It was, perhaps, the longest summer of my life. In July of 2007, I had a 5-year-old, a 3-year-old, and I was approximately eleventy million weeks pregnant with my third son. I had gained a correlated million pounds and I was, no exaggeration, the size of a multi-family duplex. To add to this pretty picture, I lived in Central Florida, so it was also hot as balls. Every day. And two hundred percent humidity. I was hanging on to my sanity by a swollen, sweaty thread.
There is a desperation when you are that pregnant, that hot, and in charge of two human beings with that little regard for basic civility. You are pretty much living minute by minute, teeth gritted, counting the minutes until bedtime so that you can prop yourself up on some pillows with ice packs on your face and a tub of Tums by your side. One way I tried to occupy my small, unruly children while also impersonating a beached whale that summer was to take them to swim lessons every morning at the (air conditioned, enclosed) gym pool. They could have charged me a hundred dollars a lesson; those suckers still would have been worth every penny to me.
The gym pool was downstairs from the main lobby, so my mission was to get both boys down two flights of stairs smack dab in the middle of the large, open gym for every lesson and back up again with minimal damage to them or others. This was a more complicated endeavor than it might seem to someone who was not the size of a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon. From the stairs, I could see everybody in the building — and they could see me. I kept my head low. I had my eyes on the prize: the relative bliss of the lounge chair by the pool for my guaranteed hour of not-parenting.
On our way back up the stairs after their lessons one morning, my children were not behaving, as was their way. They have always been extremely and unfortunately accident-prone too, so I was hanging on to them for dear life, hoping one of them wouldn’t hurl himself down the stairs. Honestly, if he had, I couldn’t have saved him — not in my condition. I could barely walk straight. I wasn’t just waddling; I was waddling like a duck who had stepped in gum.
My 3-year-old at the time, Charlie, takes after his 6’5″ father, who is the smallest man in his family. At three, my son weighed about 50 pounds and looked like a kindergartner. Because of his size, he has always borne the burden of a tall child – that is, people always think he is older than he actually is, and they sometimes expect things from him he can’t deliver. Those expectations make for fun times when parenting in the public eye. That particular morning, he was fighting me because he didn’t want to leave the pool yet. He was doing the limp-drop body maneuver that all toddlers know, forcing me to attempt to drag him haphazardly up the stairs while keeping my 5-year-old in my line of vision.
An older man, probably in his 60s, approached us from above in street clothes. He was attempting to come down the stairs to reach the locker room. He looked like the kind of person who is always on time, whose gym shorts are folded neatly in his gym bag, who always has a water bottle. In other words, he didn’t look like my people at all.
He was not excited to see us.
As he reached the landing between the two flights of stairs where I was struggling with Charlie, the man paused and gave us a dirty look. You know the look: it’s jam-packed with disdain, fueled by an attitude of “I’d never allow that behavior” and topped off with a little “This is what’s wrong with the world these days,” just to make it extra judgey. I made the mistake of making eye contact with him. It was the last straw. I was overly-pregnant, sweating, anxious, and dealing with a 50-pound terrorist. A judgmental stranger was apparently my tipping point.
“He’s THREE!” I snarled as I locked eyes with him. “IT HAPPENS.” Indignantly, and collecting the kind of adrenaline and strength that mothers usually save for lifting automobiles off of their offspring, I somehow managed to lean down and scoop Charlie up and over my shoulder — all wriggling, kicking 50 pounds of him — and I gave the man a parting scowl.
Unfortunately, I gave him more than the scowl. At that point in my pregnancy, I had to wear pants that could fit over my humongous stomach, which was much, much, MUCH larger than my rear end at that moment. Whatever law of physics that was necessary for me to pull off that combination while carrying an oversized toddler and stalking up stairs with dignity was not on my side that day. The force of swooping Charlie over my shoulder caused my muscles to contract and, much to my – and, I am quite certain, the entire rest of the gym’s collective – horror, my pants promptly dropped to my ankles in a very unceremonious manner.
I was standing on the open stairwell landing in the middle of the gym, hovering above the full and active basketball courts, wearing only a tight v-neck maternity T-shirt, a 50-pound three year old, and my (ratty, third time around) maternity underwear.
My poor victim quickly averted his eyes and scampered down the stairs and to the safety of the gym floor. I dropped Charlie, hoisted my pants back up from my ankles and over my bulbous belly, and dragged the children with a new will up the stairs and out to the car as fast as possible, avoiding eye contact with anyone else in my path. When I reached my minivan, I strapped my kids into their seats and I exhaled. Then, I laughed. I laughed for a good five minutes. I laughed until I couldn’t breathe again. I laughed because from the look of horror on that man’s face, I was pretty sure he wouldn’t be casually tossing dirty looks out at pregnant mothers again anytime soon. I laughed because life is pretty absurd with small children. I laughed because, OMG, this is my life? I laughed, finally, because maybe I secretly hoped that it could induce labor. And I was damn well done with that pregnancy.
I gave birth to my third son a week later. He was 9 pounds, 6 ounces and two weeks early. I promptly threw out my maternity underwear and invested in the good stuff. Lesson learned: Your mother was right. Always wear good underwear.