Woman to Woman
Sometimes, when we’re out enjoying our city, I learn things. All kinds of things. I learned my daughter has a fear of heights by watching her get nervous and fearful every time one of our activities involved heights of any level. I learned my youngest wants to be a daredevil but, when actually presented the chance to do the thing she claims she most wants to do, she hesitates. I’ve learned that flowers, something I barely noticed for way too many years, are actually quite beautiful. Clouds. I’ve become rather fascinated with the history behind many of the constellations and, night after night, I find myself wishing that I could see more of them here in the city. Most of the things I learn serve to bolster my belief in people and joy. Most of what I learn gives me hope. Perhaps that is because, these days, hope and joy are things I expect to find (sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy, if you will).
But today, not so much.
It was all going smoothly until, this afternoon, we decided to go to the Y. We haven’t been there in awhile—the lake has been our water destination of choice lately–but it is a beloved place. And the addition of a second waterslide was supposed to be complete now; the girls were very excited about trying it out. So, full of bounce and smiles, we made the trek. Once we got there, the only thing the girls really wanted to do was slide. So I went with them several times and then decided to do some typical laps while they worked their magic on the slides. I’d done about ten laps when I stopped to find the girls. They were still on the slides. But I was done with laps. I climbed out and went to rejoin the girls at the slide. As I walked around the pool, I could not help but notice the others also there. Deeply tanned women with small swimsuits and sunglasses. Most of them were lying on the chairs, which I only use to keep our stuff together. Some were reading, others had earphones in. Suddenly, me and my falling-apart-body felt awkward and… well… ugly. Now, none of those women did it on purpose. In fact, I think there should really be a public awareness message sent out during primetime that informs women that looking pretty in a swimsuit causes other women to feel…well… ugly. I’m quite sure we could all bond together and come up with a solution…. a magic shield, maybe, that helps prevent us from seeing others who clearly have never been alone for two years (or, really, longer). It’s not that I’m jealous because, frankly, most of me is quite glad I’m “alone.” I have no idea what I would do if I weren’t alone. And just the thought of playing the game of dating makes me indescribably weary and also cynical. So I don’t have any problems seeing pretty women with their husbands or boyfriends. It’s something else…
Just because I’m happy alone, just because I don’t want nor need a relationship in order to thrive, doesn’t mean I wouldn’t still like to be pretty. It’s vain, I know, but, really, I’d wager all women want to be beautiful. Not because of the attention it garners but because it makes you feel good. It’s not that I’m ugly because I’m capable of acknowledging that I don’t think I’m “ugly.” I’m not extra skinny (anymore) but I’m not in danger of being overweight, either. I’ve still got my hair and it’s not gray (yet). I’ve got no obvious deformity and the scars I do have can be hidden or disguised. I’m not the Hunchback. But I’m not Cindy Crawford either and, worse still, I’m not the girls at the pool either. I’m outside almost every day, and I never wear sunscreen. By all accounts, I should be a tomato. But the severity of my anemia issue keeps my skin looking…. if not pale, yellow. My face actually has more color in it right now than it has since I was a child. In fact, several times when I’ve glanced in a mirror, I’ve been taken aback, even wondering, “who is that?” Tanning beds scare me and cause me to dehydrate. So I’m probably never going to be as golden as the women I saw lying out today were. Also, sunglasses freak me out just a little so I don’t wear them and, while I do love hats, I don’t own a “beach hat” like they were wearing. And sometimes the paint on my nails chip and I don’t do anything to fix it for a day or so. I can’t remember ever lying out in the sun listening to music, not once in my whole thirty-two years of being alive. And, frankly, despite days like this month has been, I don’t care enough to ever see myself doing it. I don’t have time. Every sixty seconds that I don’t spend actively participating in play or communication of some sort with my daughters is a full minute lost and I am all too aware that one day my minutes will run out and they will be gone. Being a mother is the one thing I am certain I’m supposed to do.
I guess it knocks the wind out of me sometimes when I think about how being a mother is maybe the only thing I’m good at. Writing doesn’t really count. I guess a part of me, somewhere very deeply buried, wants to believe I have something to offer. I think a part of me is just a little worried that sometimes the smile hides a heart that hasn’t really come out from the trauma of the past three years (and, okay, maybe parts of my childhood as well). But if I say that, what little I may have to offer friends beyond my exceptional (hear skepticism) parenting shrinks. No one, after all, really wants to spend time getting to befriend someone who may or may not be happy-go-lucky. Happiness is attractive. I guess it’s not just that I wish I were pretty. It’s that I wish I had whatever magical ingredient everyone else seems to have; that tablespoon of inner strength, that cupful of confidence. There’s a song by Lady Antebellum and one line in it says, “..that I’m worth the fight.” Am I? I guess that’s the gutsy, real issue I’m struggling with and it’s hard because I don’t… no one ever really has. Being away from me has seemed to produce the most success.
I’ve learned over the years that I cannot allow myself to travel such roads as this. If I do, I get bogged down and I end up withdrawing too far, even from myself. I’m always conscious of the fact that I don’t have the luxury of pain anymore. For awhile, it had become a friend insomuch it reminded me I was alive. It was better to actively hurt than be numbed. But pain is a trap. And if you don’t get out, it shuts the door on everything that has light. And, as a mother, I can’t afford that. So I’ve learned how to feel the stab, identify its source and then pretend it never came at all. If I deny feeling anything but joy long enough, the self-doubt and fear and pain all subside. We’re back to that self-fulfilling prophecy. So, today, I deliberately tuned everything and everyone out. The Royal Family and their new bundle of joy could have been there and I wouldn’t have known because I threw myself back into my normal routine. Back to playing and laughing and catching and consoling. It made me feel more like me again and that made me comfortable again. Maybe, after all, I’m not one of those women. But they don’t have Breathe and Alight. So, really, I’m the lucky one.
Eventually, we tired and went home.
As I prepared supper, Breathe brought me the following letter. It reads:
You are my littlest angel! You make me smile and laugh and smile. You have great games and activities always prepared for us. You make me have 100 percent faith in myself.
I didn’t cry until she was asleep. But that piece of paper has been at my side the rest of the evening. It has stayed within touching distance ever since she gave it to me. No love letter was ever so beautiful. Breathe told me, in essence, not only that she loves me but that she knows I love her. She feels loved. And she believes in herself. She has no idea how deeply touched I was, or am, by her letter. Of course, I hugged her and thanked her. Told her that it really meant a lot to me and that I hoped she would always tell me how she feels. But she doesn’t know that I’ve needed someone to tell me I’m loved and wanted and needed in the worst way lately. But I did. And she dd it. In her nine-year-old mind, and in Alight’s six-year-old one, Mama is the Queen. In their minds, Mama is funny, smart and beautiful. I smile gently as I write that. Mama, I realize, is everything I have ever wished to be.