Decades later, the memory is still fresh. The year is 1983 and we are at the beach on a beautiful summer’s day. All of the other kids are delightfully running towards the ocean. Except for me. I had to wait a few more minutes. Because my mom wasn’t done. She had just finished slathering tons of sunscreen on the first half of my body, now it was time for the other half. I glared at the other kids with envy. Why was I the only one who had to withstand this torture? To add insult to injury, I was wearing the number “20”, which was the highest possible protection at the time. I was a redhead with fair skin and freckles. I really hated this. Mostly, I hated being me.
Years later, as I grew into a teenager, I remained jealous. My fellow young women, the ones with the beautiful “normal skin”, were now tanning. They were covered in baby oil. I still had my sunscreen on. By the19 90’s, the number had increased to “50”. That was my preferred one. If I went out in daylight without it, I was sure to burn. It is not that I didn’t try. I did my share of “sunbathing”. Except my version of sunbathing produced blistered skin and more freckles. I was convinced I could break down the barrier; that once I burned a few times it would eventually turn into a tan. And that I would be just like everybody else. I often told my mom who scoffed at the idea. She told me how I would need to get used to my fair skin as tanning was not something that would ever happen for me. She would then add how special it was to be a redhead and how anyone would kill for my hair color. I tried to listen the first 100 times, but the same speech was getting tired. All I would hear was a bunch of blah blah blahs. I was your typical stubborn kid.
It didn’t seem like this whole summer thing was for me. I did summer camp a few times and hated it. Painfully shy and physically awkward, I was never much of a participator. I didn’t feel as strong and fast as the other kids. Just the thought of having to join an organized sport gave me an instant panic attack. I was always afraid I would ruin the game due to my physical inadequacies. I would have rather just been by myself. For me, summer magnified the fact that I often felt like a failure. And that I didn’t belong. Mostly, I didn’t like that I was different.
Many years later, I would fantasize about my future children. I had already decided that they wouldn’t have the same insecurities as me. They would be confident and happy. I would make sure of it. On January 1, 2008, I found out I was pregnant with my first child. I had all of the normal expectant mom emotions: excitement and lot of worry. Even so, I was confident the experience would be wonderful. And a great healing process for me. On September 8, 2008, my first beautiful boy, Liam Jude, was born. After the nurses cleaned him off, they told me he was a redhead. Just like dear old mom. My own mother had for years told me how special red hair was and I never listened. It was at that exact moment that I finally realized that she was absolutely right. I had already been crying but I cried even harder. As much as I was in love with this remarkable little person, I was worried as could be. My sweet little boy had been born with a serious congenital heart defect. He was missing the left side of his heart. Both my husband and I were determined to give him the best life possible. Liam died nine days later.
After Liam’s death, I was completely devastated. At 35 years of age, I was no longer a child with “silly” insecurities. I was now faced with true heartbreak. I was very fortunate to become pregnant with another baby soon after. In October 2009, I gave birth to Julia Grace, the second love of my life. I was hardened in a way I had never thought possible, but also very joyful. As Julia grew, my husband and I noticed that many of her milestones were delayed. Sitting up and rolling over were challenges. Our pediatrician urged us to see a specialist. She was now 18 months old and still not walking. After a few tests, Julia was diagnosed with Hypotonia; also known as low muscle tone. She was going to be okay, but would likely have some physical struggles. Physical therapy has helped Julia tremendously. Today, at four and a half years old, she is doing great and just like any other kid.
As a mom, I do think about my childhood struggles. I marvel at the fact that I passed down two of my traits to my children. Instead of red hair and low muscle tone being a hassle and annoyance, I now find them to be beautiful and amazing. Today, those same traits are now a symbol of strength and perseverance. For all of us.
I know there are going to be those days. The days when my living children are not going to feel adequate. Whether they struggle with their looks, weight, or just do not think they are smart enough, I am here to tell them they are perfect in every way. And very unique. To never give up. Just as my own mother did. They will probably give me the evil eye and stubbornly shrug off my blah blah blahs, as I once did. But, I will keep at them and repeat myself anyway. Sometimes it takes awhile for children to figure this out for themselves. I can only be their greatest supporter for now. They will get it. Eventually.
One of the greatest gifts in life is having the chance to reinvent oneself. I am still covered with freckles and a bit of a klutz. But I try to make our summers both memorable and magical. We laugh a lot and enjoy the weather. With age, I am really starting to embrace the season that I once dreaded. I get in that pool. And run around the beach (with sunscreen, of course!) When my children look at me, they are not seeing the mess that I once thought I was. They are seeing their mom. The one that is happy as much as possible and wants to embrace every moment. We may not have a lot in terms of material things, but we make the most out of each summer’s day. And that is all that matters.
(Image: Suzanne Tucker/shutterstock)