I strategically picked the seat in the café with my back to it, allowing my eyes the reprieve they wanted, but I know it’s there. We came here for popcorn and Icees, maybe a stroll through the dollar bins, a witching hour strategy that rarely fails me but, today, has me wishing I had chosen a drive-thru. Because the moment I walked through my favorite red framed, bulls-eye marked doors with my mind only on getting from 4:00pm to dinnertime without a meltdown from a toddler (or a mommy), my eyes could not avert the obvious. Strategically placed within eyeshot of the entrance, there it was in all of its guilt-inducing glory: the swimsuit displays. Coral and yellow and lace and holes cut out in the most unbecoming of places; and me, three kids in as many years, still wearing maternity pants five months postpartum, pushing a cart the size of a small semi-truck right past the bright colors and trendy designs to the popcorn. I felt the defeat before I even ordered.
I should have seen this coming. It is summer, after all. And like I do every year, I’ve been telling myself for weeks to stop eating dessert in preparation for less coverage in the clothing department. The problem is simply that I am terrible at not eating dessert, so March and April and May pass by and all of a sudden it’s actually summer and too late to stop eating the kids’ leftover goldfish in hopes of a pre-baby six-pack emerging from underneath. Some busy mamas are really good at hitting the gym; the rest of us are really good at thinking about fitness, we just fall a little bit short on execution. But hey, we can’t all be good at everything, right?
So there I sat, at least three months late on my tone-up goal, drowning my nursing-boobs-would-not-even-fit-in-that-American-flag-top sorrows in popcorn. Next summer, I thought, I’ll be on it, this whole working-out thing. Yes, next summer is good.
So my three amigos and I grabbed our snacks, I browsed the bathing suit covers, coerced a few children back into their buckles no less then five times, and we proceeded to the checkout line with the rest of our items. But my mind kept returning to the swimsuits, and the fact that I wouldn’t even let myself look at them, turning back every mental picture of my body and sun exposure in loathing. My legs are still decorated with blue veins, my triceps wave hello whenever my hand does, my inner thighs rub together and with the wrong pair of shorts on, well, they’re going to need some Aquaphor. My mom-bod is just not ready for summer. Not this year.
As I loaded our purchases onto the belt, I looked over at the magazines with flawless women on them, each one felt like it was screaming at my children and I, flaunting abs and tans and unscathed hips. And I thought about my daughter, a preciously fierce spirit with no concern whatsoever to her shape and size. I pictured her tiny little frame in the full-length mirror at her grandma’s house, spinning around and admiring herself in every item of clothing she wears. And then I thought about how she is going to grow up in a world where that kind of confidence is photo-shopped right out of her; a world that will give her a whole list of confusing synonyms for beauty and make her feel like Kim Kardashian is the standard. And in that moment, I knew that my repulsion was directed at the wrong thing, because all of that, it is just not going to be ok with this mama, and I don’t have to sit back helplessly and let that happen. No magazine gets to tell my children what beauty is. I do.
So I three-point turned our super-sized cart right around and headed back to the swimsuits. Harper was delighted, of course, because everyone looks good in everything to her three-year-old eyes. She grabbed no less than five and told me to buy them all, and I smiled and secretly hung them back up; someday she will understand that as proud as I am to be forcing myself into a swimsuit, I draw the line at one that cuts out a U-shape around my love handles. There’s making a statement of proud confidence and then there is just plain agony, and there is no need to confuse the two.
Here’s the thing: I don’t feel swimsuit ready for this summer. My workouts usually consist of getting three children in and out of the car (bonus points for an 18 pound six-month old in the baby carrier), and my healthy diet stops at snagging a few apple slices when I cut them up for the kids’ lunch. I’ve got a Pinterest board full of slim-down and tone-up ideas, but they have proven no match for this tired body of mine. But these three faces in front of me, they are swimsuit ready. They want to jump in the water, play with the hose, build sand castles and get in a water balloon fight with their dad. They aren’t going to wait for me as I focus on all the things my body is not; all they see is what it is: their mama. I could tell my daughter and my two sons all day long that beauty includes curves and stretch marks and a right leg that looks like ink leaked down the side of it; but then if I go and hide those very things all summer because I don’t want anyone to notice them, what lesson have I actually taught? No, I’m not raising a little girl to shame herself and I’m certainly not raising little boys to do anything but respect the beautiful breadth of God-created beauty. And right there at Target, I decided I’d make that statement by walking proudly to the water in my bathing suit.
With a little browsing, I did find something perfectly suitable to wear. It holds me in where I desperately need holding, keeps a modest covering over my unusually large top half, and most importantly, it allows me to catch little bodies jumping off the edge of the dock into my arms. And someday we will look back at this swimsuit season and remember it not as the summer mom sat on the sidelines, but as the summer mom looked at her capable body, thanked it for giving her three children, and with two feet confidently wanting to be an example to the people she loves most in the world, jumped in the water.