A woman at the gym grimaced at me today. “Are those decals?”
“Hmm?” I looked down at my shoes, confused. I started to say “They are New Balance.”
“All over you,” she said. “Are they decals?”
And for the first time in recent memory I was silent. I just stared at her.
“They are tattoos,” I eventually said. I said the word very slowly. Tat-toos.
She stared back at me. “Real tattoos? I guess the kids like them.”
And she walked away.
The kids? Did she mean me, as in “You crazy kids and your tattoos!” Was she going to shake her cane at me next? Or was she talking about my kids? I was walking hand in hand with the girls on my way out of the gym when she offered up her unsolicited opinion.
I see her pretty often at the gym. I suppose it is a good thing I just stared in silence. None of the clever replies that eventually occurred to me were particularly kind.
But I can promise you this. I will be putting my yoga mat right next to hers tomorrow morning. And I will be wearing the shortest damn shorts I own. She thinks I have a lot of tattoos now? Lady ain’t seen nothing yet.
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I was naked when she asked me the question. Maybe that was why it hurt my feelings. “You have kids?” She was smiling, maybe in her late 70s. There was no reason for me to find the question off putting, I suppose. It was casual chit-chat.
In the locker room at the gym there are lots of different kinds of women. I am envious of the older women that stroll nonchalantly from the shower to their locker. They are free, maybe even confident, certainly at peace with the body they live in. There are the younger women and the quiet gals that change in the “dressing rooms,” the awkward spaces with shower curtains that don’t quite close all the way. I fall somewhere in the middle. I have given birth twice. I came of age in a theatrical dressing room. I can surely get my bathing suit off in a locker room without demonstrating something just short of a magic trick to get my bra and underwear on before my towel drops to the floor.
But I am not yet free. I am not yet at peace with this body. It still feels new. I am not embarrassed, not really. “You have kids?” she asked me. Why? Is it my stretch marks? I thought they were fading, maybe there are some I don’t even know I have. Maybe it’s my stomach. But then I never really had much in the way of a flat stomach before I even had kids.
It took me by surprise, my reaction to such a simple question. Immediately, I wondered if my body was telling a story that I could not even see. Fresh from a long swim I was feeling long and lean and that three word question brought me to a place where I begin to wonder if I need to just settle in to a new normal and accept that this body ain’t all that bad.
I smiled and said “I do. Girls. One and seven. Lucky mama gets to shower today in peace.” She smiled warmly, turning back to her locker, unaware the spiral her innocent question had started.
I pulled my jeans on and ran a brush through my too short hair. I took a deep breath and put a smile on my face, knowing I was going to walk by a long mirror on my way out the door. I would smile at the woman in the mirror, maybe take it easy on her.
And smile I did when I saw her. Yes. This woman has kids. This woman with the Cinderella towel. She keeps her goggles and her shampoo in a hot pink Yo Gabba Gabba tote bag. Perhaps it wasn’t my stretch marks that gave me away after all.
Day 95 of This Book Will Change Your Life has me on the look out for aliens. It gives a helpful list of how to spot the extraterrestrials among us. I wish it would tell me how to spot the moms at the gym. Evidently Disney towels and Nickelodeon tote bags aren’t enough to make it obvious for me.
In my underwear, in the parking lot, May 8, 1993. I had turned 17 the day before. I was not always uncomfortable in my underwear.
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