The other day in the checkout line, I exposed myself to the cashier.
I didn’t mean to. Honest. I’m not into that kinda thing (much to my husband’s chagrin). And trust me, after nursing two kids and swiftly closing in on thirty-five, the last thing I want everyone at my friendly neighborhood Publix to see is my booby. Maybe my bra-strap, my lower back or in the worst of cases, a little crack, fine. I can deal with that. But really, my boob? And not just my boob—my nipple. My nipple. I’m Saint Augustine’s version of Janet Jackson.
Before children, I was hyper-self-aware. At least once an hour, I checked my appearance out in a mirror or other reflective surface just to make sure my teeth were spinach-free and my hair wasn’t sticking out everywhere. I’m not one of those women who always looks polished and made-up by any means, but before kids, I showered daily, brushed my hair and tried to make it out the door with, at the bare minimum, some lip gloss, and in most cases, a bra.
During this blissful, child-free era, I saw a commercial with a woman on it talking about the ease with which she could use whatever product she was pitching, and how nice it was to have one thing in her life that she could count on, as about a dozen kids swarmed around her like piranhas. Then she smirked at the camera and said something like, “I can’t even count on taking a shower every day.” I remember sitting there on the sofa, probably flipping through a magazine or eating or engaging in some other luxurious and leisurely activity that I used to revel in pre-children, and thinking in disbelief, now why can’t this poor woman count on taking a shower every day? Is her life really so hectic that she can’t squeeze in five minutes under a spray of water, give the old pits and crotch a little how’s-your-father, maybe slather on some Pert and give everything a good rinse before anyone notices her absence and all hell breaks loose?
How smug and naïve of me. How very smug and very, very naïve.
So I stood in line to pay for my groceries and Rollie told me he wanted to help slide my card—something I started allowing since it was the only way to keep him from destroying the Tic Tac display. I picked him up and held him on my hip, guiding his hand as he ran my card through the machine and punched in my PIN. That day I wore a tank top with one of those built in bras, usually a bonus because since having kids I’ve found that some days not only do I sometimes skip taking shower, but I also started taking shortcuts when getting dressed (I’m still waiting for them to come out with jeans that have socks attached to the cuffs, and shorts with built-in underwear).
Unfortunately, holding my darling, thirty-pound-boy on my hip while wearing an only somewhat-supportive tank top and being distracted with making sure he doesn’t type in the wrong code and lead to my purchase being declined (now wouldn’t that have been embarrassing?) was not the wisest thing I could have done. Because after completing my transaction, I looked up at the cashier, waiting for the automatic and obligatory have a nice day, and perhaps a comment about how simply adorable my son is, I noticed that her eyes weren’t meeting mine in a friendly smile. Oh no. Her eyes were instead focused on something else, and they were quite large and round.
And suddenly I had a premonition, a terrible, terrible sense that something awful was about to happen. Had my son left chocolate handprints all over my shirt? Was a giant tarantula creeping its way up my torso? Had someone snuck up to me and written something obscene on my shirt when I wasn’t looking?
All of those would have been welcome alternatives to what the cashier was actually staring at. Because just then I felt oddly exposed…and a little chilly.
I looked down. Yep. There it was. My boob, nipple, areola and all.
Balancing Rollie on my hip had pulled my shirt down at the bottom, causing the neckline to sag, pull, and eventually give up its cargo, revealing it to the poor cashier and anyone else who wanted to take a gander.
“Whoa,” I said, dropping my son like a hot, whining potato and adjusting my shirt. “Yikes. Sorry about that.”
After the slightest pause, during which I’m sure the cashier was making every attempt to banish the image from her mind, she smiled and shook her head.
“That’s okay,” she said, like I’d just given her an expired coupon instead of her own personal peepshow. But I could still see the look in her eyes. She was young, possibly in college (please God don’t let me just have flashed a high school girl), and definitely didn’t have kids. I could tell by her face. She looked disbelieving, and a bit…smug. I knew what she was thinking. God, lady, don’t you even notice when your boob is hanging out there for the whole world to see? Shouldn’t you be wearing a bra—you have kids for crying out loud. Women your age should be wearing turtlenecks and sweatpants and covering yourself up as much as possible.
That’s what I would have been thinking, ten years and two kids ago. That’s what I used to think when I saw that commercial with that stinky, shower-skipping lady, or whenever I’d see a harried, frazzled, frumpy-looking mother bustling a flock of children through my checkout line. I’d take one look at the stained shirt, the frizzy hair, the naked face of the woman as she pawed through her purse for coupons, her checkbook as she barked at her kids to stop messing with the Tic Tacs and I’d think, Kill me if I’m ever that disheveled and un-self-aware.
Good thing no one ever held me to that pact.