Lessons from a waterpark and a big pretzel.

Our 2 oldest kids survived 2nd and 4th grades, and the 4 year old did not produce early retirement of his teacher, so we surprised them all with a trip to Wisconsin Dells and a stay at a water park resort to close out the school year.  I have heard of "The Dells" for years, but had never been there; my Hubby had not been there in about 30 years.  What he remembered of the area was a water ski show (which was still amazing), the Yogi Bear campground, and the famous "Duck Boats" which the kids loved as much as he had.  What was very different was the abundance of massive waterparks and crappy tee-shirt shops that now inundated the area.

We stayed at a resort that had 4 different waterparks within its' property.  About 24 hours before we left for the park, I had this terrifying realization of "Oh crap. We are going on vacation where I need to be in a swimsuit!!!" This had not yet really occurred to me, though we had booked the reservation a while ago.

On your given day, I am a pretty confident, not immensely self conscious, take-me-as-I-am woman.  Drop me in a water park with a gazillion sub-30 year olds, and it's a different story.  My normal "I am strong and powerful" voice gives way to "Look at her belly compared to yours." and "Wow if I had her body, I would rock a bikini, not cover it up in a 'Mom' suit."  I found myself measuring myself against moms with the same number of kids as I, around same age as I, with more kids than me, repeatedly feeling so inadequate and dejected.  The internal dialogue was incessant and after the second day, I began to wonder, "What. The. Hell??"

When does this start? When does this constant comparison and self-judgement start? Because I know if I could read the thought bubble above my husband's head, it would say NOTHING about the other Dad's bodies.. It would read more like "Do I have the lime-a-coloda or the blue raspberry tornado-rita this time?" I know my children, and daughter, specifically, cared NOTHING about what peoples' shapes were.  There were concerned with things like another tube ride, schmoozing their way to get a big pretzel, trying to get their Dad on the "Tornado" slide and when the wolf howl would again summon the giant waves in the wave pool. 

So I pondered for a few days, the when, but more so, the WHY does this happen to the majority of women? Why could I not just sit there and feel "enough" because I had the courage and stamina to go down the "Tornado" with my son, which left my stomach in my throat for the majority of the ride. Why could I not just see this experience through their eyes; their parents were playing WITH them, screaming in delightful terror with them.  They gave not a second thought to their Mom's shape in a one piece swimming suit.  Why?  Why does it matter?  When they look back at this vacation will they think, "Our mom was squishy and un-toned?"  I don't know. But I don't think so. But why do those things just itch at my brain saying "You've let yourself go.  Gross."  Why am I still judging my worth, strength, dedication and/or value as a woman by my body's shape and it's ability to look alluring in 2 or less yards of lycra material?

I was so frustrated with myself, because I knew it did not matter. Logically, my brain told me this.  Logically I knew that it's called a body shape, because that is what it is: a shape.  Logically I knew my body is stronger now than in my 20's, but then that little bitchy voice says "Yeah, and fatter."  Logically I knew my body... my BODY grew three human beings inside of it.  Three. And then healed after having 3 babies surgically removed from it... the first one being evicted quite traumatically.  Logically I knew all of these things, but why did that knowledge fall short and, in the middle of a water park, matter so much less than the poochy tummy I grew over the winter?

I'm sure I can blame the big elusive evil empire referred to as "The Media" but it has to be more than that.  If I could be swayed by The Media that easily, I would believe that being born a Kardashian gave one innate talent.  And besides, I am not 23, spending my entire existence "plugged in."  In fact, when I think of my teens and 20's I gave significantly less thought to my body image than I have in the last 10 years.  Do I blame the Mommy Myth, that is we are to be/have/do it all, perfectly like the celebrities? But that is too easy and it is just a right arm of The Media.  So where... and why... do these thoughts plague me?  I am not even sure I know the answer, which is irritating because that would make blaming so much easier.

So I am left just pondering, does it matter I am squishier than a year ago?  Well, it does, to a point.  I am not comfortable.  My clothes don't fit right, and I like my clothes and don't want to buy different clothes.  My energy level is down and my irritation level is up.  

And then, a few days after returning from our vacation, in the middle of my daughter's birthday party, my 4 year old points to my squishy belly pooch and announced clearly  (to God and everyone) "Mom, there's another baby in your tummy!"

And that was the moment. 

I could identify with Olaf's body image struggle.

I knew then I had to steer myself back towards a healthier lifestyle.  What has become clear over the last early mornings of walking, and I hate mornings, is that I wasn't really jealous of those other women.  I was seeing in them what I was missing from my better self: strength, confidence, and a certain consciousness of my health.  It wasn't about the better fitting suite and pert breasts (ok, maybe I still wish I had pre-baby boobs)... it was regaining control over my body, and how I care for it, nourish it, strengthen it.  To stop treating it like a beat-up garbage can, and making excuses.

While sitting at that resort, I now realize my feelings of frustration were not from a thought of "Why can't I have that body" but from "Why did you let it all go?"  I was frustrated, angry even, for becoming so complacent and lazy.  So in the end, I guess the "Why" and "Where" of the body image comparisons, at this point in my life,  came from myself.  It came from the voice that reminded me this is not my best version of me.  I was not feeling dejected because I didn't look like a cover model, I was feeling frustrated because I looked like a sadder, lazier, excusier Me.  And I didn't like her.  And I know I am better than her.  And my kids, more than anyone, deserve her as a role model, not the other gal.

So I am setting out to find her again.  Mostly along a country road at 6am.  She may show up wearing pointe shoes instead of running shoes, but she is out there.  And I'm kind of excited to see her again.