striped & swollen

{I wrote this two years ago as an ode to my favourite shirt ever of all time, but never published it. I still wear the shirt, long deep holes in it so gapey my nipples pop out. I just can't bear to toss it out.}

Mindlessly and terribly folded, a red and white striped t-shirt dangles off the top shelf of my closet. Relegated to the “pajamas/sick day” pile, its armpits are shredded, its assortment of kaleidoscope stains plentiful, and the memories it holds trapped deep down in the fibers take the breath right out of my lungs. I must admit the shirt itself did not change my life, but it had a front row seat to a year that certainly did.

It cost maybe $12. It hung high and bright and striped on a tall rack at H & M. It is long so as to cover your butt completely. It is horizontally striped – the no that just happens to be a yes. It stretches. It is discreet. It kept my belly, to start just a mild protrusion and then an unwieldy girth full of baby, stylishly cling-wrapped through all the days of a spring/summer pregnancy.

swollen stripes ussr.jpg

When a shirt comes into your life at a time when everything is changing, when your own body becomes a mythical creature you’ve seen but never inhabited, it too becomes more than it should. When your body is morphing itself to form a protective layer around a brand new human sprout, what you drape your outer self in becomes a tug of war. You start an inner monologue. It goes a lot like this: yes, this is practical but this shirt makes me look like a 7 year old that exploded. (No pregnant woman should ever venture forth into a pregnancy clothing store. They were created by evil scientists who want grown women to appear as short and squat human circus tents, in terrible colours like royal blue and lime green.)

So, my cheap and willing $12 t-shirt became the Official Garment of Pregnancy 2010. It became a bit of a joke amongst friends - every picture I was snapped in that year I was wearing that shirt. It was thin enough to keep me cool when July became a hot fire breathing dragon, and still so cute under a dark blazer with thick bangs and bangles.

It generously smoothed down, long and simple, over that big gut of mine until the bitter end, when the rest of my clothes waved white flags and clung for dear life onto my padded hip bones and thick sheaves of back fat.

Once baby girl erupted into our lives, my clothing, free time, sleep, sane thoughts and upward facing boobs all took a giant step back into the shadows. I knew it would happen. Like that shirt, I knew this life of mine could not keep its shape once a new little person was front and centre. I clung to some semblance of the old me. Infused with selfish stubbornness, I tried to pretend that I could still stack my life tall with everything I wanted and juggle until my arms simply fell off. Silly me.

When I look in my closet and see the pieces of me, the clothes that took me through single days of my life, siphoned through this now sleep-deprived memory sieve that is my brain, I close my eyes and lean lightly into the fabric depths - sleeves, necklines, patterns – my lost friends. While my heart expanded like an accordion file when that kid locked eyes with me, all manners of style took a filled diaper in the face.

She’s almost two now. I think every now and then how she’ll judge me when she’s got a fully formed voice and opinion. How she’ll remember me when I’m just a smile in a striped shirt in a faded photo. A mama that loved her so much she sometimes felt sick about it. That intense gut-clenching love, the love that you give and give away, the love that forever changes everything.

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