Today was a pool day. I was on my own with the kids giving Tom a chance to get other projects done. Fortunately, I have the help of the most amazing 12-year-old on the planet, Bella. (Think I exaggerate? This kid watches my kids like a hawk, cooks, cleans, and actively looks for ways to help me. Jackpot!) It’s great to have Bella around because I can’t do a lot of things on my own yet. I’m still too tired to move too far or too fast. This makes Bella and her pre-teen energy exactly the kind help I need when I’m hoofing it alone with my 2 and 5-year-olds.
We met up with the Clarks (3 kids and their Mom, Beth) at the pool and got there early before it got too crowded. Beth and I have been close close friends since we met in the first weeks of law school. In my memory, it was a lot like that scene in Step Brothers when, after a series of ridiculous questions, they both realize how similar they are. Will Ferrell enthusiastically asks John C. Reilly, “Did we just become best friends?” “Yup!” Reilly disbelievingly but excitingly yells back at Ferrell. So it was like that. Except that it was law school and we were both so stressed that we bonded over studying and anxiety and our freshly minted marriages instead of doing karate in the garage. But still, my oldest daughter is named after Beth because I have so much damn respect and admiration for that lady. She’s something else, I’ll tell you.
Beth is also kind of a badass. She’s a super smart, gorgeous, endurance athlete, former Army Staff Sergeant, lawyer, momma. She’s the kind of woman you’d absolutely be jealous of if she weren’t so kind and humble. So when I looked to her for some honest advice at the pool, it wasn’t without a little trepidation on my end. Even though I love her, I was nervous. But I asked anyway, knowing that I’ve lost my bearings a bit in these last few weeks of chemo and recovery and that I could trust her to set me straight.
“Answer me honestly.” I said. “Do I need to cover my head with this swimsuit on?” I felt a lump rise in my throat and a burning in my cheeks. I was embarrassed of how I looked. I was about to get in the pool to play with my kids and I was all too aware of how cancer and treatment have changed my appearance. I’ve gained weight from steriods and chemo. I’ve lost muscle tone. I have still have major skin discoloration on my legs and arms. I’m bald. I was trying to ask if the whole thing was too much, if I should tone something down so I wouldn’t be such a sight. For some reason the thought of protecting my kids came to mind. Don’t be such a stand out that people stare and your kids notice, I thought. Try to blend in a little.
Beth looked at me incredulously. “You’re bald, rock it.” She confirmed without hesitation.
Okay. I sucked in a breath. I can do that.
One thing I was not willing to compromise was my opportunity to spend time with my girls. Our moments together are somewhat fleeting as we race toward surgery and all that the recovery will take from us. After surgery, will be apart for extended periods of time. I will miss Elle’s first day of kindergarten. There will be a huge setback in the time and energy I have for them. I will not be able to lift them or snuggle with them the way I do now. It’s going to change a lot of things about our relationship. It’s going to hurt.
So there was no way in hell I was going to back down from all the splashing and playing that is a water park. There were too many “Momma, watch me!” moments to see. There were too many “Woooo Hoooos!” and “Yes, I saw that, it was SO COOL!” praises to dish out. There were a lot of little voices laughing and giggling. There were too many times I wanted to soak in the sights of their little selves doing the sweet and funny things 2 and 5-year-olds do.
Moment’s like these:
And I’m not letting that pass me by.
As for them, of course they don’t notice. They don’t care enough to notice. They care that I’m in that pool with them, playing alongside them, sharing in their bliss. They care that we get in tubes and float the lazy river. They care that I watch them jump off the edge and splash into the water. They care not in the circumference of my thighs but in the moments I direct my attention, without distraction, to them. And that’s what I care about, too. I care about their happiness and about their knowing that they have not only my attention but my heart. I want them to see that nothing will hold me back from sharing a moment with them. Not cancer. Not fatigue. And certainly not the way my body looks in a swimsuit.
There will be time to get healthy. There will be time to heal and to get strong and fit again. But until that time, I’m going to rock it soft shaped and bald in a bathing suit and not miss a God damn thing. And just in case you were thinking of holding back, here’s an unflattering, unedited picture of me rocking bald and living life to remind you to move on from self-doubt and move in to the moment. By the way, it was taken by a 5-year-old who had an epic day at the water park with her mom.
Now, go live.
Give ‘Em Hell.