I love my kids' belly buttons. I often point to them and say "Do you know why this spot is special?" "Yes," they reply. "It's where we were attached." — although as they get older they say it with less enthusiasm than when they first learned of the magic of that spot.
However, as they age that belly button gets more and more important to me. At one point, now years ago, our bodies were the same. They were a part of me, and I was a person who ate for two, wore a seat belt that wrapped around us both, and had clothes that were built to hold four arms and four legs. But then they were born, the cord was cut, and our anatomies separated. I had made people and now they had their own bodies.
As people, we get one body, and, as a feminist, it is damn important to me to claim total ownership of mine. If my body had been created 500 years ago, it would have been something to be traded for more wealth for my family. If it had been created 200 years ago, it would have been something that my parents could have sent off to work, but it never would have reaped the rewards. If my body had gotten married 50 years ago, my husband could have used it for sex whenever he wanted, as there was no such thing as marital rape.
Not anymore. The best thing that I can ever do for my children is to give them autonomy over themselves. I want my daughter especially — who came into a world that legally accepts her body as her own but sends messages all the time that reject that truth — to fill out her skin with a personal spirit that is impermeable.
She will need to know that having one's own body is an incredible responsibility: having a body is hard work. You have to nourish it properly. You have to protect it from harm. You have to learn what makes it feel good and what makes it feel bad. It is hard to learn all the ways to do that, and there's plenty of cajoling on my part.
Autonomy doesn't automatically mean enlightenment. Responsible ownership must include education — seat belts and bike helmets must be worn, vegetables need to be eaten, hands must be held in busy parking lots, hair must be brushed. I insist that she do these things not to assert dominance over her but because, as her mother, it is my job to teach her how to care for the frame that her persona will inhabit for her entire life.
Having her own body is a privilege. I want her to discover that her body is capable of amazing things. I want her to feel the power that comes with a sense of total control over her own private and finite space in the world. The sense of satisfaction that comes with enthusiastic consent, and the feeling of self worth that comes with a firmly stated "No." The ability to exercise that control over her anatomy is one that comes with time, but it is her birthright.
This is why, in spite of the fact that she is sometimes rude, disobedient, inclined to make poor choices, and can be downright infuriating, I will never spank my daughter. I do believe that you can spank your children without hurting them physically, and I believe that spanking can curb some very troubling behavior. Yet as a sex-positive feminist, I know it would be wrong to violate my basic belief in the power of consent. Equally important, I want her to know when her body wants to say "yes," (to the ear piercing, to the doughnut, to sex) and I want her to feel a sense of ownership so she can say yes responsibly and enthusiastically.
I can't unequivocally give my kids a whole lot. But after nine months of sharing mine, their bodies are their own. Every time I look at those adorable little belly buttons I am reminded of that fact. And while I often want to "eat them up, I love them so," I know I cannot. However, I can marvel at all of the things that they can do with their spirited, gorgeous, energy-filled physiques, and relish the fact that I created amazing things that can now stand on their own two feet.