Looking Good… Sometimes

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Author Jennifer Weiner tackles some common, yet tricky, issues in The Pressure to Look Good, her op-ed piece in The New York Times this week. In it she dissects the conflict surrounding the messages we send to young girls about embracing their own bodies and not caving to the pressures of perfection, while we ourselves continue to do just that. In her typically candid, humorous way, Weiner shines a light on an issue I have struggled with myself for years. In fact, it bothered me so much that this year I decided it was time to do something about it.

My 2015 New Year’s resolution was to post pics of myself that were about moments; not how I looked IN those moments. To trust that there were enough collective shots of me looking good to make up for the ones where I didn’t, and begin focusing solely on capturing the event rather than stressing about whether I appear to have a double chin. (I totally don’t, by the way, it’s just a bad angle. I swear. No, seriously.) It has been a humbling, yet liberating road, culminating in a recent HuffPo piece I wrote about teaching swim lessons featuring a photo with me, makeup-less, in a swimsuit. Of course it didn’t hurt that I had such a sweet student next to me.

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With social media and online content as our main artery of information updates about our friends and the world, the pressure is high and the scrutiny intense to be on your “A” game constantly; but as is the case with so many areas in our life, I believe the best examples for our kids are ones of balance. By showing not only my daughter but also my sons that experiences with them trump my need to look good while documenting those experiences, my hope is that they will see that I take them more seriously than I take myself.

I do still love getting glammed up (sans Spanx, I can’t stand those things) for a night on the town with their dad, and after nearly 25 years with him, both of us getting through cancer, and the fact that with three kids I even managed to get glammed in the first place, I think some vanity is in order. When I do, I shamelessly ask my 14-year-old-budding-photographer daughter to snap lots of pics so I can find one where I look as pretty as I feel, and then post away.

As a mother it’s my job to teach my kids, like with many other things in life, that a little of everything is okay as long as it doesn’t get out of hand. Ms. Weiner’s children will see her unclip those extensions and take off those heels. And my guess is that when she does she will sit, criss-cross-applesauce, on the rug with her daughter making silly faces and playing games. That is what is important and that is what they will take away.

In order to really empower them, what we owe our children is to teach them balance. That and the best lighting angles for selfies.

Summer Fasting


How are we already into July? I would say it wasn’t possible, but my youngest son’s hair is green from chlorine, we’ve gone through about 27 rash guards, and I don’t recognize half of the pool towels in our collection so it must be true.

For so many years it felt like the summer dragged more than my dogs’ feet on their way into the vet. The weather was so hot, and there were only so many things to do around town, so most often we ended up at the pool where every day was exhausting. I had to be constantly on alert, one minute saving my child from drowning, the next playing referee over toys, goggles, a blade of grass, whatever.

I chased my kids across cement pool decks, convinced they would rearrange their teeth with a single misstep. And just when one child was finally old enough to understand the rules, the next was ripe and ready to give me a workout.

I have taught swimming for 25 years and the pool has always been my happy place, at least when dealing with a child under the age of four who isn’t my own. I adore the laughter, freedom, and sense of accomplishment that comes along with learning to swim. But mix the struggle and unpredictability of a toddler with the dangers of water and I think any country club could make a mint in Xanax prescriptions alone.

As a seasoned swim instructor I assumed I’d have otters for children who’d swirl around in the water without a care and be my shining-star pupils. Not a chance. My oldest and youngest were pretty straightforward, but my middle child, Liam, decided to keep things spicy.

I swear I can still see the dents in my shoulders from his fingers, gripping and digging into me with sheer terror at the mere suggestion that he put his face in the water. And this was no toddler; he was six.

For years I held him, patiently coaxing, reciting all of the phrases that had been successful with the hundreds of other children I had taught to swim. “It’s just like Nemo under there! Now you can see everyone’s toes! You can do it!” All the while Liam howled at the top of his lungs “Don’t make me DO it, Mommy! PLEASE!!”

Other mothers looked on in horror assuming I was stealthily pinching him under the surface. I’m thankful for all of my early successes since my own kid did little to promote my reputation.

I kept my cool, calmly reassuring him until at last Liam let go of me and made his first, brave, independent swim to the wall. I’m still not sure if the tears I cried that day were more out of relief for me or pride for him, but now at age 10, the same little guy who refused to let go of my neck glides effortlessly through the water earning ribbons in summer swim meets.

After 13 straight years of panic, vigilance, and threats of going home if they jumped off the side of the pool backward one more time, all three of my kids are officially water safe and my life has changed. I can sit and read if I feel like it, or even finish an entire sentence without having to stop and explain how impolite it is to interrupt mommy when she is trying to talk. My biggest responsibilities now are reapplying sunscreen and making sure my kids don’t spend their inheritance on Airheads and cheeseburgers at the snack bar.

I am finally beyond considering it a major accomplishment to make it to the end of a day without: A) Visiting an ER, B) Football-carrying a screaming child out of the pool who is simply not ready to call it a day, or C) Someone football-carrying a screaming ME out of the pool, because I was ready to call it a day approximately 17 minutes after we arrived. At last I get to enjoy some days with my kids, feel secure in their safety, minus the need to cart them to umpteen soccer practices and battle over math homework. Heaven.

Another bonus is now that my children are older our entire family can linger later into the evening at the pool. My husband and I can sit swapping jokes and stories with our friends, while kids of every age hang out together within earshot of their parents.

I remember feeling like my sister and I were getting away with something big the first few times we stayed late at the pool. We kept out of sight of our parents in hopes they would forget about us and lose track of time so that we could stay even later. As the sun went down and lights under the water came on, the whole look and feel of the place changed.

Sometimes the nighttime air got cold and a haze would form just above the surface. We kept our whole bodies submerged to stay warm, coming up just long enough to grab quick breaths of air with our noses like hippos, casting shimmering shadows on the bottom of the pool from the lights. For some reason even jumping off the same diving board at 2pm felt different than it did at 9, like an amusement park after dark: Same rides, totally different experience.

So many of my wonderful memories of childhood were made during the summers at our neighborhood pool: First sport, first kiss, and first love. All to the soundtrack of lifeguard whistles, FM radio, and cannonball splashes. My challenge now is to find a way to taffy out these months and make them last a little longer for my own kids. I want them to look back on their summers and have that same experience.

Now that I am no longer so anxious and am finally able to relax, I want to enjoy this time as much as I want to create an enjoyable time for them. That is, of course, until 2 years and 10 months from now when my daughter gets her license.