The Day I Went Swimsuit Shopping with the Boys

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I have an underdeveloped sense of style, so home decor purchases leave me mentally exhausted. Do these colors compliment each other? Do these patterns clash? Will I have more than 5 minutes to sit down and enjoy the comfort of this couch, anyway?  Book shopping is a meticulous affair, with me mapping out the selection and systematically taking the room apart in methodical lines. I can browse for hours on end, but it’s exhausting and typically expensive. While grocery shopping, I list our needs in a particular order to follow my trajectory through the store at record speeds. I buy only what we need and I find it to be tedious even if necessary. Clothes shopping equates to me buying in my size whatever outfit is displayed on the first mannequin I see, without trying it on. Car shopping? Forget it. My husband can go pick something out, test drive it, and let me know what day we pick it up. Jewelry, accessories, handbags? Whatever I’m gifted at holidays. As for my bathing suit, I’ve been wearing the same one since 2009, and I’m unapologetic about that. As long as it fits and as long as I’m at low wardrobe-malfunction risk, what I have is fine.

Until it wasn’t anymore. The thread was getting thin and, more urgently, the fit wasn’t right. Since the mastectomies and reconstruction, the top and I are no longer in sync. I don’t have nipples so I don’t need to worry about wardrobe malfunctions. However, I did have reconstruction to blend in with my peers. Baring my chest would be counter-productive to that conservative, not letting the entire world know at a glance I’m a breast cancer survivor stance. With all of this in mind, I had to suck it up and attempt the most dreaded of all shopping endeavors.

To make sure I didn’t anguish over the selection (and perhaps because I’m a glutton for torture), and took my three boys shopping with me. I’m no rookie, as I’ve been a parent for 10 years now; I know that when the window of opportunity opens up, I need to jump through it. That’s what happened on this particular day. It had been a good morning. I took them with me to Zumba class and they had entertained themselves while I did my best middle-aged booty shaking.  Bribing them with a promise of soft pretzels if they behaved (read: don’t act in the store the way you act at home and then I will reward you with food), we headed to a local department store with Baby #4 in a stroller, Babies #3 and #2 reluctantly trailing behind me. (The only fashion-conscious child was on a play date, which meant I was taking a huge risk trusting my own tastes. It also meant I would have less to try on without her there to analyze details. That pleased me.)

The boys were great for the first 10 minutes. I perused a few racks of swimsuit separates, then lead my entourage to the dressing rooms. I parked the stroller in the largest stall available, and Baby #4 began his mantra. “I wanna walk. Get down. I wanna walk. Get down. I wanna walk. Get down…” I was perfectly capable of ignoring his chanting for the duration of our shopping experience, but the greatest of parental motivators penetrated my hurried undressing just then: the knowledge that strangers were in earshot. I knew that keeping him in the stroller was the best thing for me, even if he was adverse to it. But maybe the other shoppers didn’t want to hear his incantations, and what if they assumed I was this child-deaf at home as well?

So then all three boys were lined up on the bench across from the mirror, waiting for me to try on different styles of an outfit that I hoped to wear sparingly, anyway. They climbed over one another, attempted to hang themselves by their shirts from the clothing hooks, and watched themselves dance in the mirror. They made faces at one another, put bunny ears behind their heads, and asked in measured intervals how much longer it was going to take.

I’m unlikely to wear anything revealing, but I have no trouble undressing in front of my boys. Baby #2 is at the age now where he is more likely to expect modesty from me. Knowing that his comfort at seeing me topless is soon to end, I want him to see what I look like while he can. With the surgeries and medical treatments I have had and how utterly scarred up my body is now, there is nothing conventional about how I look. Maybe I can impact my boys while they are young, so that their idea of a “perfect” partner is realistic when they are teenagers and adults. If they can see what I’m missing, notice my scars and my irregularities, and think of imperfections as normal, aren’t I teaching them a worthwhile lesson on body image? Here I am, boys, with this broken body, still smiling, still laughing, still madly loved by your father.

Yes, that is all noble and good, and–dare I say it–powerful parenting. It was somewhere in my thoughts while the four of us were in that dressing room, but it wasn’t forefront in my mind. I was too busy fielding questions like

“How can you bend over in that?!”

“Does Daddy know you want to go out dressed like that?”

“You aren’t having ANOTHER baby, are you?”

“Why does one boob sag so much lower than the other?”

“Oh, Mommy, that’s too, too tight. It makes your armpits look huge!”

“All of your holes are showing!”

I did hear a fair amount of laughter coming from other parts of the dressing room, so my fear that we would annoy other shoppers was unfounded. I didn’t try to explain their questions for the other shoppers, except the one about my holes (that is what Baby #3 calls my scars. Phew!) After deciding on a purchase that I was comfortable wearing, I told the boys they could now hold all of their comments. “I feel a little worried about how I look,” I told them, “but I think I found something that will work.”

Baby #2 looked at me, confused. “Why would you worry? You look good,  just like you’re supposed to.”

Maybe there is something to that powerful parenting.