There is a song in my head. It goes like this:
And oh my love remind me, what was it that I said?
I can't help but pull the earth around me, to make my bed.
And oh my love remind me, what was it that I did?
Did I drink too much?
Am I losing touch?
Did I build this ship to wreck?
To wreck, to wreck, to wreck
Did I build this ship to wreck?
My son calls this song Trek. We play it every day on our long drive home from swim lessons. Trek is a mistaken blend, the result of a four-year-old's ability to deconstruct syllables presented in song. The actual title is Ship to Wreck. It’s sung by Florence + the Machine.
This is a song about my body.
Typically very little time elapses for me between towel and full clothing post shower. I’m often cold and in a hurry. I’m often hungry. Nothing I could do in the bathroom sounds as enticing as spending 45 quiet minutes in the company of my husband or even just myself.
But a couple of months back I caught myself. I looked up. I glanced ahead during my speed lotioning and I saw myself in the mirror.
I am grateful for words like aghast. I truly am. I’d be otherwise lost to describe this moment without it.
What I saw in the mirrow left me … aghast.
I have something of a history with mirrors. Don’t we all?
A quick slide show:
My wedding took place on the Saturday before Mother’s Day and 11 years later, almost to the day, I delivered a baby boy. I watched him come out of my body thanks to the rectangular mirror at my feet. I swore I’d never use one of those.
On my wedding day, that day 11 years before this son was born, there were so many mirrors. There was the mural sized one affixed to the wall in the room I woke up in on my wedding day. You could also call it the room I never managed to fall asleep in, and that would be fair. I used that mirror to press a clear birth control patch onto my hip. It was only then I realized a good portion of the thing would peek out from the swim suit waiting in my honeymoon luggage. What could I do? Then came the gilt-framed mirror at the hair salon I visited that afternoon. I hated my wedding hair until about five years ago. Next was a series of mirrors stationed throughout the bridal room inside the pink church where the ceremony took place. I chose the pink church because it has stained glass windows and a bell. I wanted a fairy tale wedding, after all.
The mirror I remembered most clearly as I stood naked, moisturized, and aghast, was the thin silver one I found myself in front of at the hotel where I would spend my wedding night. It was in this piece of glass that I finally took in what I had done. I am hesitant to say accomplished here. What I had done.
What three years of Britney Spears and an elliptical machine …
What one year of growing out my hair …
What seven months of tanning …
What four years of ordering a small when I really wanted a large …
I looked amazing on my wedding night. That’s not the sort of talk that keeps you in the company of polite society, but sometimes the truth is like that. It’s true. I did.
I’d built a good ship. Not the most beautiful or the most fit or the best or most anything in any category. No. But if you trace the evolution of a body from puberty to marriage, well I looked at my bronze skin and blonde hair, my lips thick with the sheen of a Juicy Tube, smooth legs scarred at the ankles from fumbling beginning years of first shaving, I looked at all that and thought, “Alright. We’ve come a long way, baby.”
The ghost of April Future floats past and whispers to wedding-night me, “You’re going to burn it all down.”
Another time, another song, almost another body entirely.
We got the afternoon
You got this room for two
One thing I've left to do
Some flavor or smell must have tripped a wire in my brain and brought me back to my college days when John Mayer crooned this hit out of any number of stereos in the dorms.
His voice came back to me as I slathered my thighs in a celebrity-endorsed oil that promised to make them—my thighs—look like they belong to someone who has lived a different life.
The girl I was in college, the cappuccino drinker who bemoaned the inhumanity of a 7 a.m. class, I wonder what she would say about what I’ve done to myself. The weight gain, the stretch marks, the lines on my face increasingly coming into focus like one of those Magic Eye images from the 90s.
I know I’d be more beautiful if I wasn’t a mom.
Children, when they come, no matter how they come, they come for your body.
But they don’t come empty handed.
It’s been two months since I saw myself in the mirror. I’ve lost 17 pounds. I am happy about it. I hear some people don’t own scales and don’t believe in numbers or anything like that. But I do (am guilty of?) all of the aforementioned and let me tell you, that 17 pounds makes me really happy.
And how about that stretch mark oil—wow! That stuff has earned its keep around here. The red marks ripping down my belly look more sorry I bothered you, less En garde!
My thighs still touch and my belly button is utterly torpedoed but my old pants fit and if you ask me I think I could pass for my old self. Not the pre-kid me. No, no, no. She’s gone. That ship has sunk. I mean the pre-last-baby me. I think I look pretty close to that.
The ghost of April Future returns to say, “Don’t get attached.”
I plan to have another baby. Maybe even another two or three. I just turned 33. Maybe six. (Probably not six.)
My body, the yacht I built for admiration at the harbor, has become a cargo hauler, or an aircraft carrier. It has grown in size and strength which is nice, but also plenty parts of it have kissed their days of pretty goodbye.
This makes me … chuckle. Not loudly. It’s the same automatic response I give when I learn I’ve been pronouncing a word incorrectly. Did you know up until about nine months ago I’d been saying voon-er-a-bowl. Not the proper, vulnerable. Ha! Oh well. People knew what I had in mind. It never upended a conversation. I always felt understood. Voon-er-a-bowl. Lol.
That’s sort of how I feel about this body-by-baby situation.
Still. I own my share of lotions and spays, angled tweezers, both liquid and powder foundation, two very different hair brushes, volumizing shampoo, detoxifiying shampoo, deep conditioning shampoo, 37 lip products (shades ranging from Delovely to Zip), currently braces (moment of silence please). In my pantry you’ll find a stock of protein bars with a low glycemic index, and in the freezer is where I keep the spirulina. It smells like a fisherman’s village from an Elizabeth Strout story, so best just to blend it up into a smoothie and not think too much about it.
It’s not like I no longer care how I look.
It’s that I no longer possess a complicated relationship with my body.
It’s my ship. I like it tidy, cared for, and clean. I like it strong and I don’t mind it beautiful.
But it has a job. To bring future men and women across the great divide. Once there, to carry them up the stairs that are slowly eroding my knees. (Everyone said to buy a ranch-style house.) To stay up late catching their vomit in the big, white plastic bowl we keep by the colander and add to my collection of fine lines. To eat chocolate cake with my husband at 10 p.m. To drink green powder that stinks. To have that third cup of coffee and fix the fort that keeps collapsing in the living room.
These kids are wrecking me. I am letting them.
Sometime between rocking a terrified six-month-old and birthing a large 40 weeker, I retired my definition of a good body.
I no longer measure its goodness—or mine—by the thigh gap in photos present but by the number of chairs needed in photos future.
This ship has no place in a show; I am well aware of that.
Good thing even dented ships can sail.