I haven’t had a swimsuit in years. As my weight started creeping up, I found it impossible to want to try one on, let alone wear it in public. The summers went by and I either didn’t spend time outdoors at all or I dipped my toes in the pool or the lake and called it a day. My husband was the one that took the kids swimming. I was the indoor mommy, in charge of crafts and baking and long snuggles on the couch.
Our older three kids remember me swimming with them at friends’ pools or joining them in the water at the Y during lessons. Those were the days of me being a size six and liking the body I was in. Our younger three children will most likely remember me sitting by the side of those pools with just my toes in or encouraging them from the sidelines as they learned to swim.
We were blessed to have friends that frequently loaned us their lake house in the Adirondacks. Due to work and school schedules, our family never visited the lake house together but instead went in combinations of three or four. Often I took the two youngest, Oliver and Ginger. They could splash and swim for hours in that lake. Occasionally I put my feet in to cool myself down. I could get in as far as the hemline to my skirt and then stop. The kids would beg me to swim with them but my answer was always, “I don’t have a swimsuit.”
Recently, we were given the opportunity to stay at the lake house for a whole week. I decided to surprise Ginger and Oliver and not tell them about the trip until the morning when it was time to go. I packed the car while they were sleeping with food and craft supplies and all of our clothes. What they didn’t know was I had one more big thing to reveal. I had bought a swimsuit.
The swimsuit was black and ill-fitting. Even though summer is in full swing in mid-July, swimsuit season at the store is all but over. The selection was picked through and mismatched and left me few choices. I found a top and bottom that more or less matched in color and style. I wished the bottom half was longer and covered more of my thighs. The top covered my stomach, which I was grateful for but I questioned whether or not the “optional” spaghetti straps could really hold up my sizable breasts. But I had bought a swimsuit. I was going to swim with my children and that was my focus.
The first day of the trip it rained. I loved it. I was happy to be in the house baking muffins and teaching the kids to do latch hook rugs. They watched a movie while I slept on the couch. Paradise. The next day the sun came out and they couldn’t get to the beach fast enough.
I took a while to get ready for our trip to the lake. I snuck my new suit into the bathroom and put it on. Immediately the strap gave way, sending my left breast bobbing. I took a deep breath and tried again. I looked in the mirror and was sad at what I saw. This wasn’t the body I wanted to live in. Could I really get up the nerve to walk on a crowded beach with nothing else on besides this suit?
I put my skirt and tee shirt on over the suit and hoped the kids wouldn’t notice the straps that were visibly tied around my neck. I didn’t want them disappointed if i couldn’t make myself get in the water.
At the beach we set up my chair and applied sunscreen and the kids ran to the water. It had been cooler in the days leading up to our trip and the temperature of the water reflected that. Of all times for me to make my swimming debut, the water was cold. The kids swam for an hour, jumping off the dock floating in the deeper part of the lake over and over again. The sky was getting grey and I worried my time was running out.
I scooted to the edge of the chair and contemplated my next move. I looked around at the families scattered around the beach and wondered what they would think of my overweight body. Would they whisper about the size of my thighs as I walked into the water? Would the local teenagers make fun of my tummy that still looked a bit pregnant even though it hadn’t carried a baby for years? My mind was full of thoughts of how badly I looked in that suit. It was also full of how much I wanted to surprise my children and swim with them.
Both children were completely preoccupied down at the dock. It was my chance. I slid off my skirt first because I knew I could sit back down and the bottom of my suit wouldn’t be visible. Then I removed my top. There. I was wearing a swimsuit on a public beach. I checked where the straps attached to the top of the suit. Still attached. I lifted the edge of the bottom of the suit in a sudden panic that I was supposed to get some sort of swim panty to wear with the swim skirt. Safe! Everything was covered. The time had come.
I stood up and walked to the water. I wondered if people behind me were staring. The water was cool but the part of me that was under the water was quickly acclimating. The kids hadn’t noticed me yet. I got in to my waist and called out, “Ginger!” She turned. She stared for a minute and I saw the smile inch across her face. “Mom? Is that you?”
“Yeah Baby. I got a swimsuit.”
“Oh Mom! That is amazing. Oh Mom. I am so happy.” She swam over to me and gave me a cold, wet hug. “I can’t believe it.”
She called out to Oliver who looked our way and smiled. He swam right over. “What is going on?”
“Mom got a suit. I can’t believe it. I am so happy.” Ginger invited me to swim with them to the dock and I did. I reached the dock amazed at myself for not just getting in but for swimming. “I didn’t know you could swim,” Ginger said. She didn’t? Had I really not swam in her almost ten years of life?
“Will you jump off the dock with us?” Oliver asked.
“You know what? Sure.” Their faces registered pure disbelief.
The dock was a floating piece of hard plastic with a metal ladder up one side. When a wave was generated by a jet ski or boat farther away in the water, the waves rocked the dock or gently moved it in a circle. There were waves now and the dock was turning and smacking against the water as it bobbed up and down. The kids climbed up the ladder and motioned for me to join them. The more the dock rocked, the less I felt good about the idea. I held onto the ladder and felt the dock pull down towards me. I worried I was too heavy but I continued up the ladder. The three of us stood on the dock together holding hands. The view of the mountains from that vantage point was breathtaking.
“Are you ready Mom?” Oliver asked. He was smiling so large that his dimples were showing. Ginger squeezed my hand tightly.
“I can do it if we all jump in together. No fake outs! We all go in.” They nodded in agreement, grinning.
“One! Two! Three!” We jumped. The three of us held hands and jumped into the lake together.
We surfaced and the kids begged to do it again but I said no. I had my victorious moment and now I was ready to relax and just watch the children swim again. They hugged me and I headed for my familiar chair on the sand.
Sitting down I noticed that nobody was looking my direction. I had just worn a swimsuit in public and nobody cared. Not one person on the beach seemed interested in my figure or what size I was. When the kids got out of the water Ginger asked if we could take pictures together and I said yes. I wanted them to always remember this day.
As we were packing to leave, a young male lifeguard approached me. “I got to say, no grown ups ever jump off the dock. You are one cool mom.” Then he turned and walked away. So someone had noticed me after all.
About Diana Rush:
Diana Rush is the mother of six and grandmother to one. After receiving her undergraduate degree from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, she took a twenty-one year hiatus from writing before she decided to return to school for her Master’s. She is currently writing a memoir about raising a child with an intellectual disability.