I’ve only seen my mother wear shorts a handful of times in my life – a pretty courageous feat, considering I grew up in the stifling, humid heat of North Texas. No matter the weather, she preferred the full leg cover of jeans, pants, or a long skirt, ashamed of baring her legs to an unsuspecting world. I was never certain exactly what about her legs made her hide them away so completely, but I remember marveling at the silliness and impracticality of it; if it felt like a furnace outside, I’d wear shorts. The haters could shove it.
But that was easy for me to say, because at that point, I had no real complaints about my body. I was blessed with a mix of genetics that kept me slim and athletic without too much focus or persistence on my part, but also gave me acne, horribly crooked teeth, and microscopic boobs. The acne and teeth were relatively easy fixes, thanks to the miracles of modern medicine, and the boobs never really bothered me. From the age of 12, I loved to run, so I felt relieved to not deal with the mess of doubling up sports bras, or dealing with back pain.
As I entered my twenties, while I certainly wouldn’t label myself a “hottie” – lacking both the social skills and strategy to live up to that image – I never worried all that much about my looks. I felt that I had enough aesthetic currency to get by, get my drinks paid for, and on occasion, reel in a good-looking fella. And, like most of my youthful, vibrant peers, I’d assumed my looks would never change, and my body would always rise to any challenge thrown its way.
When I decided to have children, I gave little thought to the physical demands of the task. I wasn’t overly worried that I’d gain weight – as if that were the only side effect of pregnancy – and beyond that, what was the worst that could happen? What sort of irreparable change could nine months of cooking a baby possibly entail? If I gained weight, or belly fat, I’d work out more. It was simple as that!
The first things to go were my legs. The horrifying spider veins seemed to materialize out of thin air during my second pregnancy. One morning my legs were smooth and even-toned, the next they were splashed with purpley-blue webs of destruction. After that went my flat tummy. Even if I had the time to work out my abs (a concept that I can’t even fathom at this point of motherhood), I now carry a ceaseless paunch that recreates the look of belly bloat 24/7. And that perfectly knotted, “innie” belly button of which I was so proud is now a replica of Mr. Potato Head’s nose, sort of sprawled across my midsection without a tangible anchor point.
On the plus side, my boobs actually got bigger… until I finished breastfeeding, and now they lie exhausted on my chest like two hacky sacks missing their filling. I think I might be the only woman on earth with a negative bra size, who considers piling on weight in her upper arms with the hope that it could be stretched and pulled into a bra.
Don’t get me wrong, my body did “bounce back” from two pregnancies in the sense that I no longer look pregnant. I’m not even sure folks would know I gave birth to two kids, and that almost makes the remaining evidence seem out of place, and more obvious. Sometimes, I dream about tattooing “two kids lived here” on my tummy as an explanation for its permanent poof.
Earlier this month, Nick and I celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary. We’re at a point in our marriage where we no longer buy each other gifts, choosing instead to escape for a date night, and craft a poignant Facebook post proclaiming our undying love to the world (as one does on such occasions). As I searched for photos to include in the obligatory post, I happened upon one from the beginning of our courtship, when everything was new, and our jokes were still funny. Back then, I had time and energy to do things like get my hair done, and wax my bikini area. After all, I still had a public to impress.
I looked through the images, marveling at our youth and beauty. Nick was beardless, often sporting a baseball cap, while my hair was several shades lighter, and actually styled. Our clothes were trendy (and clean!), free of stains and chocolate and juice. Our bodies were tanned and agile, not yet worn and weathered by raising young. Just for kicks, I asked our kids if they knew who these bright smiling youngsters were, and all I got in return were blank stares, and a request for more juice.
Now into my thirties, I finally understand my mom’s hesitation to freely flaunt the reminders of age and childbearing. I, too, feel self-conscious when I’m at a summer concert, or playing at the beach with my kids, wearing small pieces of clothing, surrounded by fitter, smoother, livelier versions of myself. I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t phase me, and I don’t wish every single day that I’d appreciated the vivaciousness of my parts before my children drained each remaining drop.
But I’d never trade these kids for my twenty-something body. I may not be delighted at the evidence my offspring left behind, but I’m incredibly proud of what my body did to get them here. I really did sacrifice my body, in no uncertain terms, in order to become a mother. And after that, more sacrifices: my sleep, my energy, my time, my focus. In fact, nearly every new phase of my kids’ growing up requires a new sacrifice from me, and each leaves its mark on my physical being.
Because you have to really want it. You can’t go in halfway. This Mom game is truly all-or-nothing, forcing me to face up to the things about myself – physically and otherwise – with which I’m not entirely comfortable. That’s both the blessing and the curse of this job. At the end of it, I’m going to be one spent-as-hell mother*cker. But I’m also going to know myself better, and love myself more deeply, right down to my protruding, purple veins.