Can I See Your Belly Button?

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A_KelliSaturday morning always comes earlier than I hope.

Yes, it’s our day off. Yes, we have a few kids old enough to want some extra sleep. But no, that doesn’t stop their bodies from remembering what time they wake up for school on five other days of the week. 

(Sigh.)

My eyes blink open to 6:30am on the clock when the first little fuzzy-headed toddlers crack our bedroom door. They are welcomed up onto the queen-size mattress and tucked ’round with quilts and sheets, a stealth attempt to coax their eyes closed again. An endeavor for Mommy to spend her early morning drowsing among dimpled fingers and the smell of urinated diaper. Light barely winking in through the window, like the sunrise herself in the middle of a yawn.

Ah, but there’s truth in the adage: Best laid plans often go awry—and Saturday mornings are as true to this as they are to demure sunrises. The toddlers in my bed, even under best laid sheets, don’t last long. Push inevitably comes to shove, just as tiny toes always seem to find that perfect place to dig into my back. Then it’s a silly word sleepily mumbled or a half-curious poke in the eye … and the final nail is in sleep’s coffin. Time to get up. 

Leaving my husband to tickle and snuggle with them, on this certain Saturday, I got in the shower. The six-year-old came in just as I stepped out. She, groggy. Me, dripping. I didn’t expect us to have a conversation worth much. But her little voice surprised me, squeaked out over the sound of the boys now jumping on the queen-size bed: “Mom, could we give you a make-over today?”

I couldn’t deny the hope I heard in her voice. I couldn’t deny the shine in her eyes. I couldn’t say anything but, “Yes.”

Ten minutes and a bathrobe later, the girls were back. Not just one this time, but three of them. They filed into my room, arms laden with their favorite dress-up clothes for me to try on, fingers loaded with nail polish in every color, and faces etched with the many expressions of delight: make-over, here we come.

And that’s when it happened.

As the very first dress was hoisted out to me, and I grappled with it, reaching for armholes, the littlest girl—that one whose voice squeaks in the most angelic way—piped up, “Mom, is that your belly button? Can I see it?” 

Now, I’m not a modest person by nature, but when your tiniest daughter asks to see your belly? Well, it can call forth the modest in the least likely. But in the very same moment I was tempted to cringe and brush off her request, I realized the opportunity that lay before me. Here was my daughter, still firm and supple with youth’s abundance, asking not only to see my wrinkled, stretched, and saggy body, but somehow asking beyond her words, to see what I thought about my body. For I knew that it wouldn’t be only my belly button that would reflect in her eyes, it would also be my face. Not only “How does a mommy-belly look?” but also “How does a mommy feel about how her belly looks?”

This is the question that matters. This is the mirror that counts.

I dropped the dress so I could get my brave on. 

(And then I swallowed hard so it wouldn’t get snagged on the knot forming in my throat.)

Each of the girls took turns looking at my belly button. They asked questions about why my many-times-stretched skin looks different than theirs. They poked and pulled. They wondered at it and marveled aloud. I smiled at them and drew them close. I explained how large a woman’s body must become to make room for the miracle of motherhood. I welcomed their questions and told them glory stories of births and laughed at the incredulity of it all. 

And then the moment passed. I seemed to still be breathing. I pinched myself, just to make sure. Yes, I was indeed alive. I was indeed standing before them and what I saw in their eyes was not the disdain or competition of the locker room. It was not the criticism or condescension of the beach. There were no snickers. There was no raising of eyebrows.

What I saw in their eyes was respect.

In that holiest of moments, they had become divine mirrors: reflecting all the beauty of co-creation. (And what is left in its wake.) But it was more than that. Somehow my willingness to let them see my imperfection up close and personal was planting seeds inside them. Seeds that would someday bloom into female relationships characterized by cooperation and trust, not competition and manipulation. Offerings they could take with them into locker rooms and beaches and classrooms and shopping malls and all the other places where the imperfect is seen as weak and where only the fittest survive.

These are the genesis of a better tomorrow: kernels of what it means that beauty is deeper than skin.

I slid into the dresses handed me and swirled around in front of the mirror. They painted my toes lovely shades of purple and red. We talked hairstyles and eyeshadows and shoes and what spring fashions we liked best. But the beauty of the make-over had already happened. And it wasn’t in the making-up or the covering-over. It had happened in the nakedness where self-acceptance is planted deep, in the darkness of dare where love becomes our lens.

Right there in my bedroom, bathrobe around my ankles, we were standing on holy ground.

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Kelli Woodford
I live in the midwest, surrounded by cornfields and love, with my husband and seven blue-eyed children. We laugh, we play, we fight, we mend; but we don’t do anything that even slightly resembles quiet. Unless it’s listening to our lives, which has proved to be the biggest challenge of them all.
Kelli Woodford
Kelli Woodford

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