Friday, September 16, 2011

I Sing the Body Electric

I’ll admit it: I take my body for granted. I have for basically my entire adult life. It’s pretty middle of the road, looks-wise: slim but not especially spectacular. Not athletic, but not terribly out of shape. Not particularly healthy, but reliable. I’ve never been proud of it and I’ve never been ashamed of it. It’s just always been there.

When I developed rheumatoid arthritis at age 25, I resented my body a little. It ticked me off that it had let me down. But the flip side of a physical ailment is a recognition of how amazing the body is when it’s healthy. The intricacies and complexities of a system that thinks, moves, and heals itself is almost beyond comprehension. But what really made me recognize the amazing nature of my body was having a couple of babies.

There are two parts to that. First, going through the physical changes involved in carrying and giving birth to a child can’t help but make you aware of the miraculous nature of the human body. But second, watching that child explore his or her own body is a brand new revelation of how…well, cool the human body is.

At only 5 weeks old, Katie is already experimenting with and discovering what her body can do. Every waking moment, she is wiggling her feet, kicking them against anything close by, testing their strength and flexibility. She is constantly stretching out her arms, waving them in front of her face, grabbing at anything within reach. Her tongue is an endless source of curiosity. She pokes it out over and over, as if wondering, “What is this thing in my mouth and what am I supposed to do with it?” She turns her eyes toward bright lights, colors, and familiar voices. Her body is new to her and she is fascinated by it. As am I.

And at 22 months old, Ryan continues to be fascinated with his body. It’s no longer new to him, but the skills he’s learning every day are new and exciting. Just the other day, he discovered that he can reach up and hang from the supports of the treadmill with his feet in the air. He can turn a somersault. He loves the feeling of being dangled upside down, and of spinning around till he’s dizzy. He’s taken to experimenting with playground slides, going down feet first on his backside, then feet first lying on his tummy, then head first on his tummy, then head first on his back (Mummy does not encourage this position), then running down standing up (Mummy definitely does not encourage this position). He revels in identifying each body part: ears, nose, eyes, hair, head, chin, mouth, tongue, teeth, elbows, hands, fingers, knees, feet, toes, belly. He wiggles his fingers and toes for the sheer pleasure of it. He bonks his head on the wall just to experience what it feels like. He makes nonsense sounds with his mouth, blows raspberries (very WET raspberries), and tries to whistle. He is determined to figure out all the cool things he can do with his body.

Watching the two kids revel in their bodies reminds me that I should do the same. Being over forty and having had two babies in the past two years, one of whom was born only a few weeks ago, it is all too easy for me to rue the state of my body. My belly is soft and mushy and still bears the telltale dark line of pregnancy, my skin is blotchy, my fingers are beginning to show the ravages of arthritis, my lips have a few wrinkles around them, my chest is showing the signs of inevitable droopage, my hair is more grey than brown and is starting to sprout in places where it doesn’t belong. But my flabby belly is still a wonderful place to lay a sleeping baby. My mottled skin still delights in rubbing against a baby’s soft, downy hair. My gnarled fingers can still tickle a small belly. My wrinkled lips can still kiss away a hurt. My chest can still make a cozy pillow for a tired toddler. My hair…well, my hair has enough brown left that there will still be some to turn grey when my kids hit adolescence.

Yup. I sing the body electric.

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