I have several girlfriends now who have gone in for plastic surgery of some sort.  All of them looked conspicuously better than I do now when they went in to have the ostensible damage rectified.  I’ve tossed the idea of following their lead around in my  head ever since I had Anabel and saw what the housing of her inside my belly did to the skin enveloping the outside of it.  You’d have to look long and hard to find someone with stretch marks to compare to mine.  And it’s not just stretch marks, either.  It’s also the fact that the surface area of my skin is now significantly increased.  When I bend over, I am an accordion.  Nothing is tight about my midriff anymore.  When I run, I have to have good sturdy running pants or shorts to keep me all tucked in and secure or I can actually hurt myself with all the waggling and jaggling.  When I dress in the mornings, I have to carefully steer clear of jeans that have a low-rise, for fear of the infamous muffin top that seems to have multiplied exponentially in this mommy-generation (is it because we’re fatter now than ever before or is it because we’re all desperately trying to squeeze ourselves into our daughter’s jeans?).  I have to shop in obscure stores to find underwear that are neither a skimpy thong of no use to me at all nor the stereotypical grandma underwear that my own mother wears.  I spend exorbitant amounts of money on these hard-to-find body shapers.  I am that strange woman you sometimes catch a glimpse of in the public swimming pool, the one that strikes fear into the hearts of all the adolescent girls who’ve caught sight of her that day in her bathing suit.  I’m not overweight (or not very much, anyway) and yet my pale skin, for lack of any real elasticity, doesn’t fit my body anymore.   My pregnancies have stretched it beyond what any poor skin should be expected to bear.   I try to be discreet while exposing my nearly naked self in places like public swimming pools and yet I can see the quavering fear in the eyes of all the 15-year-old girls, wondering if someday this will be their tummy, too.   I want to reach out to them, comforting them and assuring them otherwise and I would too, if only I weren’t sure it would alarm them further.  I remember when I was their age and I was terrified to think that my own positively hideous body might possibly become more so one day.  I want to tell them not to worry and to be kinder to themselves.  I want to tell them that they’re perfect and strong.  But of course I don’t.  And in the meantime, I make sure I always use the private change rooms, so as not to further panic them, poor, dear, cruel things.

And so I contemplate plastic surgery.  I don’t judge women who’ve resorted to it.  They want to feel their best and they believe that looking their best is a tangible step toward procuring this evasive, idyllic state.  There are some plaguing questions that bother me though.  I see my two little daughters watching me.  Unlike with the girls in the pool, I can reassure Anabel and Lola that it’s very unlikely that their tummies will ever look like mine.  I elaborate at some length about the perfect skins of their grandmothers and of their aunties and assure them confidently that undoubtedly their genes, too, will be so inclined.  They ask me all about mine.  They love the butterfly-wing softness of my belly and love to touch it.  When they were little, they would press their tiny faces into it, rubbing their cheeks back and forth on its velvety surface.  The excess skin untouched by sun made for the very most satisfying zerberts.  I think I’d be more inclined toward the nip and tuck were it not for the fact that I have my daughters.  They don’t miss a thing and I don’t know what I’d tell them, in explanation.  The message they would hear would be a fight upstream from what I’ve always told them about loving themselves, cherishing themselves, accepting themselves and being kind and gracious to themselves.  I think - for the time being at least - of my battle-scarred stomach as a testimony of the rigors of a life well lived.  It’s imperfections remind me of the poignant sadness of losing two unborn children before I had the chance to hold them in my arms, before imprinting the sweet-smellingness of their newborn necks on to my brain.  My sagging stomach and the stretch marks meandering their way across it like dewy spider webs in the early morning trace the intimate history of the four perfect, healthy children that I helped usher into the world, of the attendant joys of raising them into beautiful people. It reminds me that I’ll always be imperfect and that for now, I’d rather work on perfecting my insides a little more.  I’m inclined, just now, to be kind to me and to be gentle.  I always find that there are harsh critics with exacting standards in abundance out there in the world and so right now, for the time being at least, I’m going to choose to just touch that sagging old stomach and appreciate all it has done for me and for mine and leave it alone in peace.





 
 
I hit 38 this month.  I'm finding that the latter half of the thirties mark the beginning of the time where you really don't care all that much what people think of you anymore.  JoyBoy calls it the inexorable march towards one's own grave.  But he's cheerful that way when it comes to the aging process. 

The other night, I was the ultimate geek and threw myself a "world's colliding" birthday party.  JoyBoy was out of town and I thought that rather than sit at home, feeling sorry for myself like a giant suckie baby, I'd take matters into my own hands and invite over the most beautiful women I know.  Though it was short notice, I was thrilled to find that almost twenty of them were able to make it.  Just look at some of my riches!

I tried to make a point of walking each of them to the door as it came to be their turn to leave and in doing so, was struck by how many of them commented on how lovely the rest of my friends were.  It was a tangible reminder to me of the caliber of woman congregating in my life.  I had to give my head a non-literal shake or two over the course of the evening, they were all so fab.  This has been my favorite birthday ever.  It seems that with each passing year, God gives me more and more beautiful people to surround myself with.  How did I get to be so lucky?
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love, love, love!
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you have to have a good self esteem to be around blondes of this caliber!
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the queens of king
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the queen of norway and friends
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this was the noisy crowd!
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my beautiful s-i-l who is really just a dear, dear friend
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see the tiny silver spider?
 
 
I think often (obsessively might more accurately describe the true state of things) of what my life will look like next year.  The last of my children will enter those anything-but-hallowed halls of full time school and my heart feels like it may break.  Just to enter into the melodrama a little more fully for a moment, I feel like my whole raison d'etre for the past thirteen years is coming to a close.  A close that, from this vantage point, appears to be awfully abrupt and final.  I know.  I know.  My school-aged kids still need a loving and involved mother, but the reality is that I'll have six full hours a day to fill with activities other than those that have engaged me so happily for the past thirteen years. 

I have, to my initial surprise, loved being a stay-at-home mother.  Though I expected to continue working outside the home during these pre-school years of parenthood, a couple of unexpected and upsetting daycare situations ended that pipe dream.  Lucky for me.  I've discovered that I love trimming little child-sized fingernails.  Scrubbing their soapy, shampoo-y heads while they languish in the bath with their GI Joes and their ponies feels like therapy.  I've found that making healthy, home-made baby food really does it for me.  I've realized that taking kids for walks to the park equals fun.  I love chatting with tiny people, meandering our way through conversation, peppered with the cutest mispronunciations I've ever heard.  I love reading to these perfectly round and warm small Ones, as we snuggle up in bed together, their hot, perfect breath warming my very insides.  I've felt very happy, very fulfilled over the course of these last thirteen years.  My work has felt very meaningful.

As I imagine the upcoming year, and the countless others stretching out surreally beyond  it, it scares me to think that it may be full of things like a perfectly clean home with empty rooms overtaking everything for much of the time.  No one will pee the bed any longer, needing me to swoop in to the rescue, comforting and cleaning as I go.  Who will leave chaotic, comforting paths of K'Nex and Lego as they go along their merry way?  I foresee the beginning of the end of the thousands of pieces of child art that have decorated my life for so long.  Who will I teach to read?  Who will forget to flush the toilet?  Or leave a hundred toothpaste-spattered sinks in their wake?  It will be so clean in here that the sheer emptiness of it will underline my sucky-baby grief.  For to acknowledge that I am indeed a Suck is probably only fair.  And yet, when you're a Suck, caught inside the skin of a Suck, what does one do?

I know I'll get over it in time.  I have dear women in my life who have walked this path and lived to tell about it.  They say the hurting dulls after a while, that you stop wondering all the day long what your Littles are doing at that very second.  Whether or not someone is treating them unkindly just then.  Whether or not they're trading the apples and nectarines in their lunches for a junky Dunkaroo or a Pop Tart.  Whether or not they're using their classtime well.  Or if they're talking the whole way through the way that both their Mother and their Father did.  These are the questions that I suspect will haunt me.
 
 
I'm 37 now and I've loved the process of getting here far more than I ever thought I might.  I love the relinquishment of a following of society's standards that I didn't have a voice in creating to begin with.  I love the fact that I'm no longer in the 'hottie contest'  and that in this singular disregarding, I can truly be myself.  There's no longer all-consuming pressure to conform to stringent physical standards.  The only Beauty choice I feel buttressed up against is the question of 'should I pursue greater physical health or not.'  My four little Watchers provide me my immediate answer, but otherwise, I'm free to chase the wind and be the best Me I can be.  I find that that usually entails serving others and trying to best love them in a way that feels meaningful to them.  Now when I go for runs, no car full of desperate eighteen-year-olds hoot out the window.  Nor do they holler.  They simply leave me in the peace of my small bubble of contentment that doesn't find me preoccupied with wondering how my bum looks in these running pants.