So a while ago I went to a department store in search of shorts and asked one of the staff where women’s shorts were. English was not her first language and she didn’t seem to know what I meant so I motioned to the shorts I was wearing and said, “shorts, like these.” “Ah,” she said, and led me to a rack of hot shorts in the teen department. Oh boy.
When I indicated that this certainly was not what I had in mind, she took me to a collection of modest looking shorts in the actual women’s department. She looked at them, then pointed to the shorts I was wearing and said, “but these are not like those.”
Thanks, lady, I got it. Time for some longer shorts. First of all, let me say that the shorts I was wearing were cotton shorts from the Gap — not hot shorts. But on my post-baby self, they were a touch tight, and a little short. Hence my search for new shorts. So I proceeded to buy a nice loose, longish, linen pair. Mom shorts.
Fast forward to today. We were wandering around The Enjoy Centre and I turned to find myself standing beside the most exquisite woman. She had long glossy blond hair and perfect make-up, and she was wearing a (tiny) jade pencil skirt with a lace and silk blouse. And she was nursing. Pushing a stroller with one arm and holding a nursing baby with the other, the tiniest bit of skin showing above the tiniest baby’s head. I had never seen breastfeeding look so elegant, discreet, and effortless. “How old is he?” I asked in awe. “One week,” she beamed in an elegant French accent. “And,” she added, “the other two are downstairs in yoga.” This was a mother of three? One week after giving birth??
It was just too much. I thought of myself at one week postpartum: struggling to get Claire to latch, sore and stiff from the c-section, wearing zero make-up, wearing zero pencil skirts. I looked down and realized I was wearing the mom shorts and was depressed.
And then as I was writing this and trying to remember all the lectures my mother and my therapist have given me on not comparing myself to others, I remembered Annie Dillard’s advice for slow writers in The Writing Life:
“Out of a human population on earth of four and a half billion, perhaps twenty people can write a serious book in a year. Some people lift cars, too. Some people enter week-long sled-dog races, go over Niagara Falls in barrels, fly airplanes through the Arc de Triomphe. Some people feel no pain in childbirth. Some people eat cars. There is no call to take human extremes as norms.”
I’ve always found these words comforting, especially coming from a woman who won a Pulitzer Prize at 29.There is no call to take human extremes as norms. I had come across a human extreme in a jade pencil skirt. She wasn’t the first, and she certainly won’t be the last. And this is the thing: human extremes can inspire us or depress us. I can feel inadequate in comparison to this woman, or I can feel inspired to breastfeed more freely. And there’s nothing stopping me from digging out the fabulous Preloved pencil skirt languishing in my closet.
I read a beautiful blog post yesterday on Coffee + Crumbs about the adjustment to motherhood and the feeling of not measuring up.
“I beg you,” N’tima Preusser writes, ” embrace that things will always feel unfinished. Let unfinished be okay. Let unfinished be enough. It is enough. It is enough. It is enough.” And this is what I need to tell myself when faced with those human extremes: it is enough, you are enough. Mom shorts and all.