Balance and Family

Life is full of balance, and my weekend family vacation was all about that lesson.  It was a trip that seemed simple and even exciting to start, and as the party in my room grew, so did the stress.  At first it was me and Kid3.  He’s easy and enjoys the shenanigans with his cousins.  My mom convinced Kid2 to go and I began to worry about sensory integration and his needs coming first because it’s not always easy when you go on vacation but autism doesn’t.  Then my Dad wanted to come and I was going to drive him and I was worried about him and his health on such a long ride and in extreme temperatures.

Earlier in the week, I suffered for my procrastination by having to order my bathing suit online.  I have been blessed by my late grandmother and my Mom and I had a hard time finding a swimsuit that could accomodate my top as well as comfortably fit my bottom in stores, so I opted for a bikini I found online because at least then I could choose by bra size.  I got the suit and while it was slightly tighter than I liked, it fit my new body shape.  The suit I had last year doesn’t fit.  I wore it one Sunday and the band no longer fits, but the halter top knot left my neck in so much pain for a few days.  It’s a lot of weight to wrap around a neck that is used to holding my head. A while back I had to get past the fear of wearing a bikini in public without the protective and admiring gaze of a husband that was mine.  It was probably a bigger deal than I explained here, but I was excited to wear my new bikini. It was even better to realize the sarong I have now fits in many other ways because my body is smaller than it was when I got it. 

As we started on our long road trip, there were good moments, but I was with my Dad and there were not amazing moments.  I went into them here.  At the end of the day, he’s my Dad and no one else can make me feel like a teenager.  Well, almost no one else, but this post isn’t about him. And we’re talking different ends of the spectrum on the fun levels of re-living my youth.

The real fun was all about Saturday.  After getting into Laughlin and being greeted with late night lightning that was fierce enough to startle the locals, we got up and took a lot longer to get going than I was happy with.  It was an effort with kids and Dad taking their time because it was vacation and I needed the reminder to slow down.  I just didn’t like it. We stay in Laughlin in Nevada and drive into Arizona during the day. We got to Katherine’s Landing where the family enjoys calm waters.

As we were on the water, my sister told me about an unspoken rule for the moms and wives in the group, as the family vacation includes a lot of her friends and all of our children.  It’s a family outing and the moms and wives cover up their bodies out of respect for the group.  I was shocked by this.  My nieces were quick to point out I’m not a wife anymore, but I get the culture they are trying to cultivate and out of respect, I covered up.  It reminded me of an amazing Muslim woman I knew.  She was smart and confident and as a medical professional and business woman, I was in awe of the power and authority she commanded and like all muslim women willing to cover up, I admired her faith.  We talked about the hijab and burqa.  She explained that it is a woman’s job to not tempt a man into sinning by covering herself.  I could see her point of view, but I left feeling thankful that I’m not Muslim.  That is a huge responsibility to carry but I admire the honor in their faith that is so strong it’s announced before you ever get a name.

A short while later my Dad wasn’t feeling well in the heat and I got to take him back to the hotel room with Kid2 who was happy to go with us. While taking care of my Dad, I was able to get him to mellow out because the stress of not feeling well was making him feel worse.  I put on my playlist of classical piano instrumentals that I usually write to when I’m trying to be creative.  I encouraged him to practice breathing deeply, and I brought him cool drinks and propped him up with pillows.  There was something calming about knowing he was being taken care of and comfortable and I didn’t have to worry about him.  His blood pressure stabilized. He calmed down and he looked like he was feeling better and I got to take Kid2 down to the hotel pool, where I kept my phone by my side in a waterproof case, while I stood in the shade and watched my son enjoy looking at the bottom of the pool with his goggles on.

I stood in the shallow  water under the sun and enjoyed the warmth on my skin and the laughter all around us.  I saw a woman in a white version of my bikini and had to ask if her boobs kept trying to pop out of her suit too.  We laughed and agreed that Victoria’s Secret needs to learn that mature boobs flop and float and we’re both at the age where we really don’t care.  I stood next to a few other people and chatted as they kept offering to buy me drinks, but I was on Dad and kid watch and not into the idea.

After checking on my Dad and finding out that Kid3 was really happy with cousins and my sister was taking great care of him, I took Kid2 to an all you can eat buffet.  I have wheat sensitivities.  It’s extreme.  I try my best to avoid wheat and anytime I think there might be wheat flour in a dish, I will ask to be sure and avoid it to be safe.  I ate something at the buffet that I reacted to.  I was planning on spending time poolside with the family but ended up in serious pain and vomiting. Being ill means I try my hardest to think about anything other than being ill, and I may be overthinking things, but I started replaying the bikini situation in my head.

This was a third trip for my family, but the rest of my family has been going for over a decade.  My ex never wanted to go, so we didn’t go, but the first year I wore a one-piece and the second year I wore a bikini. Last year the trip was cancelled and this year I was called out on my bikini.  My first thought was no one complained the year I had a husband and over 30 extra pounds.  Then I really started to think of the implications of expecting the women in the group to cover up.  I know a few readers have already considered the internalized rape culture that runs through the group.  If you haven’t, I’ll unpack it for you.

I had my partying days in my youth where I was weather proof and wore tiny dresses, no matter how cold because I wanted to be cute.  Those days are long gone, but it was hot, and I was wearing a bikini, which covers just as much as the matching bra and panty sets I’m in love with lately. It was totally appropriate considering that was what everyone else was wearing, except the women in our group that wore a one-piece or swam with a cover up.

I actually had to dig for the courage to wear a bikini in public alone.  I was proud of that.  Then I was asked to cover up because I’m expected to help the men out by wearing more clothes.  The situation made me angry because the moment I tell my sons their gender excuses them from responsibility for their own actions, is the moment I’ve failed as a mother to my sons. Saying a woman should dress a certain way is assuming she’s responsible for the actions of someone else.  It wasn’t the men policing the issue, or even making me uncomfortable with their looks.  It was the women in the group, policing other adult women. This excuse is a slap in the face to the men that have self control and respect for women.  This rationalization opens the door to victim blaming and slut shaming.  I’ve already touched on those thoughts.

In my life, I have been honored with being secret keeper to more than one woman who has shared her experiences with rape and physical violence with me.  I’ve stood between a man with raised fists and his victim because I was willing to fight for a sister.  Once was right after high school.  Another time with different people was with a toddling Kid1 near my feet and after the ex realized what was happening, he chased the guy off for us. It would dishonor that trust to ever imagine anything they could have done or done differently would have affected the choice of one human being to violate trust and the personal rights of another person.

As I was feeling sharp pains in my upper back, and writhing in pain, from a bad food choice, I had both Kid2 and Kid3 surrounding me in bed.  They needed to be close to me.  I would toss and they would adjust and throw little legs and arms back over me, in a protective embrace of sleep.  At one point my Dad was on the bed across from us, and he saw this and laughed because it tickled him to see my boys treat me the way he and my uncle treated my grandmother. It reinforced how important it is that I import the value of respecting a woman in my sons, no matter how strong she is, or how much she needs their protection.  They trust me and it’s my duty to offer my best. 

There were other great moments with my Dad.  There was singing and laughter.  My kids caught a glimpse of my Dad’s discipline and the way I grew up.  It gave them appreciation for my parenting style and reminded me that I really did marry a man just like my Dad.  It was a bad visual, but it was necessary.  I needed to notice.  I need to do what’s right, and I need to not do what hasn’t worked out in the past. The ride home included laughter and singing and it wasn’t just my perspective that was shifted.  The good came with bad, and that is where there is balance.

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