I went to the park with my 2 ½ year old on Monday. We ran the length of the soccer field. We talked about baseball. Ran the bases. Went on a nature walk. Picked up leaves and chatted about the changing colors. Looked at bark. Moss. Sticks. Dirt. And bugs. She loves bugs.
Yes, I’m talking about my daughter.
In a world that tries to box in our children with neat tidy gender boxes, I am refusing to close the lid. People often ask how to combat the problems of body image issues, sexualization, dramatization and dumbification, when it comes to our girls, I think getting a little dirty, sweaty, and back to nature can help.
Well, for one thing, we are far away from media. Trees are not grafitied with photoshopped physiques of too-thin models. Demeaning messages- “nothing tastes as good as feeling skinny feels,” “I’m too pretty to do my homework,” or “future trophy wife” are not written in the dirt. The sounds, the sites, the smells, are wholly positive.
Getting dirt on our knees and hands is also like a big assertion that society can’t define us. I encourage it. It’s like a natural school when children can put their hands in the mud, pick up worms, and see that something fascinating lies right beneath their feet. It takes our minds off what we “should” be doing—how we should look, how we should act– and puts them on what really is.
It allows for conversation. Side by side exchanges with a child is one of the best ways to really let them feel heard. To listen. To be there. Right now it may be answering questions about why moss grows on the side of a tree and what makes the leaves turn brilliant colors in the Fall. Someday it will be about friends, heartache, hopes and wishes. Today we walk in wonder as I answer questions. Tomorrow we may walk in bewilderment as she questions answers.
Nature has a way of making us feel like we are part of something bigger. Something important. We don’t focus on our flaws when we touch the bark of a tree and find beauty in its imperfections. We see that every plant and fallen leaf is different and we know that that’s exactly as it should be.
And running. Joyfully feeling the air in our lungs. Pretending to be scoring a goal or hitting a ball, sliding into home base, or just forging a path to nowhere. We move our bodies because it feels great. We feel great because we can move our bodies. We do not criticize. We do not body bully. Our true assets in motion- we cheer, and scream, and jump, and dance because we can.
And we are so grateful. Not just the child- girl or boy. But the parent too.
One solution among a mass of problems? Maybe. But what a powerful one it can be…don’t you think?