Let me acknowledge the way you do
First, I am embarrassed to say that I screwed up the Grace Lee Boggs quote in my last letter and have been feeling terrible about it since I realized my mistake, approximately two seconds after hitting "send." The sentiment is the same, but the actual words are: "The only way to survive is by taking care of one another." Sorry! Second, I am not embarrassed to say that I am, apparently, not yet done writing about toilets.
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24 March 2017
We potty trained Noli two weeks ago. I'm using the past tense because the deed is mostly done but, like most progress we make in life, it's an ongoing process. (In this case, one that involves an increase in wet pants and socks, loads of laundry, and time spent sitting on the bathroom floor holding a tiny hand.) It's been an emotional time for everyone involved.
One minute last week Noli was wholly absorbed in the task of driving a red car across the toddler-filled gym of the Rainier Beach community center, stopping only to fill it with "groceries" picked up off the floor--a plastic carrot, a spatula, a green ball. I looked down at my phone and, suddenly, there she was standing in front of me saying, "Mama, I gotta go pee pee." We walked to the bathroom, where she pulled down her pants, peed, wiped, and flushed, all by herself. I was so proud I immediately took her out for pizza.
When I crouched down in the cramped stall with her, surrounded by the stray pubes and maxi pad wrapper on the floor, the kid screaming in the next stall, I pressed my cheek to hers. Her body's workings were no longer a private matter hidden in a white cotton diaper; here they were, commingling with the brown spots on the back of this public toilet bowl. A few tears slipped out of my eyes and onto our cheeks as I realized that she doesn't really belong to me anymore, if she ever did.
Of course Noli has always belonged to herself first. It's just that now that she is responsible for tuning into the rhythms of her own body, she actually knows it. We weaned just after she turned two, so she hasn't needed my body the way she used to for a while now, though she still takes plenty of liberties with it, slowly learning that her body is, in fact, quite separate from mine. Despite her desire for independence, the realization hasn't been easy. For months she has declared, "I'm not a baby, I'm big girl." But the other day, while sitting on her potty trying to poop, she started crying, vigorously shaking her head and saying, "No no no, I'm not a big girl yet." (She has since decided that she is a "small girl.")
In April, she'll start "school" full-time at El Centro, where she'll continue to develop her understanding that she belongs to a larger community, the world. And I am sure, within a few days, that we will learn how many viruses and microbes are out there in the world, ready to claim her.
Coincidentally, I've been rereading Eula Biss' beautiful (and deeply researched) book On Immunity, which I like mostly because I'm transfixed by the way her brain feels its way and journeys through all the material she's gathered about vaccination--science, literature, newspapers, her own experience, history, casual conversation. It ends up in a place that feels undeniably true, and truly distant from where it began. To be honest, when Biss writes about her personal life, I don't find her at all relatable, but she at least acknowledges and interrogates her own privilege. "Public health is not strictly for people like me," she writes (meaning, in her own words, "relatively wealthy white women"), before throwing down the gleaming center of the book:
"We owe each other our bodies."
Biss is writing specifically about public health, but the idea applies to many other parts of life. Her words popped into my mind the other day while I was dancing to Sean Paul's "No Lie," something I am currently doing at least three times a day. (If you really want to get down, skip the original and head straight to this remix.) The song gets me turnt in exactly ten seconds, as the vocalist Dua Lipa sings, "Feel your eyes, they all over me / Don't be shy, take control of me / Get the vibe, it's gonna be lit tonight." I mean, consent and submission in the same breath? Yes please!
(Not to be outdone, it must be pointed out that Sean Paul himself rhymes hypnotic with acknowledge--mid-sentence!--in the chorus. "It's hypnotic, the way you move / Let me acknowledge the way you do," he croons appreciatively. The first time I realized he was doing this, I screamed out loud.)
We are each owed physical pleasure, just as we all owe it those who graciously allow us the chance to give it to them. But you can't give someone the kind of enjoyment they are asking for without actually investing your body and, often, letting go of its hang-ups along the way. It's a great thing to discover is that you can satisfy someone while also surprising yourself.
I discovered the "No Lie" remix at the movement class I go to a couple of times a week called Dance Church. I like its open format--pop music plays loudly, there are no mirrors, no "front" to the room, you follow the movement cues of the instructor ("get juicy," "put the dance in your belly," "open up your underwear line"), but mostly you just freak out and shake it at the level you feel like freaking out at or an hour-and-a-half. It bills itself as a "nonexclusive approach to dancing...for people of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds and identities," which is accurate, though it's still pretty homogeneous, the majority of participants being thin white women with high pony tails.
Over the year that I've been going regularly, I've realized that for most people the class is a very social event. This probably shouldn't be surprising, and yet to me it was. There are a two or three people who, after months of grinning maniacally and silently flinging sweat on each other every Sunday morning, I now say hello to and make small talk with. I feel like I know them, though truthfully, I have a very limited desire to actually get to know them. What I love most of all is that I have a relationship with them that does not involve words, that is based exclusively in what our bodies with each other when they are together. It's something pretty ecstatic.
Female bodies are built to accommodate other bodies. (It's a tremendous power, but one that is treated by men who wield a different sort of power, as proof that, by nature, we aren't actually people.) For the last three years, my body didn't belong to just myself and, while those were choices I made, it doesn't change the fact that it altered the way I perceive myself and move through the world.
Now, finally, I have much of my body back. But if I'm being totally honest, when I look down at it, I often wonder: What is left? So I keep putting it out into the world, realizing that I need other people to help me figure it out.
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