I used to have a friend who was tremendously overweight, opera star heavy. We were best friends actually, and we could talk about anything. Sometimes she would ask me about diet and exercise because those were two things I was good at, but these would be fleeting conversations—very infrequent. Our time together was more often spent on singing karaoke (she was better), flirting with boys (she was better), and eating sushi (it was a draw).
One day as she drove us someplace, one of those infrequent diet and exercise conversations led me down a slippery slope, and I asked a wrong-minded question. I asked her, “Would you work out and eat right if you were guaranteed my body?”
She looked away from the road only long enough to put me out of my misery. She said, “Would I have to have your personality too?”
Bang. Bang, bang.
That exchange has stayed with me through the years, and the lesson of it resurfaced most recently this past week. My visiting nieces, ages 15 and 31—both of whom I adore—conveyed to me in the course of conversation that they were glad I wasn’t the one who raised them because then for sure they would be overly body-conscious and lacking in self-esteem. That is how they perceive me: with the propensity to instill in them these fundamental flaws because I’m so hard on my own self. They’re glad to have their own quirky but normal and oddly fertile mother, and not me, because I might have damaged them.
This is hard to know. Younger single aunties usually get to skate away pretty free, never really held to the mother standard. We’re supposed to be well thought of and highly regarded by the kids: smart and fun, Julia Roberts to their Emma. Relief at not being raised by us is not supposed to be part of the equation.
Relief at not being us is only a baby step away.