Henry approaches me with animated eyes and a tight, bothered smile- his tell that he is agitated about something.
“ Are migraines an excuse to miss swim class?”
Ah, there it is-the topic my children find to be most steeped in dismay. The impending swim component of the school's Phys Ed rotation.
“Um, unless you are having a migraine attack, you are fit to swim.”
His shoulders slump in disappointment.
“What about mitral valve prolapse?”
I shake my head.
“Irritable bowel syndrome?” he asks hopefully.
“Nope. Short of breaking your arm or leg- I think you are stuck with swim.” His eyes light up- the calculating wheels turning.
From the other room, First Born Son offers encouragement, “Do it, Henry! Jump off the second floor roof! There’s a kid at school who did that and got a concussion and broken arm and missed, like, a year of gym and swim.”
But, my children love to swim. In the summer, when given a pool, they dive, breaststroke, freestyle, cannonball until their lips turn blue and their skin begins to prune.
“I don’t want to change for swim. I don’t want anyone seeing my flab. I don’t care if it means I fail Phys Ed.” Despite having rapidly gained inches in height and shedding his pre-adolescent softness, the lens with which he views himself is grossly distorted. He balks at my suggestion to wear a swim shirt claiming it will give him boy boobs.
“I don’t want to change for swim either,” Princess Commando chimes in. “I finally perfected my method for changing for gym (wearing shorts under her pants and an athletic cami under her shirt). I don’t want to be naked in front of anyone!”
It troubles me that my girl is so consumed with locker room anxiety-obsessively devising ways in which to escape from one outfit to the next without exposing a slip of skin. I worry that she will begin to wear cut-off denim shorts in the shower á la Tobias Fünke. And, it wrecks my heart that my boy would rather injure himself than participate in swim class. I empathize with my girl’s inclination toward locker room ‘never- nudity’ honoring her preference for decency over lewdness. And, I offer truthful reassurances to Henry that his body is normal- better than normal. I go so far as to step over my own line, pointing out other people in his class who are clearly not in shape. But, neither child is comforted.
Princess Commando's mind races through the options that would best protect her modesty. “I know! I can just wear my swimsuit to school and then put my clothes over it afterward.”
Henry dissuades her, “You’ll be soaking wet for the rest of the day.”
“Then I don’t know what to do!”
As a grown up working through grown up concerns such as ensuring that First Born Son gets into college while also securing a spot for The Baby in a choice preschool; untangling our complicated financial situation; and soul searching at the bluff of mid-life, issues like changing for swim seem, at first, inconsequential.
Then I recall the 8 year old version of myself- conveniently falling ill each swim day, sitting on the bleachers fully clothed- melting in the humidity of the pool room, getting mooned by Marcus the Stripper, who clearly had no issues with modesty. I am reminded, once again, that in the realm of experiences children have had and of the things they understand to be true, every worry is BIG, every worry is real for them.
And changing- whether out of clothes or into new milestones can be intimidating. But, I think I've got one of them 'covered.'
You can call it a burqini, a modesty suit, a Duggar's day at the pool. I call it spectacular.
With it's quick dry fabric, she can wear it to school- both in and out of the pool.
But, can I actually get her to wear one?