It’s a blazing hot day. It’s blindingly sunny and 86°F to be exact. I load my youngest two children and all of our stuff (so. much. stuff.) in the minivan and head across town to the splash pad.
My son is giddy with excitement, hopping in place on the sidewalk while I get his baby sister, beach towels, water bottles, and snacks all loaded into the stroller before heading over to the mecca of children’s fun.
There are kids everywhere, weaving in and out of water features, squealing with delight. We sit down under a shaded tent and remove our shoes and long t-shirts to venture out into the water and join the chaos. My son sprints off to make new friends as I help my 7-month-old straddle a bubbling fountain. I sit beside her, stretching my legs in front of me.
I then realize something; I’m the only parent enjoying the water with my kids.
The other adults, mostly women, are standing around the parameter of the splash pad, squinting from the intense sunlight and sweating through their everyday clothing. And I wonder … why? Why not be in the cool water instead of melting under the intensity of the blazing sun?
I’m not only the only adult in the water, but I am the only one in a swimsuit. And before you think I have a model’s body or am rocking a swimsuit to garner admirable stares, allow me to explain.
I’ve got the trifecta of cellulite, purple veins, and stretch marks on my thighs. I wear a size large swimsuit bottom — my booty having gone from nonexistent to curvaceous after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and putting on 40 pounds.
And my stomach? Every day, all day, I wear two medical devices that are inserted into my abdomen: an insulin pump and a continuous glucose monitor. The skin around my lower back, stomach, butt, and fingertips is ridden with small bruises and scabs, all from the needles and cannulas that puncture me, and keep me alive.
There was a time I was self-conscious about these things. I felt like I resembled a robot with tubing and beeps and metal and little flashy lights. These things are conspicuous, garnering many second-glances and even outright gaping stares. I felt people’s eyes bearing into me, wondering what was wrong. I surmised that I was a freak. I felt awkward, ugly, and unworthy.
But today, with time (11 years to be exact), and building confidence, I’m no longer a sidelines kind of girl.
My thighs aren’t pretty, but they are strong. For almost nine years, I’ve squatted up and down, picking up my babies out of highchairs, cribs, and off floors.
My stomach doesn’t offer visible abs, but instead, scars of past puncture wounds. But wow, has my stomach held up to the thousands of needle pricks.
My lower back has love handles that emerged after a near-death experience when my disease was almost missed. Those love handles are a reminder of survival and redemption and a second chance at life.
And the two-piece swimsuit? My insulin pump has a clip. A two-piece is more conducive to keeping it in place without my tubing getting tangled or caught. And come on, ladies, wearing a two-piece makes those bathroom runs so much easier.
Now, I’m not going to assume that every mom on the sidelines is avoiding the swimsuit walk of shame. Some may be happily Instagramming while their children occupy themselves for a few minutes. But I know that some of them, and some of you, stand by and watch because you have negative thoughts about yourself.
Maybe you think your breasts are too saggy after years of nursing babies. Maybe you don’t like the loose skin on your stomach from pregnancies. Maybe you hold fierce disdain for the untoned parts of your arms, or the way your knees tend to hide. Maybe that scar from a past surgery is causing you to hold back. Or is it the tattoo you got in college that you don’t want anyone to see?
What self-inflicted shame are you harboring? We all have it. But it’s what we do with it that counts.
What I want you to know is that you will never be perfect. You will never be completely happy with your physical appearance. Change is inevitable and the past is irrevocable. In my case, my vanity was stolen from me by a disease I did not choose. But you know what I can choose? What I do today.
So here’s what I choose: I choose to splash. I choose to laugh. I choose to take dozens of close-up pictures of my little girl enjoying her first summer. I choose to smile at the toddlers who waddle up to us and want to share in our joy. I choose to relish in the moment of sunshine and brisk water.
I know what it’s like to almost lose it all and I plan to relish in the opportunity to enjoy my second chance.