recently caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and my jaw dropped. It wasn’t the dark circles of sleep deprivation that disturbed me. Nor was it the sun-slash-worry induced lines on my face. It was something new and different. Something neither sleep nor botox could fix. It was the extra something on my upper arm. It was a wobble of flab, a saggy lower bicep — a bingo wing!
I don’t even play bingo.
In a panic, I called my younger, fitter sister in Colorado, interrupting her during her P90X or “Insanity Workout” or whatever inhuman exercise regime she was sweating to.
She was quick to the punch. “Of course you have flabby arms. You don’t have babies anymore.”
I was gobsmacked.
“You think I like to do these workouts?” she said, glistening into the videochat. “No! But once you stop picking up little ones and chasing them around all the time you start to sag. You have to ramp up your workout or open a daycare.”
And I thought I was the funny sister. Apparently it’s genetic.
But she was right. I’d moved out of the baby phase and into the kid phase. And while I’d enjoyed this last year free of bébé accoutrements (traveling without a stroller is exhilarating), I was now paying the price: flabby upper arms.
It seemed like yesterday I was making my way through an airport at midnight wearing one child in a Babybjorn, pushing a Tandem Stroller containing a bigger child and a bigger suitcase, while simultaneously dragging a smaller carry-on from behind (Note: My husband lagged behind with only a camera bag. True story.) As a mother to tiny ones my strength knew no bounds and my body showed it. I was 103 pounds of lean mommy muscle (I still see myself in pounds, not kilos). I required no workout, no diet restrictions and no sleep. Sure, mentally I was a train wreck, but my anxiety only burned more calories. I was in great shape.
It was only a few months back that my four-year-old cried, “I wanna hold you,” which meant that he wanted me to hold him. And it was I who insisted, “Nico, I can’t carry you, I have three backpacks, two extra kids with me, and a purse with an iPad.” That day, he had a meltdown on the street. I refused to give in and made him walk. He had to grow up sometime, I told myself. But I was actually thinking not about my biceps but my aching back.
As my sister made me come to terms with this reality, I felt a tug at my heart: not for my arms but for me. It was an end of an era. The days of swooping up my baby boys and carrying them around with me were over. My body was no longer physically responsible for porting them around.
As mothers, most of us carry our children to term, and then we carry them close to us — chest-to-chest, hip-to-hip — in almost constant contact. As they grow, they walk and run and we carry them less, but we still carry them. Then one day come flabby arms and you realize, “I never carry them anymore.” It’s liberating and nostalgic. You feel happy and sad. Or at least I do.
When I carted them down the street, I felt I could protect them from anything. Their lives were simple. But now, as they begin wander through the world, my arms can no longer control what they encounter. My arms can’t stop them from disappointment, stress or heartache. Sure, I can welcome them back in to my arms and comfort them from life’s low points. But at 18 and 21 kilograms respectively, we might have to sit down for that.
Yesterday, my now four-and-half year old cried, “I wanna hold you.” Again, I had three backpacks, two extra kids, and a purse with an iPad. But I took a deep breath and picked him up. Because I know that before long I’d be thinking, “I wish I could carry them again” — and because I really don’t want to go back to working out at the gym.