I grew up in a matriarchal extended family with a thick military heritage. As the able-bodied eldest sibling of a brother with involved special needs, I had a somewhat unique upbringing. There were rules and consequences, expectations and protocol, duties and obligations. Inner and physical strength were prized. Beauty and emotional expression were afterthoughts. To be strong, to be able to withstand and persevere, to be resilient and sturdy was paramount. To shoulder any burden and smile beneath the weight was ideal.
I recently told my 5-year-old daughter that being a female member of the family means she is strong; stronger than many. I told her that feigning frailty or valuing femininity over strength is not ideal. “Sometimes you’ll need help. Sometimes you’ll cry. That’s ok. You can like feeling pretty. You can have your feelings. That doesn’t mean you should intentionally act or choose to be weak. You can do more than you think. You can handle more than you realize. You’re strong. Remember that. Being strong IS beautiful.”
Today on the beach my nearly-30lb toddler nursed himself into a nap. So, I stood rocking his sleeping body for 30 minutes. His limbs limp and heavy, the ocean hush lulling him further into slumber, my back supporting him, my arms cradling him, my heart was full. My muscles strong.
I breathed in his sand-dusted hair, listened to his gentle snore, and felt his comforted weight. I was grateful. Grateful for this moment. Grateful for my upbringing. Grateful for my strength. Without it I would not have this effortless, loving moment. Without it I would lament physical strain instead of savoring the experience.
Because of my strength, I could soak in this memory. Because of my strength, I brimmed with love. Because of my strength I could be the mother I dreamed to be.