Why I Can Never Show My Face at the Gym Pool Again.

I’m warning you. It’s a true story and it’s pretty gross.

I’d pretty much blocked out this entire incident until a friend asked for some info about my gym, including a question about the pool. And then I remembered. That pool. That goddamn pool.

It brought me right back to Spring 2010. My son was about 5 weeks old and I joined the local Gold’s Gym to train for a half marathon I’d signed up for that fall. I figured it’d be a great way to burn off the 40 lbs I put on while pregnant. It was a new gym, close to home, with daycare. Sign me up.

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Oh yay. I love exercise.

Not an avid swimmer, I had no real intention of ever using that goddamn pool. I could swim as a means to NOT DROWN but there was no actual technique or grace involved. Regardless, a couple of weeks into my membership and still on maternity leave from my publishing job in Manhattan, I decided to ditch the treadmill and shake up my routine by hitting the pool.

IMPORTANT TO KNOW:

FIRST. Still being a young, hip, previously slender 32-year-old mom, I only had bikinis. There were no one-piece racerback style Speedos in the swimwear drawer of my dresser.

SECOND. I’d just had a baby. My body was snowsuit ready, not swimsuit ready. 

THIRD. I’m Sicilian. And not the tall, thin gorgeous type of Italians and Sicilians you see in the Lavazza commercials. I’m 5’2″ with hair in unfortunate places. Usually a die-hard fan of the brazilian wax, the 3rd degree episiotomy to my you-know-what had prevented me from rushing right back to my waxer. That being said, my BIKINI AREA could’ve survived a northern New York winter WITHOUT a snowsuit. Ya got me, ladies? 

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There, there. I still love you.

On the day of The Incident I grabbed a few-sizes-too-small black bikini from my drawer and headed for the gym. After a little cardio, I hit the locker room to get changed. I felt pretty ridiculous smooshed into my two-piece. I looked like a tightly trussed turkey on Thanksgiving morning. But I thought, “I’ve got to start somewhere, it’s 11 am on a Tuesday and who the hell’s going to see me anyway?” I looked in the mirror, sucked it up and sucked it in. I had the eye of the tiger.

I walked into the pool area and signed in. There were two young girls working as lifeguards that morning. I looked at them in their tiny black and gold swimsuits with their tight butts and perky boobs, and thought, “Awesome. I’m going to look just like that after I do about 25,000 laps in this pool. So let’s get to it.” I took off my towel, tried to nonchalantly cover my furry bits and scampered into the pool.

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Nothing to see here.

The few people who were swimming had on swimsuits, swim caps and goggles that actual swimmers would wear to a lap pool. Not intimidated, I began my weird doggy paddle-whatever stroke. It was fine. My muscles were burning. I was breathing heavy. I was moving from one end of the pool to the other. And the lifeguards hadn’t jumped in to save me, so I figured it was going well. To help pass the time, I envisioned myself in appropriate swimwear, really getting into it. Maybe I’d do this every day and get ripped. Maybe I had real swimming chops, and I’d become some mom swimmer phenom and make it to the Olympics. Why not? People go under the knife for surgery and wake up with British accents. I could give birth and become a competitive swimming sensation. Crazier shit has happened.

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If you can dream it, you can do it, you guys.

After a half hour, I decided to call it a day and got out of the pool. I felt great. As I dried off, I felt comfortable enough to begin chatting with the two young lifeguards at the table whose bodies hadn’t yet been ravaged by childbirth. I was friendly and witty, making jokes. HARDY HAR HAR. I wasn’t sweating over any body shame because I knew that soon I’d be on the cover of Sports Illustrated accepting a gold medal for the 200 mm Butterfly in Seychelles or wherever, and I’d probably be the wallpaper on these girls’ iPhones. It was all good. I told the girls I’d see them the next day, grabbed my stuff and headed back to the locker room…where I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror.

Forget about my unorthodox swimming technique. Forget about my tightly trussed midsection. Forget about my bikini area that looked like Bradley Cooper in American Hustle. Forget about all of those things.

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Exact likeness. Even the glasses.

Let’s talk about boogers. There are basically three types. The small, crusty boogers that your friends might refer to as a “cliffhanger” or “a bat in your cave” if you’re my friend Suelyn who grew up in Pennsylvania. Those could get blown out of your nose without you ever even knowing they were there. Then, you have your more garden variety boogers that require a tissue. You should probably leave the room to take care of them. You know, get in there a little. THEN, there are boogers that co-starred with J. Lo and Ice Cube in the movie ANACONDA. The kind that look like they made a 12-day pilgrimage from behind the temporal lobe of your brain, through your sinus cavity, and finally made their way out into the light of day with a stick and bindle and a ratty side dog named Bobo.

That’s the kind of booger that was strung across my face. The last kind. It was clinging from my right nostril almost to my right ear, hanging there like a nightmarish Happy Birthday banner. I FROZE, remembering all the HARDY HARS and YUKKITY YUKS from 60 seconds ago, when I thought I was charming the Under Armour shorts off those girls. WITH A SNOT SLUG ON MY FACE. I quickly gathered myself, grabbed 32 rolls of paper towel and got to work slaying the beast.

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TAKE THAT, booger.

At first, I was mortified. Obviously. Then, I felt bad that those poor girls had to witness my nasal exorcism. They probably marched right into their boss’s office and quit their jobs, demanding workers’ comp for PTSD. But then, my humiliation turned to rage that they didn’t give me a heads up. I know I looked like Slimer took a flyby ectoplasmic crap on my face, but come on people! If you see something, ya gotta say something! Help a girl out! At that moment I vowed I would never let any booger on the face of a friend, foe or stranger go unmentioned.

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“Oops, you’ve got a little something…”                                         *points to nose

I still go to the same Gold’s Gym, but to this day, I haven’t been back in that pool. I’ve stepped up my swimwear game and I see my waxer on the reg, and though I’m sure those girls are long gone by now — I’ll never go in there again. That pool haunts me like a watery poltergeist. A special place in Hell for people who let you walk away from a conversation with a gummy worm hanging off your face.

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Say My Name ONE…MORE…TIME.

Remember when your mother used to say “OH MY GOD! If you say MOM again, I’m changing my name!” Well, now you know why and you feel awful about it too, don’t you? That whole, One Day I Hope You Have A Kid Who Acts Like You curse must be the real deal because the barrage of “MOMs” I get hit with each morning before 9:20 a.m. is enough to put any sane person into a mental institution.

My husband leaves for work around 6:40 each morning. He comes over to give me a kiss or pat me on the butt before he takes off. Sometimes we have this conversation:

Him: “Bye, babe”

Me: “NO. Where are you going?!”

Him: “Work.”

Me: “DON’T LEAVE ME HERE ALONE WITH THEM!”

My 9 year old daughter (sometimes known as The Girl One) is an early riser. She’s always up before my husband leaves. ALWAYS. My son (The Boy One) would sleep in a little if she’d let him but she likes everyone to partake in the splendour that is morn. When I hear their dad close the front door, it’s GAME ON.

The Girl One calls up from downstairs: “Mom. Mom. MOM! Mom come cook breakfast!” She can reach the bananas and I’ve seen her pour cereal and milk into a bowl before. She’s even used the toaster. Swear to God. But still, she wants MOM to do it. Fine.

Me: “BLERGGG. I’m coming!”

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Mom. At your service.

I head downstairs and into the fray. The breakfast bustle gets underway and I begin the morning countdown to bus time like Ted Allen on an episode of CHOPPED. “27 minutes left on the clock, guys! Don’t forget to pack your backpack! Homework, lunch, flute, permission slip! Let’s do this, people!”

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Who will it be this morning?

So now, because I’ve prompted her (anywhere from 5-25 times), The Girl One is headed to the shower. This is only after she begs me to come into the bathroom to stay with her for the duration of her cleanse. I guess she becomes hysterically blind after she eats her waffle and can’t see me cleaning up breakfast, making lunches, packing up homework, feeding the cat and letting the dog in & out the back door every 48 seconds. I say I’ll be in when I’m finished doing X, Y and Z but as soon as the water turns on…

The Girl One: “Mom, come on. Mom. Mom come on. Mom, are you coming? Are you done yet? I can hear you outside the door. Mom. Mom?”

I KNOW YOU’RE ANNOYED JUST READING THIS AND SHE’S NOT EVEN YOUR KID.

I’m like the Muhammad Ali of moms when it comes to shower time. Somehow, I bob and weave my way out of this hornet’s nest each morning and I make my way to the basement to begin “selecting the children’s outfits”.

Let’s all stop for a moment and have a hearty chuckle at the concept of “selecting the children’s outfits”. It sounds so civilized when in fact, picking out clothes in my house each morning is like trying to disarm an explosive with the clock ticking down from 60 seconds. The pants that make too much noise? ARE YOU INSANE? The socks that feel weird? WHY TEMPT FATE? The shirt with the owl on it? HAVE WE FORGOTTEN LAST THURSDAY? One wrong move and your morning detonates. SHRAPNEL EVERYWHERE. No survivors.

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Choose wisely, Mother. Choose wisely.

While I’m in The Laundry Room Hurt Locker, The Boy One starts calling down from the living room. He hasn’t looked away from the TV in 30 minutes so he has no idea where I am and no intention of trying to find me. Why do that when he can just scream his goddamn head off for 10 minutes?

The Boy One: “Mom!”

Me: “Yo!”

The Boy One: “Maaaahhhh-aaaahhhmmmm!”

Me: “YEA! I’m downst-”

The Boy One: “MMMOOMMMM!”

Me: “OMG WHAT!?!?!?! I’M IN THE FREAKING BASEMENT!!!!!”

This is when I snap. The rapid-fire-without-a-chance-to-answer-“MOM” makes me levitate, and not in a cute Mary Poppins type way. I’m like Mary Poppins’ bitchy cousin who dropped out of high school to follow her boyfriend’s band across the country and then he slept with her best friend and now she has to work at the home for wayward children instead of working for a nice family and singing songs about sugar and crap.

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“And we’re not having hot mush today…”

We do this pretty much every day. By the time I get both of those animals to the bus I feel like a bull rider who couldn’t hold on for 8 seconds. But the crazy part is that even when I feel like a wild-eyed Mommy Dearest on the inside, I kiss those kids on their faces and look them in their beautiful eyes and tell them I love them. And I mean it. The morning’s transgressions already forgiven and forgotten. My kids must’ve pumped unconditional love to me through the umbilical cord because they’re the only ones who love me even remotely the same way. I don’t think I had that ability before they were born. It allows me to block out whatever ridiculous things they do so the love can bubble up and I can do the only job I really have to do, which is to love them.

After last week’s post, I received this text from a friend:

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Flattered, but trust me, I have no idea what I’m doing.

Apart from making me a little emotional, it reminded me of a conversation my sister-in-law and mother-in-law had once. My SIL was saying that her kids just make her nuts all the time and she was always feeling wound up and that she never remembered my MIL being like that when she was young. My MIL laughed and assured us that there were MANY times like that, but MY SIL didn’t remember them because overall, she had a happy childhood.

The loving, the laughing, the yelling, the kisses, the fighting, the worry, the hugs, the chaos, the parenting wins and losses. Those are the ingredients that make a family and every family has its’ own recipe. There are no hard and fast rules. A cake batter may have a few lumps in it, but even with a few lumps, a well-made cake is still pretty delicious. My kids may yell my name 74 times a morning but I just have to remember, that’s the exact number of “MOMs” it takes to make a morning in our house. Some mornings I may not handle it like Princess Diana, but if I end each morning and each night with a hug, a kiss and an “I Love You”, we might just get this cake baked after all.

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Sick Burn at the Bus Stop

Last Monday morning, a 6-year-old girl roasted me at the bus stop.

It was 8:15 a.m and I repeat, ON A MONDAY. My kids and I crossed the street from our house and waited at the end of our neighbor’s driveway for her crew to meet us for the trip to the corner. My neighbor came out with 3 little girls, my attacker (let’s call her Elizabeth) included. I smiled and said “Hey guys!” as they joined us on the street.

Elizabeth isn’t from the neighborhood. My neighbor babysits her little sister (whom we’ll call Elizabeth’s sister) and every now and then she comes along for the walk. This made her sick burn even more ruthless, a scud missile to the heart.

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Elizabeth’s outfit stood out to me on this crisp, autumn morning. I’m not one to judge a kid’s clothes because, let’s be honest, reasoning with a 6-year-old about their outfit is as useful as a feather fork, but I was kind of digging her look. She had on a royal blue shirt, a pair of navy retro style gym shorts (you know the ones, with the white piping), a pair of white tube socks pulled up to just below her knee and sneakers. I thought, “You go girl! It’s not 100% working but you’re rocking it and I like that about you.” I was happy for her, and convinced she was a free-thinker, I gave her a mental high-five. On we walked.

The bus stop crowd made our normal early a.m. small talk. The bus came, we blew kisses to the older kids as they rode away and we turned to walk back to our homes. It was me, my son (also 6), my neighbor, Elizabeth and Elizabeth’s sister. I looked down to my right to see Elizabeth smiling up at me, a face like a jack-o-lantern with 3 or 4 teeth missing. So cute. “Hey you!” I said. She made direct eye contact with me, grinned sweetly and then…she daggered me.

“You have a sleepy face, ” she said. I’D BEEN UP FOR 2 HOURS. I politely laughed, in my head thinking “SHOTS FIRED! WE HAVE SHOTS FIRED!”

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It’s gonna be like that, Elizabeth?

What I would’ve said if it was one of MY kids was something along the lines of, “UUUHH, YA THINK? Well, maybe if you weren’t wedged up my buttcrack last night and if your sister hadn’t decided to hold a U.N. Sleep Summit in her underwear at 2:30 a.m., lecturing me on how UNJUST it is that you get to sleep between Daddy and I and how her brother gets WHATEVER he wants, YEA, maybe I’d have more of a Brooke Shields Blue Lagoon thing going on right now.”

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You. YOU DID THIS TO ME!!!!

Of course, I couldn’t say THAT. She was someone else’s baby. What I WANTED to say to her was, “Listen, kid-dressed-up-like-a-Harlem-Globetrotter-from-1982, it’s Monday morning. I MAY or MAY NOT HAVE had way too much wine to drink on Saturday and I MAY or MAY NOT still be hung over. You want to ask questions? Halloween’s not for another 2 weeks, so how come you’re dressed like a hipster on her way to a kickball game in a Williamsburg park? Does Tootie from The Facts of Life know you stole her gym clothes? How about you lay off the judgement and stick to eating your own boogers? OKAY, PAW PATROL?!”

Of course, I couldn’t say THAT either. I probably had Cheez-it crumbs in my hair and (most likely) no bra on and in my fragile state, I was NOT taking a chance on her launching another bomb at me. So I just mustered up the 1/2 ounce of dignity I had left, giggled and looked down at her cute, toothless face and said, “Yea, that’s just my normal face.” She just kept smiling and globe trotted her way down the street.

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Take a bow, kid.

It’s fine. Elizabeth’s right. I’m exhausted. In her defense, I’m sure I looked like a Nick Nolte mugshot. Sleeping soundly is a thing of the past. It’s an occupational hazard of motherhood. It’s like musical beds in our house every night. We give in to our kids’ nocturnal demands because, at this point, we just want everyone to sleep. Still, no woman nearing 40 likes to be told she looks tired, even if it’s from a toothless kid in Danny Zuko’s track outfit from Grease.

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I look great and I feel amazing.

When my daughter was born in 2007, I remember boasting to one of the men I worked with, a father to two teenage girls at the time, that there was NO WAY MY KID would EVER sleep in our bed. He’s a lovable, no BS Italian guy from Brooklyn. He looked at me and said, “What the f&ck is the matter with you? Don’t you know that kid’s not going to give a crap about you in about 15 years? LET HER SLEEP IN YOUR BED IF SHE WANTS.”

As new moms, we think we’ll stick to all of the pre-conceived parenting plans we made BEFORE SHIT GOT REAL. No red dye 40. ORGANIC EVERYTHING. No high fructose corn syrup. And 10 minutes later we’re like:

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“WHO NEEDS MORE HAWAIIAN PUNCH?”

I guess it’s hard to admit we want to give up on some of the things we swore by once the rubber really hits the road. But this is one new mom promise I’m going back on. I’ll play along in a round of midnight musical beds or scooch over to make room for a beautiful little monster if I need to. So what if it means a crappy night’s sleep? A kid’s size 11 foot up my butt at 2:30 a.m. will just be a sweet memory someday, even though now it makes me look like a swamp creature at the bus stop.

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The Mother Octopus & Me

When I was 12, I wanted to be a marine biologist. I had Jacques Cousteau quotes on my bedroom wall next to my New Kids on the Block posters. I didn’t know who I wanted to marry more – Jon Knight (yea, I was a Jon girl, there were probably 4 of us on earth) or Jacques. There wasn’t any real explanation for my love of the ocean. We lived near Lake Ontario in Northern New York, 30 miles from Canada. There were snow banks, not sand dunes. My best guess is that it had to do with the time my mother took my brother and I to the Museum of Natural History when I was 5 and I was captivated by the hanging blue whale in the Hall of Ocean Life.

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Me and my brother, J.P. when I was 4.

A few years after our trip to Manhattan when I saw the whale, my brother and I watched the Robin Williams – Shelley Duval version of POPEYE on HBO. The octopus scene became my new obsession. Yes it was yellow with giant menacing eyes, but I was immediately fascinated. My Jacques Cousteau love affair started soon after.

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The heart wants what it wants, you guys.

I graduated from high school and moved to South Carolina where I began the Marine Biology program at Coastal Carolina University, however, one semester in I knew science wasn’t going to be my thing. You’ll learn later why, but I’d begun writing in high school. That was my second love and that would be my GO TO. The beginning of my sophomore year, I transferred to a school in Northern NY and began working on my writing degree.

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Me in college.

Fast forward 20 years. I’m a mother of two with an ex-career in magazine publishing and I wish I still wrote and I wish I’d stayed in school to be a marine biologist. This means I make my kids watch all kinds of YouTube videos and documentaries about things relating to the sea. Most of you will think, like the octopus in my logo, that this blog is named The Mother Octopus because every mom is a supreme juggler who needs 8 hands. True, but no.

In the last couple years I began feeling the tug of the octopus again, pinning artwork and dreaming of cephalopod tattoos. And just recently, in my musings, I came across this:

After mating, it’s game over for octopuses. Mating and parenthood are brief affairs for octopuses, who die shortly after. The species practices external fertilization. Multiple males either insert their spermatophores directly into a tubular funnel that the female uses to breathe, or else literally hand her the sperm, which she always accepts with one of her right arm (researchers do not know why). Afterwards, males wander off to die. As for the females, they can lay up to 400,000 eggs, which they obsessively guard and tend to. Prioritizing their motherly duties, females stop eating. But she doesn’t starve to death–rather, when the eggs hatch, the female’s body turns on her. Her body undertakes a cascade of cellular suicide, starting from the optic glands and rippling outward through her tissues and organs until she dies.” – Rachel Nuwer, Smithsonian.com

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A buzzkill, to say the least, and it struck a chord with me.

I am a mother octopus that kept on living. Some of you probably are too, but afraid to say it out loud.

Please don’t get me wrong. I count my blesssings daily, and like any mom, I’d step in front of a bus for my kids. They make me crazy when they’re with me and the second I’m away from them I worry about them. But when I became a mom, something else in me changed. Accepting the sacrifice was no surprise. Yes, I knew it would be hard work. Something just got lost. My identity became so cloudy that I lost who I was before. I certainly never write anymore (because frankly, this shit is super scary) and in the last few years, working alone, making frames in my basement, I started to feel like so many of the things I was before I was a mom were gone.

To me, the saddest thing about the female octopus is that she doesn’t get to mother her babies. I’m starting to realize that in order to really mother mine, I need to crawl out from under the clutter of our lives and reclaim what’s been lost in the last few years I’ve spent clinging to the rock of my basement business. Feeding my babies, being class mom, making scrapbooks and classroom party snacks, trading in a 6 figure salary to cut craft store coupons. In some ways, I’ve never been happier, and in some ways I’m lost in the deep. Trust me, I belong down here, but I need a fresh perspective to be the mom my kids deserve.

This blog is my attempt to come up for air. To poke my head up like a periscope, get a new view, and take a deep cleansing breath before heading back to work. I hope you’ll stick around for my ascent.

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