This piece originally appeared on Mama Needs Coffee in June, 2014 but you know what, after this morning’s weigh in prenatal appointment, I found myself in need of a little pep talk. (And I didn’t even look at the scale, by the way. Which is probably the best decision I’ve made in a while.)
Ah, springtime…when a young (or old) mom’s fancy turns to thoughts of swim suits. Or at least mine does. I’m a lifelong swimmer. 9 competitive seasons under my belt and countless stints on the lifeguard stand. I’m actually less traumatized in the fitting room by swimwear than by any pair of jeans I’ve tried in the last 4 years. I guess it’s like a second skin for me, in a very real sense. And nobody’s skin is perfect, you know?
But I know for lots of people, especially mom-shaped people, swimsuit shopping is theeeeee worst. On par with dentistry and public speaking and unmedicated birthing and all manner of horrors (not judging any dentists, conference speakers or natural birthers here. Just identifying usual suspects of terror.)
I’m sure everyone has read at least one piece in their newsfeed (see what I did there?) extolling the virtue of just putting on the damn suit and jumping in the water, and that’s all true and good. Some writers reasoned it is for our children’s sakes that we ought to suit up and get to splashing. Others insist that our bodies are made for more than just lookin’ good (and don’t I know it?) and that doing it for the kids indicates that there is some kind of aesthetic nose-holding going on and that we really need to be more comfortable with whatever shape we’re in, and not endlessly consumed by some sisyphian quest to alter it.
I can see both sides.
And then some of us – some of us just want to be left alone – both by the mirror and by the assessing eyes of the general public. Sure, it’d be nice to look toned and tanned in a two piece, and sure, it’d be great to have sand as the primary irritant of water play and not the daunting and near-impossible task of returning one’s suit bottoms to one’s waist, once wet.
But this talk of spandex got me thinking. And now that I’m making an effort to walk a ton each day, I have some time for thinking lately, even when I’m pushing and hauling child tonnage around the neighborhood. So I was wearing Evie, pushing the boys and sweating my literal you-know-what off and smiling at the thought of that metaphor becoming sweet reality and it suddenly, startlingly occurred to me that no matter how great of shape the miles I’m logging gets me into, the inevitable ravages of time and work and (hopefully) future pregnancies and nursing are still going to destroy things, aesthetically speaking.
This has occurred to me before on some level. Earlier this year when I was still wearing workout clothes day and night and chugging aqua from my hospital-issued jug, my little sister helpfully (and fraternally, if a sister can speak in such a manner) pointed out that I wasn’t getting any younger (and, presumably, any hotter) so I may as well get dressed and put on makeup, no matter how rough I felt, because there truly is no time aside from the present that we have to actually live in our bodies.
Now maybe you don’t wear makeup. That’s fine! I don’t wear a ton, but I find that on the days I go further than my SPF tinted moisturizer and forge ahead with some blush/bronzer, mascara and a little eyebrow penciling, I feel markedly better. Even with the same amount of sleep/coffee. There’s something very life-giving for me about getting dressed, albeit in very simple, casual clothes, and swiping on a bit of mascara. It helps me take my job more seriously as a mother, and it helps me present a more joyful persona to the general public.
All that is good, and it’s helpful for me to be aware of the tone I set for our day with my level of self care. I also think it’s a bit of a witness to not present to the outside world the shrewing, frantic mess I am on the inside, lest they feel confirmed in their suspicions that having children is a hell of a lot of work which daily sucks the marrow from your very bones.
But you know what else sucks the marrow from your bones? (I mean, aside from being bone-marrow donor, which would be an excellent practical application of life-giving love.)
Life. The ravages of time. Pulling all nighters for work (or for partying). Traveling the globe. Digging ditches. Landing contracts. Getting on and off of highway exits. Gravity. Gluten.
Whatever it is you’re spending your time (and it’s your body’s time, too, by the way, because you are your body) doing, it’s undoing you.
Piece by piece, wrinkle by wrinkle, cell by cell. It’s all breaking down, even as we’re busy building up a life for ourselves. And the only thing any of us are going to have to show for it, in the end, is a laundry list of accomplishments or failures. And I think relationships will be at the top of the laundry list.
It’s comforting to me, not in a sadistic way but in a serene and pragmatic way, to think that no matter what, 50 years from now, if I’m still chilling in my mortal form, I’ll look pretty much like the old lady in the Denny’s booth next to mine. Okay, maybe I’ll have a tad more sun damage, but at 81 years old, I don’t think anyone will be counting my sunspots and wrinkling their already wrinkled nose over it.
So no matter what choices I make now, my body is going to look pretty much the same. I mean, maybe I will score some additional longevity if I eat well and stay active, but no amount of starvation dieting or pinning miracle smoothies or popping birth control pills to keep my waistline trim and my bank account plump is going to make me any better looking, in the end.
So while I feel very acutely that I am quite literally spending myself for the sake of my children, I struggle to identify another, worthier cause in which to invest.
I don’t think there is one.
Our culture is obsessed with becoming – and remaining – thin. With appearing more beautiful. With capturing and domesticating youth, both in appearance and in behavior. But it’s all fleeting. And truly, there is nothing sadder than a 60-year-old man or woman dressing down by 3 or 4 decades, desperately striving to appear relevant. Desirable. Loved.
But what about the 60-year-old who is desired, deeply, by her husband? By his children? By her friends and co-workers?
What about the person who has invested deeply, not in himself (though there’s nothing wrong with self investment, rightly-ordered) but in the relationships which are the very essence of life? How good will that feel, to be fading into antiquity as we all do, but to be very much unforgettable to the children you’ve raised, the spouse you’ve loved faithfully, the friends you’ve nurtured, the lives you’ve spent your own on?
There is no original thought here, just the arresting realization that it’s all passing away, and that no matter how much I might want to look like another body, I’m in this one, and I’m the only one who can choose how I’ll use it, how I’ll spend myself.
Our culture tells us that to spend a life in service to another is a waste. To give up one’s very body in bearing and nurturing life is obscene, is antithetical to real happiness.
I beg to differ. I look down at my soft, motherly midsection and I know that while it’s hard to give up the body I once had, we’re all asked, each of us, to surrender the goods eventually.
The only real question is, will you give it away, or will it be taken from you by force?
I choose life. I choose to give it away. It’s a small cross, and it’s marred by stretch marks and double digits in the denim department, but I won’t be any more beautiful in 50 years for refusing it.
In fact, in embracing the cross of life, I might just find myself face to face with beauty beyond measure.