Embracing My Thirties, As a Stranger Pees on Me
The August sun warmed my shoulders as I placed my youngest son in the “stop and frisk” position against the barricades of the “Peek-a-Bug” ride, so that I could spray every inch of his five-year-old flesh with SPF 80 sunblock. Deftly balancing two beach towels, a bucket of popcorn, two souvenir cups full of iced tea, and a Big Bird-emblazoned bag stuffed with arcade prizes, I bent and finagled his body into improbable positions. I sprayed the one kid, while explaining to his older, six-year-old brother that he was not, in fact, “allergic” to the Peek-a-Bug, and that Mommy could not possibly manage to be on the ride with one child and simultaneously stand in the throng of Sesame Place with said child’s brother, so he was going to shut his mouth, close his eyes and enjoy all three freaking minutes that he would be on the ride, and we were going to stop whining and have the best goddamn family vacation ever or else.
It was mid-schpiel that I began to feel a warm sensation on my ankle, then over my entire foot. I looked down to see a girl, no more than two, in a sequined blue bathing suit. She was squatting over my hastily pedicured right foot, peeing.
I took my face to Sesame Place, the Northeast’s top puppet-themed water park (for ages 0-7), to celebrate my thirty-third birthday. And here I was, living it up with a flip-flop saturated in pee.
The tinkler’s mortified mother apologized profusely, and I waved her off, pointing to my own boys and nodding in solidarity as a fellow parent who has, many times, found myself apologizing for things I never dreamed possible. (“Sorry my son stole a tub of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter at Thanksgiving and rubbed it all over your dog.”) Plus, sadly, this was not the first time I had been covered in toddler urine. There was a solid block of years when a good day was one in which I made it past noon before the pee hit.
As I trudged over to the restrooms to wash off my feet, I began to wonder what the hell had happened to me. I don’t get as excited about my birthdays as I used to, but surely they should include some sort of recklessness, or frivolity, or, at the very least, an absence of stranger-urine.
My twenty-third birthday… well, I can’t remember it too well. Wasn’t that the point, though? Ten years ago, I had likely been at a bar somewhere, dressed in something that was just the right amount of slutty. I was young and stupid, and sweet Jebus did I look amazing. Here’s proof:
There I am, on the right, doing summertime as it was meant to be done: going on road trips to Deftones concerts across state lines, drinking Jagermeister for breakfast, smoking lots of cigarettes because “the man” told me not to. That’s a portrait of my early twenties — truly the best years of my life, providing I completely ignore the fact that I was horribly insecure and hated nearly everything about myself — like how I was fat because I was 150 lbs., and have you ever heard what people say about monstrous women who are one hundred and fifty freaking pounds? My doctor at the time said a girl who was 5'9" should be no more than 130-135, tops. I’d love to dismiss his opinions, but I just consulted WebMD about it, and it agreed that the picture you see above is of a fat sack of crap!
My body had yet to go through the experience of creating — and ejecting — one fully formed human being, much less two of them. What would twenty-three-year-old Allison think of thirty-three-year-old Allison, who is all curves and stretch marks; who traveled across state lines to shimmy in the pit at the “Elmo Rocks!” stage show; who had a sensible breakfast of coffee and fruit and quit smoking years ago; who now stood scrubbing pee off her ankles with a wet paper towel?
I looked closely at myself in the mirror—at the pores that, suddenly, I can see; the line near my left eyebrow that doesn’t go away after I’m done making my “bitch, please” expression; the scars on my chin from the acne I never had when I was a teenager but was forced to deal with in my early thirties thanks to that “huge hormonal change” that nobody warned me about; the face free of makeup and mop of unruly, curly red hair that I didn’t bother attempting to make presentable, because seriously who gives a crap at this point.
It had been ten years since my twenty-third birthday; ten years I’d spent becoming a professional success, a loving wife and mother, an adult. Almost everything in my life had changed, except for the fact that I could still stand there, staring in a mirror, seeing nothing but everything that is wrong with me, ripping myself apart.
Then I remembered one of the reasons I came to Sesame Place to celebrate my birthday and make a point to come every summer. It’s not just that the kids are happy, or because perhaps I really do enjoy that “Elmo Rocks!” show a bit too much. It’s that every woman who walks through the gates has given birth at least once. When I was twenty-three and at a water park, I was so worried that if I sat down, people would see that my belly had a tiny little paunch. But to agonize over my imperfections here, in the ranks of thousands of women who not only understand why I’m not perfect, but likely don’t even notice my body because they’re too busy picking their own apart when they’re in the bathroom washing pee off their feet? Who cares that I don’t look like I did ten years ago? At Sesame Place, I can go on water slides without obsessing over what my ass looks like!
I walked out of that bathroom and proceeded to go on every single water slide there. Twice. And it was more awesome than I could have ever hoped for.
I’m not twenty-three anymore, and I don’t want to be. I don’t want to be unable to sleep at night, wondering what my place is in the world, worrying about how I’m supposed to be an adult when I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. No, I’m in my thirties now, and I’m completely okay with the fact that I still don’t know what I’m doing. I’m making this crap up as I go along, and not only do I suspect that’s the entire point of it all, but I’m also absolutely certain it’s a lot more fun this way.
I don’t want to be twenty-three when I felt miserable, insecure, and unloved. My body is imperfect because I might actually have too much love. My kids love me when I’m out closing business deals like a winner, or yelling at them to go on a twenty-foot spinning purple caterpillar in an amusement park because I said so, or crying in a ball on the sofa because I saw a sad commercial for yogurt. I’m the one they will barge into the bathroom on when they get so utterly excited about something — like they “saw a bird” — that I absolutely, positively have to be the first person they tell. I’m the one they will both simultaneously sleep on top of, like a mattress, when they get scared in the middle of the night and need to know they’re safe. I can’t remember the names of anyone who slept on top of me when I was twenty-three.
When I was twenty-three, I didn’t get to hang out with my best friend every day. At thirty-three, I have a husband who, despite my loud objections, thinks I’m getting more beautiful as the years march on; a husband who still makes juvenile noises every time I’m getting undressed; a husband who occasionally likes to snuggle up with me in bed, watch Major League, and eat a pie.
I have the sort of life where a man loves me more for who I am, what I know, and what I dream of, than for my BMI, and he lets me eat pie in bed on a semi-regular basis. Why in God’s name am I complaining about getting older?
I was told my teenage years would be the best years of my life, and they were anything but. Same for my twenties. My thirties, however, have made me realize that there will never be a set “best days of my life,” because even though what I see in the mirror might not be perfect, everything outside of it seems to get a little bit more perfect every single day.
Of the few things I know, one of them is that the best days are all the ones that are stretched out ahead of you. Sometimes, it takes a strange child peeing on you at Sesame Place to make that abundantly clear.