This past weekend, my family and I went away to a lodge with an indoor water park. It was pretty much exactly what you would expect from such a thing. However, there is one little thing that stuck with me. When children enter the water park, they must take off their shoes and have their height measured. There is a color coded measuring board they use with great precision, using a clipboard to determine their exact height. The result yields each child being strapped with a wristband that is either green (48″+), yellow (42″-48″), or red (under 42″). From then on, your wristband color is the indicator used to determine which slides you can and cannot go on. Safety first.
For us, it was neither here nor there which color wristbands our kids had. We had one yellow and one green, and the yellow kid didn’t want to do anything “scary” anyway. But the more time we spent there and I observed the inclusions and exclusions within the families of children where some had the “scarlet wristband” (as I began to call it in my head) who could not participate in all they wanted to do. I started to wonder, did the kids notice each others’ wristband colors? Were some of the kids taking pride in their green bands while others felt sad to not have one? Were they all too young to really notice anyway?
Personally, I was spending a lot of time struggling with being in a bathing suit for two whole days feeling bad about myself. I was grateful that there was little chance of seeing someone I knew. I was also thankful that most of the adults there were not looking any better. Nevertheless, I started to link together the wrist band experience with my own self-esteem, wondering if it is a patchwork of these little life experiences of comparison that have created the queen-sized quilt of issues that I own. Not too long ago I was showing friends some photos of my teenage years, as we debated who may have been the ugliest teenager. As we looked through them, I could remember many of those exact moments and how I felt about how my hair looked, what I was wearing, who I was with, or how fat I thought I was. My friends were unimpressed, declaring me not at all ugly as a teenager. You would think I would get over it. But for me, those feelings never stopped with being a teenager. With each milestone birthday… 21, 25, 30, 35, 40… I thought I would finally reach the age where I would accept myself. But then all I have to do is look back at photos through all those decades. In some of them I looked better than now. In some of them I looked worse. Without a doubt, in ALL of them, at the time they were taken, I remember very clearly that I was not happy with myself. So then I think, “Darn! I looked so good back then! Why didn’t I appreciate it when I had it??”
I really thought that becoming an at-home mom would give me all the time in the world to build my selfesteem through any means necessary. But as it turns out, quitting my job last year was just another dagger taking a stab at it. The “no matter what else, at least I am a successful career woman” idea evaporated overnight. Even almost 8 months later, when people ask me “What do you do?” I have to resist the urge to say, “Nothing.” What I do is a long list of really mundane tasks that keep my family going. If I shared it, the person who asked would probably fall asleep. In all honesty, I am proud of what I do at home and of being a mom, but I am not skilled at explaining that to others without feeling some need to make excuses for the rest of it. To compensate, I hear myself committing to things by joking, “Sure, I’ll do that. What else have I got going on?” Follow that by regret as I take on too much and am left feeling inadequate.
At 41, what is clear to me is that I will probably never feel like I am good enough. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t spend more than 5 minutes a day thinking about these things. I am too busy living my life. But, I will always worry about my weight, fight with my naturally curly hair, believe that I look old, and wonder if the guys at the fire station think my husband has a frumpy wife. And I am not sure how or why I got to be this way, whether all women are this way, or all people in general are this way. I want to try to keep my children from being this way, but have no idea how to do that since I am not sure quite how it happened to me. So, I don’t have some witty or wise insight on this one. What I do know is that I love my family and they love me. Somehow, that’s going to just have to be enough to measure up.
Erika is a recovering workaholic turned at-home mom of two boys ages 4 and 6. She is married to a recovering chemical engineer turned firefighter. Erika is slowly discovering what she likes to do now that she has time to do it.