A couple times a week I have been babysitting my two-year old niece for my brother. Besides making me doubt my ability to handle children of my own, she has taught me an incredible lesson: A life not lived to the fullest is not worth living at all.
This little red haired fire rocket is a total nut bag, and she doesn't give a crap who knows it. As I sit on my couch, somber, wondering if my life is headed in the right direction, she’s running laps around it whilst laughing hysterically.
As I avoid carbs because of my perpetual fear of being fat, she’s putting down two bowls of creamy, delicious, macaroni and cheese. Then when she’s done, she sits on my lap and starts eating my salad.
As I impatiently wait in line at the grocery store, she’s making friends. Everyone gets a cheesy grin and pleasant hello, especially those not paying any attention to her.
As I start to second-guess myself when trying to make new friends in a new city, I look over and she has her arms around some kid. The zoo, the park, the sidewalk - it doesn’t matter. If they’re about her height, she’s down for friendship - easy.
As I try and manage those moments when I feel insecure about my body, she strips down to her undies and proclaims “I’m naaaaaaaked!” to everyone in the room. Then she struts around with a “take it or leave it” attitude.
Oh, my little ZZ McGee. She’s a fresh, new palette filled with bright, vibrant colors. Her world is a blank canvas, and with every brush stroke she adds a beautiful element that will soon make up her life. And it's quite easy, really, to create something beautiful when the whole world revolves around you. She doesn’t know any other way.
When she grins, everyone around her melts and responds with adoration.
When she poops in the potty, everyone claps and gives her praise.
When she eats something delicious, her only consequence is that she ate something delicious.
When she runs in to a room with just her undies and a smile, everyone celebrates her freedom.
The last time I flashed a cheesy grin to the person behind me in line at Whole Foods, they looked away awkwardly then kept giving me the shifty eyes.
The last time I pooped, not only did no one clap, but I sprayed a cans worth of Febreeze to destroy the evidence (it didn't work).
The last time I ate something delicious, I started calculating the potential consequences until it didn't taste good anymore.
I take that back, it was key lime cheesecake and it was freaking incredible. But I still felt guilty.
The last time I ran in to a room with just my undies and a smile, I was arrested.
But I suppose that’s because I’m all grown up. Like the rest of us, I lost my innocence long ago. Our hurts, embarrassments, failures and expectations follow us around like weights strapped to our legs and the burden begins to shape how we decide to live in this world.
One day, the anxiety of life’s unknowns will make running around in circles seem like a huge waste of time. One day, society’s unattainable standards will make us afraid of macaroni and cheese. One day, smiling at strangers will seem futile when few ever smile back. One day, we’ll be afraid to throw our arms around new friends because we’ve been rejected so many times before. One day, instead of rocking the body we have, we’ll throw on layers of clothes to hide it.
Like all of us, one day, Zoey’s world will stop revolving around her. I can’t help but worry about how she’ll deal with it. I suppose some never experience a revolving world. She is loved and sometimes something so simple and natural can be a luxury for others.
I wonder, how will she grow in to a woman? What hurts, betrayals and failures will she encounter that will shape how she contributes to the world? Will people make fun of her and shape her self-esteem? Will boys use her and shatter her ability to trust? Will she choose to use her sexuality to get what she wants or to satisfy some need?
What will be her values and will she abandon them once the pressures of relationships, popularity, love and lust become too hard to handle? We all have those moments in our lives that smudge what were supposed to be our beautiful, vibrant paintings. Some far worse than others, but we all have something. We can look at those smudges as something ugly that will ruin what was "supposed" to be, or we can embrace them as something imperfect, something beautiful in it's own right by it's ability to make us stronger and wiser. Someone living among imperfections, but embracing them as lessons, as character.
The best part is our ability to choose, even when we feel like it's impossible. Refusing to let circumstances dictate how we’ll choose to live, love, interact and give in this world. I can choose be jaded, bleak and filled with worry. I can choose to be afraid and closed off. I can choose to hate my body. I can choose to let life roll from one uneventful day to the next. OR I can choose to live life to the fullest.
Perhaps tomorrow I’ll smile and say hello to strangers. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll ask an acquaintance to join me for lunch. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll make a list of all the things I love about my body. Perhaps tomorrow, instead of moping on my couch, I’ll run laps around it whilst laughing hysterically, instead.
Until I become winded, and then I'll probably stop.