‘Mom’, he’d exclaimed, ‘you got a swimsuit!’ I hadn’t. I’ve had the same one for ten years. But had he ever seen me wear it? No, not often enough to remember. I’ve been stuck on the sand while my family waded into the water for about the past 10 years, and that’s well past his 4 short years of life. I stood at the edge of the ocean with him, determined to get in for once. And that’s how we started the summer. Me, after all this time, finally in the water with my kids again.
Why had it taken me so long? I could blame the responsibility of motherhood, which hangs heavy, no matter where I go. I could blame the sense of seriousness and stressfulness that punctuates my life watching kids run, and climb, slip and fall in any number of ways, on any number of days. I could blame exhaustion which, more often than not, keeps me plopped down on a blanket barely keeping my eyes open as I watch them play. And, it’s all of those things. It’s any and every one those things.
But, it’s mostly my body. It’s mostly how I feel about my body. It’s mostly my fears about how other people feel about my body.
It’s hard to admit that in writing because, I’m embarrassed of my body in and of itself. AND it’s hard to admit that because, I’m also embarrassed that I’ve let how I feel about my body, and how I suspect other people feel about my body hold me back. I’m angry that I’ve been sitting on the sidelines because of my fear of what others might think of me. And I’m angry because I know I’m not wrong to expect judgment because I’m fat. Every woman, everywhere, knows her body is the subject of scrutiny no matter her size, but especially if she is sizable. And, right now, I am.
As a woman, as a mom, and a fat mom at that, I often feel like I’m not supposed to have fun, like I’m not allowed to even be fun. Moms (especially slumpy ones) who are silly, who are out there, who have fun; are portrayed as hokey, or crazy, or a sad laughing stock. I’ve always thought of myself as someone who doesn’t care what other people think…but I’ve realized lately, I obviously do. Why else would I sit out the better part of my kids’ childhoods?
The carefree, wild-spirited, and yes, FUN girl I was, changed when I became a mom; changed the more weight I gained. I’ve become increasingly self conscious and aware of how others see me. I care if people see me as hokey, or dated, or garish because those caricatures of moms are all too easy to conjure. Hadn’t I, myself, conjured them in the past? To whip myself into shape? To feel better than another woman? Even just to entertain myself when I was bored?
As a mom, it doesn’t take long to realize: people are happy to put you in a box. I thought carefully avoiding those markers of motherhood (stretch marks, cellulite, weight gain, general shlumpiness) kept me out of the box, but I’m realizing more and more they keep me in it.
But, I’m tired. I’m actually, literally physically tired from all the interval training, and the long distance running, and the weight lifting, and the calorie counting that has gotten me virtually nowhere except losing and gaining the same 30 pounds over and over. And I’m also emotionally and mentally tired of the drudgery that comes with believing I need to look a certain way to enjoy my life, or to have permission to even exist in it.
Each morning, I sneak off to work out at 5:30am. On occasion, I return to my older girls, already up for the day, dressed in sneakers and their version of workout clothes. ‘We want to work out, too, Mommy,’ they tell me, and my response is always the same. Play is your exercise. You don’t ever have to worry about anything more.
Why hadn’t I taken my own advice?
This summer, I finally did. I set out to have a summer filled with all of my (and their ) favorite things: bike rides in our neighborhood in the late afternoon. Long, dusk-lit evenings spent skating along the loop of our driveway. Conversations by swing set. Cannonballs into the deep, sweet-tea colored lake by our house.
This is the point in the story where so many similar narratives I’ve read close with sweeping platitudes. A mother whose weight suddenly fell off when she stopped thinking about it. A woman who, now looking in the mirror, sees only beauty when she surveys her stretch marks and cellulite. This has not been the case for me. I got fatter. I feel uglier. But I’m trying to stop equating my self worth with a svelte figure, or my ability to fit into a form-fitting dress. I’ve had the best summer of my entire adult life. I’ve had more cocktails, made more love, gotten more sleep, felt more joy than ever before. I gave myself permission to have and be more, and I was.
I’m starting to discover that I am fun again. I’m choosing to write those words, to say them out loud because, I want my kids to know that about me. I want to know that about myself again. I decided that I would play more- haters be damned- and I did it. So, I’m proud of myself. Because fun had been a very central part of who I was before I had kids. Fun had been (and is!) a central part of being intimate with anyone I know and love well.
And I have a right to have it.