When I was a little girl, my mother, who at the time, I thought was the most unfair, vindictive, Amish mother in the world, made me wear very modest swimsuits. You know the ones. Not just one-piece, but one piece with a skirt. A skirt! Oh, the injustice! Oh, the stifling of my personal expression! While my tiny little friends sashayed around the beach and pool in their adorable bikinis, I was billowing around in my layers of body-covering rayon, so very aware of my too-tall frame among such petite lovelies.
Oh, mom. I am so sorry. Sorry for saving up my money and secretly purchasing those hideously neon bikinis from the clearance rack. Sorry for shoving them deep down in the recesses of my sock drawer, or once you caught on to that, between my fitted sheet and the mattress pad (the only hiding place for anything I might have slipped past you). I am sorry for leaving the house in my rayon swim-burka, only to hastily change into a bikini when I got to the pool. I totally, 100% get it now.
Do I think there is anything inherently wrong with wearing a (respectably cut) bikini? No. It’s a hot topic among Christian women, and I see both sides of the debate, but no. I do not. In fact, throughout my college years, I competed in the Miss America pageant system wearing a modestly cut, body-flattering bikini and was completely at ease doing it. The whole point of the swimsuit competition (the original point, y’all. Not the media-sensationalized point) is fitness. It’s called the “Physical Fitness in Swimsuit” competition. It’s designed to show that a young woman competing for the title of Miss Indiana/Miss America/Miss Whatever is the whole package. The brains to rock an interview chock full of current events, the talent to captivate the audience with a well-done performance, and also the desire and ability to be physically fit and invested in her health. Finding time to go to the gym and eat healthy is not easy, right?
Bikinis weren’t required in the swimsuit competition. I could have worn a one-piece. Truthfully, I wore a bikini simply because my abs were sick, you guys. Two babies later, I can say that without any ego, because my abs are no longer sick (in that sense, anyway). I look at those photos from the glory days of my mid-section, and it’s like looking at a younger, hotter long-lost cousin. I have mixed feelings of admiration and hate for the girl in that picture. I totally underappreciated the tummy of my youth–my goose that laid the golden egg of scholarship money.
RIP, old friend.
Oh, stop. I can hear you gasping in horror.
Anyway, back to life now. So my daughter, a fashionista at the tender age of 6, desperately wants me to let her wear a bikini, and I will not do it. I will not. We’re at the stage where she won’t wear the tutu one-pieces anymore, so I have acquiesced to the tankini. It covers everything a one piece covers but comes in two pieces. Easier to pee. What’s not to love?
My little girl, however, still so young by the measurement of years, but so mature in appearance and intellect, thinks I’m terribly unjust for refusing to let her wear anything less covering than her tankinis.
“Why can’t I wear a bikini? They even make them for two-year-olds, Mommy.”
“I know, but I wouldn’t let my two-year-old wear one either.”
“You wear one sometimes.”
“I know, but I’m a grownup. I don’t want creepy people looking at your body.”
“Do you want creepy people looking at your body?”
Well…shoot. Swift shut down from a 2nd grader.
My sweet little girl is growing up so fast. Her physical development is one step ahead of her emotional development. I experienced the same tug-of-war at her age. Navigating a body that changes so quickly, you hardly recognize it day to day, while your brain bounces between wanting to watch cartoons and wanting to catch up to your body. I remember knowing I wanted to wear a bikini and makeup and high heels and perfume, but not knowing why I wanted to. It’s an odd instinctual pull, the desire to embrace the idea of womanhood while you’re still only a child. I grieve a bit for the little-girl-me and the fight she had to navigate those strange emotions. People look at you differently and make comments about you that seem vaguely uncomfortable to your young brain, but you’re not exactly sure where the discomfort lies or why.
Yes, knowing Jesus helps–but at that age, there’s something a little weird about being like “Hey, Lord? Why are my hips wider than all my friends’? Also, I held hands with a boy while I was roller skating, and I didn’t hate it. What’s going on? Boys are gross, Lord. You made them. You know this. What’s happening to me?” We are free to come to Him with anything and He deeply cares about all of it, but still– I can’t help but imagine Him fielding some of my more angsty prayers back then with His hands over His ears going “Lalalalalalala! I can’t heeeeeeear yoooooou!”
I am holding on to my daughter’s innocence with white knuckles. I am not going to let go. I will protect her for as long as I can from the sideways glances, the comments that are callously made within her earshot, and most of all from a society that wants her to desire bikinis and boyfriends long before her tender heart is equipped for any of it. In hindsight, I am grateful for the struggles I had as an “early bloomer” and the perspective it gives me on how to pray for and talk to my precious daughter. I can still feel the same awkwardness of growing up as if 1987 were just yesterday.
We’ve got this, my sweet girl.
I stand by my statement that bikinis don’t ooze sinfulness just because the hem of the top piece doesn’t meet the hem of the bottom piece. I will stand just as firmly, however on the fact that my tall, curvy, lovely daughter doesn’t need the masses at the pool to be privy to this vulnerable time of growing up while she’s trying to figure it all out. That’s just where we are.
She might be six, going on 16, but she’s my baby. Please treat her as such, World, or I will cut you.
Suffice it to say, my collection of bikinis has since been boxed up. Tankinis, here I come. I draw the line at anything with a skirt, though.
A girl has her limits.
I saw my GI doctor yesterday for my regular visit to check up on the fiasco that is my insides. We celebrated the fact that I haven’t had an extended hospital stay in just over two years. We lamented the fact that I still have SOD and IBS and GERD—pretty much all the letters.
As he poked around on my furious innards, he asked what I’ve been up to. I told him we just finished the longest and shortest summer EVER, and I’m getting ready to start my busy travel season for work.
“Remind me how many kids do you have?”
“Five, between my husband and me.”
“FIVE? And you work full time? And you travel? My dear, you don’t just have irritable bowel syndrome. You have irritable LIFE syndrome.”
We proceeded to talk about how your brain and your digestive system are tightly connected (please refrain from any head vs. rear end jokes, thank you very much). You can lie to your brain sometimes, but you can’t lie to your gut. The gut knows. The gut sees. The gut reacts…like a boss.
As usual, he implored me to take a vacation, reduce my work hours, create something called “free time” for this thing called “more sleep.” So many magical unicorns. I only rolled my eyes twice. Maybe three times.
I left the office with a shiny new drug to placate my angry insides. It’s a pill roughly the size of a ping-pong ball, and it tastes like dryer lint and old potatoes. I have high hopes.
Irritable Life Syndrome. I don’t feel like that’s the case, but my GI bills say otherwise. How can it be that when my brain’s glass is half-empty, and my tummy’s glass is fizzing with Alka-Seltzer, my heart is full to the brim? Because God nourishes my heart with the peace that passes all understanding. The peace that keeps you from completely losing your junk when you find the bathtub full of chocolate milk. The peace that stubbornly replaces your resentment with compassion when life isn’t “fair.” Stoically bridging the gap between my southern and northern hemispheres, my heart makes peace with what should be an “irritable life” to the casual observer–one desperate prayer at a time.
Admittedly, sometimes my brain tackles my heart like a 300-pound freshman linebacker who just got put in the championship game. Sometimes there’s no stopping it, and my heart gets clobbered.
More often than not, my heart is there to gently pat my frazzled, pulsating brain and say “there, there” when it threatens to revolt. Heart can talk Brain down from the ledge 9 times out of 10. It runs interference between my pragmatic gut and my idealistic thoughts of how things should “really be.” It reminds me that my life is GOOD. On my worst day, my life is so good.
Heart gently nudges me to look when my kids are playing some imaginative, albeit horribly messy game. It softly shushes Brain when it starts to calculate how long it will take to clean up after whatever creative display of childhood has just taken place.
On the occasions when Brain sneaks an angry outburst past it, Heart marches me in to meekly apologize to my children. It reminds Brain that they will only be little for such a short time.
I don’t have Irritable Life Syndrome. I have everything I’ve ever wanted. It doesn’t always look exactly the way I thought it would, but as long as I continually ask God to keep my heart soft and full, my brain will be just fine.
Now, Gut…that guy’s always going to be a jerk, but I’d rather have Heart than all the Guts in the world anyway.
God, please make my heart soft for You and for my beautiful, crazy life.
You may remember that we decided to move about eight months ago. Eight months later, here I am, sitting in my same living room in my same house, looking out at my same backyard. To quote the infamous Arnie Grape in one of my favorite movies: “We’re not going anywhere!” All that mental anguish over leaving the home where I’ve raised my babies since infancy for nothin’.
We jumped with both feet into the seventh circle of you-know-what that is making a home “show ready.” And show, we did. We packed up five kids, two dogs and laundry basket after laundry basket of crud and killed hour after hour while strangers paraded through our home. We were repaid with mostly useless, mildly entertaining feedback. My personal favorite was the couple who wants one more bedroom than our house has. Um…yes. So do we, actually.
I took comfort in each comment of “you have FIVE kids? Your house is immaculate!” Oh, friends, I took each of those comments and tucked them in my pocket to pull out on days that it looks like a giant reached down and briskly shook our house like a big, brick snow globe.
God, give me the strength to accept the number of bedrooms I cannot change, the courage to change the flooring I can, and the wisdom to say “are you KIDDING ME? NO.” to the tire kickers. Amen.
So. Here we are. I am about 50/50 on relief that we don’t have to move and terror that seven of us still live in this clown car of homes. Oh, and because I am full of good ideas, I decided that what we really, really need right now is a kitten. Because: masochist.
In all sincerity, he is the sweetest, most adorable little ball of delightfulness in all of feline Christendom. He’s just perfect, and we love him. So, no regrets. Just dubious timing.
Jump in the clown car, Mufasa. We create space here where space does not exist.
As we move our ten pounds of stuff from our storage unit back into our proverbial two-pound bag, I have become creative about how to re-re-combine our two households into one. If you’re newly married or just delaying your household merge, maybe these hard-learned lessons can save you a few hours of rocking back and forth in the fetal position.
1) If you haven’t used it in a year, RUTHLESSLY PURGE IT. Seriously—box it up for Goodwill or sell it. In 365 days, you’ve marched through all four seasons, my friend. You’re not going to use it. Don’t you lie to yourself. You know it, and I know it. Purge.
2) Don’t completely eradicate your children’s memories of their pre-blended life. Be sensitive to the fact that things that may bring back sticky memories for you might hold dear memories for your children. In the same vein, don’t be afraid to hang on to a few pictures of you and your ex and your kids together. Don’t put them out on the mantle, for crying out loud, but in most cases, your kids will someday appreciate the gift that is permitting them to keep the memories they choose to keep–not just ones you choose for them.
3) Can’t decide between “mine” and “yours”? Sell ‘em both and get “ours.” Is your 4-slice toaster really that much better than his? Does it matter that his knife block has a filet knife, and yours doesn’t? Does it? If you’re at an impasse, then sell both and get something you can agree on. The trick is agreeing. If you are incompatible shoppers (you know who you are), then please ignore this advice. For the good of salespeople everywhere—please. I’ll just be over here enjoying my new 72-speed mixer, while you guys fight it out over whose whisk is better…
4) Foster philanthropy in your greedy little children. If your precious womb-fruits are anything like mine, they are hoarders. Hoard-ers. I can’t throw away so much as a rotten banana without my children bemoaning some far-out sentimental reason we have to keep it. My strategy? Guilt. Guilt those little packrats. Remind them that there are people in the world who have NOTHING. Let them take some of their own things to a shelter or Goodwill and then really make a BIG deal about how someone less fortunate will be forever changed by the gift of their soccer cleats from three seasons ago. Soon, they’ll genuinely catch the generosity bug and give more freely and practically. It’s a slow process, but it works.
5) Purging. Never. Stops. Any chance you get, clean out your junk drawer. Attack your attic. Gut your garage. You’re never done, y’all. It’ll creep back up on you before you know it. Don’t let your “stuff” rule you.
5.5) Pray for my husband, will you? Bless his sentimental, hanging-onto-things heart. He married a ruthless purger. Thankfully, we love each other so much, that I will happily overlook his box of antique cell phones if he lets me throw away 30 or 70 pairs of his old flip flops. I may or may not have a 50 pound box of memorabilia from my pageant days, and he has not so much as uttered a word about it. Offer grace to your family and accept it back from them.
Good luck creating your own space where there is no space. It’s not futile if you are patient with your family and relentless in your pursuit of order in your chaos.
“All things should be done decently and in order.”—I Corinthians 14:40
My kiddos left yesterday for a 10 day adventure in Seattle with their dad and his family. They’ve been gone 24 hours and 6 minutes…not that I’m counting. I’m glad that they get to go visit their family and create memories with their cousins. We’ve never been apart for longer than a week, though, and try as I might, I can’t stop feeling a little melancholy at the prospect of being 2,200 miles away from them. To top it off, my stepsons went home today after their last summer week with us. I had a wistful little moment about that, too.
The summer evaporated, like water on a hot griddle–one sizzling, noisy moment at a time. It happened so slowly and all at once.
I feel a little lost.
I’m not one of those people who is looking forward to an empty nest. Ask me again when they’re teenagers, but right now, I adore being Mommy. All too soon I’ll just be “Mom,” and one more inevitable door will shut on their sweet innocence. I want to scoop up the moments I have with them and hide them somewhere that time can’t find them. Every time I snuggle my daughter until her eyelids overpower her will to stay awake and talk to me. Every time my son gives me a knowing smile about an inside joke that couldn’t possibly amuse anyone but us, but that makes him smile so much that even his recluse dimple shows. The way my stepsons crave the hugs of my husband, sinking comfortably into him when he picks them up as if they are feather-light. I tuck those moments away, with determination that I will remember every last detail, long after our children have grown up and left our home.
So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. –Psalm 90:12
I might be a little lost, but I’ve also found some things.
I may not want an empty nest, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to miss my children. I wrote about the Blessing of Being Alone, and how precious it is to reunite with your family after you’ve been away from them. On the opposite side of that coin is the opportunity to reconnect with your spouse when your kids are away. If you are in a blended family, and you’ve managed to work out the improbable voodoo of coordinating childless weekends, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. I’m not implying that there is a silver lining to being divorced. No–I picture the lining coated with that goo you find on the sidewalk when you walk down Bourbon Street at 7 am on a Sunday morning. You aren’t quite sure what it is, but you sure wouldn’t walk around in it in flip-flops. That being said, if there was a silver lining, this would be it. The time I have just to be alone with my husband is pure magic. Sitting in a clean house (hallelujah!), eating food our kids wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole, laughing at our own inside jokes—it is a balm for the soul. When our nest is empty, we are only going to have each other. Thank goodness we like each other AND love each other.
On a more practical level, I’ve also found time to go to the gym for as long as I want. I did two sets when I lifted weights tonight. TWO WHOLE SETS! As if uninterrupted gym time wasn’t enough, we’re going to catch a baseball game with friends and have dinner with another set of friends. We’re actually going to remember what it’s like to be social–with real, live grownups, you guys.
*Note to self: do not refer to the restroom as the “potty” and PLEASE don’t ask grownup friends if they have to use it every time you walk past one. Also, please DO NOT refer to yourself in the third person as “Mommy.” Please, Lori. Don’t.*
Blended family or not, I hope you can find what is so easily lost in the hustle of parenthood.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, Mommy needs to take the dogs to go potty.
Last week, we finally had a beautiful, sunny day and our three youngest kids took full advantage of it. I lubed them up with sunblock, pulled swim shirts over their protesting heads, and positioned them where I could still take conference calls, but make sure no one was setting a fire or playing with homemade lawn jarts.
That day, they built tiny boats out of tree bark and rescued imaginary Smurf villages from imaginary floodwaters. They birdwatched, jumped on the trampoline and had a wonderful day. As much as I was trying to just hold it together with a full day of work, making lunches, cleaning up after the “creativity” and managing the day-to-day, I was consciously touched by how much fun they have together. Periodically throughout the day, I’d do a quick skin scan when someone would ask me for something to make sure they weren’t getting eaten by mosquitoes or sunburned.
Fast forward to the next morning, when my stepson asked me to put some lotion on his back because he thought he had a sunburn. I helped him get his pajama shirt off, and HOLY MOLY. There it was. A big, juicy blister the size of a quarter, on top of two little epaulettes of tiny sunburn blisters—one on each shoulder. After nearly passing out, I discovered that in the process of switching from dry clothes to swim clothes and back, he “took his swim shirt off for a little bit.” Umm…how long of a little bit? I tried to recall every time I looked at him the day before. Was he wearing the shirt?!? WAS HE?!?!? His two compadres (my biological children, to make matters worse–amiright, stepmoms?) were fine. No burns, no bites, no problem. How did this happen? Well…he didn’t bother me during the day, frankly. That’s how. He wasn’t the squeaky wheel, asking for twenty different things at once.
My red-headed stepchild (he really does have red hair) is the one who got burned, because he wasn’t actively vying for my attention and I falsely assumed what was working fine for the other two was working fine for him. I am heartbroken that anything happened to hurt him while he was in my care. I vastly underestimated the delicacy of Ginger skin.
I don’t consider myself to be a “helicopter parent.” More of a stealth “drone” parent. I’m watching, but I don’t want them to know I’m watching. Oh, but BlisterGate…it caught me completely unaware.
What did I learn?
They all need to be watched differently, because they all have different needs.
In this case, the need was for swim shirt mandates and extra sunblock, but it made me think about other, intangible things I may overlook that I’m not providing as a stepmom. I’m just too new at this to know what they are or how to offer them yet. I’m adept at providing what my bio kids need because I know them about as well as I know myself.
I give waaaaaaay more space to my stepsons than my biological kids out of a desire to respect their comfort level with the whole stepmom situation. As a result, I’m struggling to figure out how to show and tell each of them how much I love them as they are simultaneously being told the opposite. I wish they could see my heart, just for a second. *sigh*
Aside from giving my little fair-skinned stepson a full body SPF 50 dip every hour the next time he is with us, I will be on high alert with all five kids for ways that they need to be watched (and loved) differently. My husband, a veteran stepson for quite a few years now, assures me that it just takes time, but love will make its own case eventually.
I have time and I have SPF. Bring it on.
I urge you to live a life worthy of your calling. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.–Ephesians 4:1-2