Growing up, I spent most of my summer days at the Beverly Hills Swim Club in Concord, North Carolina. It sounds fancy, but I assure you it wasn’t. It was an affordable pool, 10 minutes from our house, with a swim team. It was there that I fearlessly jumped off the diving boards, completed underwater handstands for hours, and pretended to be a mermaid. I still have evidence of those summer pool days on my front tooth, where there remains a small chip.
I had a myriad of swimsuits, and (unlike now) I never, ever remember worrying what I looked like in them. My stash of ‘80s-tastic suits was pretty large, and I was partial to the neon one that had a lot of hot pink. I rocked my side ponytail with a matching scrunchie and my puffy-paint t-shirt every day to the pool. I was truly living my best life, before we even had a hashtag for that kind of thing.
All I wanted to do every single summer morning was get to the pool right when it opened.
Once we arrived, we unloaded all our gear from my mom’s bright blue Trans Am. I’d take in a deep breath of the chlorine and smile. Next, I had to wait for my mom to get set up. She had a plastic and metal folding lounge chair that creaked open into three distinct pieces. It was green and white, and she had written our last name, “CLINE,” on the back of it in thick black marker. Those three minutes while she set up felt like they were going to kill me. Patience has never been my strength.
The first thing I did when she gave me the greenlight was go to the high dive. I would climb to the top, pause for a millisecond, and then run as fast as I could, jump at the very edge where there was the most spring, and catapult my body into the air.
The summer I was 10 years old, those pool trips changed.
My parents were in the midst of a nasty divorce, and my life was tearing at the seams. I became a secret keeper, as one parent told me things I couldn’t tell the other. I developed tummy aches that everyone thought were “for no reason,” but now I know it’s how my little body was trying to process the stress and grief. I also learned how to be a different version of myself with my mom than I was with my dad, so they would both be pleased. I bet many of you who have parents who got divorced can relate to this feeling.
That pool chair I’d so anxiously watch — it never unfolded again. My mother was in a hurry to drop the last name “CLINE,” and I understand that better now than I did then. In the years that followed, there were less pretend mermaid sessions and flips off the high dive, and more shuffling from house to house and getting to know who my parents were dating.
Fast-forward to last summer.
My immediate thought wasn’t “FUN!” It was, “Oh, my lord, I have gone up a dress size and I need a new bathing suit.” So, naturally, I ordered 11 swimsuits online to try and find the perfect fit. Instead of focusing on which suit was best for FUN (like my 9-year-old self used to do), I was trying to find one that would do the impossible:
Keep everything appropriately in the suit while I chase my son with special needs around the beach (i.e., no wedgies or nip slips).
Cover my tummy and make it look flatter (ha!).
Make my boobs look perky, but not too “va-va-voom” (tricky).
Be of good quality and hold its shape for a few summers, because if I find this suit, I am never letting it go (like ever).
Is that too much to ask from one small piece of spandex? Surely not!
But all this stress about trying to find a miracuously flattering swimsuit has reminded me of my summer roots. I am getting in touch with Summer Steph circa 1989, if I can still find her after 30 years. 1989 Steph was tan, happy, confident, and focused on fun — not on her image or weight or insecurities. She didn’t fear the future, although hard things were certainly ahead. Not surprisingly, the more she played, the more she laughed, the more she got lost in the water, and the more life she drank in.