hips, but it was exactly that, I think, that scared my mom. She was a black mom in America, after all, with intimate knowledge of what black men—specifically young black men—lust after: hips and booty. I think that in her mind, the bigger mine got, the more chance some little boy would pounce on her daughter, opening her up to a cascade of hormone-driven, adolescent problems—a literal ticking time-bomb that could lead to, at best, having to mend her daughter’s broken heart, at worst, having to change a grandbaby’s diaper.
Bettye wasn’t trying to be anybody’s grandma—at least not until her daughter graduated college, found herself a good job with a good paycheck and good benefits, and exchanged her “I do’s” with a man who was ready, willing, and able to care for a family of his own.
And so she set about building her own personal dam to stem the tide of adolescence: She commenced to doing everything she could to convince me that boys weren’t an option. By forbidding me to date. And insisting I stay in the house huddled beneath her and my Dad instead of out at the roller skating rink or the bowling alley or the mall with my friends. And by making me feel like my hips and bubble butt were a problem—something that wasn’t natural. That needed correcting. I can still remember the day she came into my room and suggested I walk backward on my butt to make it “flatten out a little.” I can still remember, too, how frustrated and angry I got when, after weeks of scooting across my rough beige carpet, the only thing I’d accomplished was giving myself rug burn and a really bad self-esteem issue that lasted way into my early 20s, when I finally gave up trying to hide all of this under big shirts, thick sweaters and baggy pants.
My ass was—and always will be—big and wide and round.
And there was no amount of scooting or camouflaging that was going to change that.
It is this that I kept repeating to myself as I walked Mari to the women’s section at The Gap—over to the sale rack, in a desperate search for size 0 women’s shorts with kid, not adult, price tags. It is not her fault that she’s got my hips and thighs and butt. And there is nothing I can do to change them.
What I can do, though, is encourage her to accept and love the curves God’s thrown her way, all the while helping her to hold on to that innocence. Nick and I are doing a pretty good job of it; when we recently asked her to describe herself in a word, she said, “strong.” This much is true: She gleefully dives into physical competitions with her precociously athletic cousin, and even sometimes bests him. She also loves to sweat, and run, and make her body do things that most 10-year-old girls already are too self-conscious to try. Right now, she’s focused more on all the great things it can do, rather than the problems it can cause.
I'll help her keep her eyes on that prize—to help her sidestep the black girl booty baggage, even as her 10-year-old body does its not-so-slow march to Beyonce bootylicious womanhood. Thank God, she still enjoys wrapping herself up in the intricacies of a new SpongeBob episode and the wonder of erecting a fantastically colorful chalk city in the middle of our concrete driveway.
She is still a little girl.
And for this, I am grateful, even if we do have to bid size 14 a sad farewell.