Last week I went on a swimming field trip with my 8th graders. A group of 3rd graders also accompanied us.
The day was gorge-a-tabulous. The pool looked terrific, replete with contorted slides, climbing ropes, and all the other features that make kids salivate.
Their glee was contagious. The splashing, screaming, and cavorting would have made even the foulest of grumps crack at least a small smile.
I noticed one little sweet pea 3rd grader who is autistic and has other disabilities standing with his teacher near the edge of a gentle ramp leading into the water. He was refusing to even get his toes wet despite her assurances that she would hold his hand the whole way.
I joined the convo, adding detail about how much fun he would have in the water and we would be right beside him.
He sized me up. At 5'9", I am considerably taller than his teacher. "Are you taller than the water?"
"Yes, honey, I am taller than the water in this part of the pool. I will hold your hand and not let go unless you ask me to."
He weighed his options. "If I slip into the deep end, will you hold me above your head and above the water?"
"Absolutely, sweetheart. Your teacher and I along with all the lifeguards here will keep you safe."
Hand in hand, the three of us waded in. He squealed with delight. He wanted to go beyond the edges of the pool, so we waded into the middle. I wasn't wearing a swim suit, but I rolled my shorts up as high as I dared in the presence of my 8th graders.
"Ok, you can let go," he said loudly to his teacher and me.
"Are you sure, darling? I'm having fun with you here in the water."
"I'm not afraid now. You can let go, " he reiterated.
We retreated back outside the pool and watched his raw joy overflow into the water as he splashed with other kids.
As I did my teacherly duties the rest of the afternoon, which included being cheerleader for the daring divers, a judge for the swimming races, and the PDA (public displays of affection) policewoman, our now happy little 3rd grader would call out to me from time to time.
'Won't you please join me in the water? Please come swim with me near the rope." (This kid knew his manners.)
It deflated me inside to tell him I couldn't swim out to the rope because I wasn't wearing a swim suit. Undeterred, he continued to ask me to swim with him. I waded with him more, but it wasn't the same as fully immersing in the cool water.
Why, you might ask, wasn't I wearing a swim suit to a pool when the other teachers were?
Over the last three years, I have lost 167 lbs. Not a typo. I have lost more than I weigh right now. I haven't worn a swimsuit for at least 18 years. Yes, I love my body now and fitness is my middle name. I work HARD six days a week, sweating through cardio, flipping tractor tires, lifting weights, and doing enough squats and lunges to have covered the length of Texas.
My surgeon has taken care of much of my excess skin. Mr. Tejano tells me often in glowing terms what he thinks of my body. Others are very complimentary of my new shape. My friends are aghast that I still haven't put on a swimsuit, with a beach almost in our back yard. I wear shorts and a tank top even on our trips there.
Honestly, I haven't quite put a finger yet on why I can't bring myself to put on a swimsuit. I see people who are even bigger than I used to be, leaving nothing to the imagination in itty bitty suits at the beach. "Why," the people close to me reason, "don't you want to show off the results of all your hard work?"
I dunno. It's the one last big hurdle I need to work through to make my weight loss journey complete. Self perception and reality can be two very different things.
But, I am going to work on it this summer. I will look at some swim suits the next time I go shopping. Maybe I'll be able to buy one. Maybe I'll be able to actually put it on.
And maybe, just maybe, if my sweet 3rd grade friend asks me, "Please, won't you join me in the water?", I'll be able to swim out to the rope with him.