Sunday, August 29, 2010

Ode to a Red Warm-Up Suit

When I was a child of eleven or twelve, I decided to buy a warm-up suit. Back in those days, warm-up clothes, sweat suits if you will, were highly specific items of clothing. No one owned multiple pairs of sweat pants or piles of fashionable "hoodies". Athletic clothing was mostly confined to athletic activities, and non athletic people like myself, just did not own such a thing, much less wear it out in public. I would have just as soon turned up at school in my nightgown. For gym class, you rounded up a pair of shorts from the previous summer, with a T-shirt nobody cared about, and these were your "gym clothes".

May I say, right off the bat, that I hated gym? I would wake up on "gym days" with dread in my gut. There were several layers to my dread. First, I hated to exert myself. Not in general, but for the forty minutes between science and history. It interrupted the flow of my day, and made me feel all distracted and disjointed. Plus I hated to go back to class all sweaty, but in elementary school, no one had the option to take a shower. I think there was a shower, but I never saw it used, ever. And then also, I hated most gym class activities. I wasn't terribly good at them, and people got so worked up and even mean about them. And it was cold. I grew up in New England, where our school buildings were drafty and cold. Every day I bundled up in corduroy, turtlenecks, and woolen sweaters and tights. Undressing for gym was torture. I would put on those shorts, and stand in the drafty gym, clutching my arms around my middle, my legs purple and goose pimpled. The gym teacher would cheerfully exhort us that if we would "get moving" we would warm up, and it was true. But there was no middle ground. One moment I would be shivering convulsively, the next minute my hair would be plastered to my forehead with sweat. Even worse were spring and fall days, when the cheerful gym teacher would desire to "get us out into the fresh air". Those were fifty degree days, out in the stingy sunlight, running across soggy fields. The brisk breeze cut through the worn T-shirt like a knife and numbed the bare limbs, and no amount of "moving" warmed one up.

And then the most brilliant idea came to me. I was reading the Sears Wishbook, and my eyes fell upon the picture of a happy, athletic girl wearing a warm-up suit. It really was a marvel that my mind even registered the picture, since I usually skipped past the athletic section of the book, but somehow fate was with me. I stopped to consider the knit jacket that zipped up the front, and the straight knit pants with elastic waistband. I pondered the color options of navy and red, and the triple white stripes down sleeve and pant leg. Like a message from heaven itself, the dress code for gym class flashed before me, and I realized that warm up suits could be worn in place of shorts and T-shirts. I became a woman on a mission. I would buy a warm-up suit.

I told everyone about my plan. I quickly checked my resources. I probably had a dollar or two in change. But Christmas was coming, and I knew I would receive cash gifts. I could probably rely on a few dollars to come directly into my hands, but the key was the check from Grandma. Grandma would send a check to my mother, and my mother would decided what to buy with it. I knew I must persuade my mother to order the suit, or all would be lost for another school year. For weeks, perhaps months, I mounted my persuasive campaign. For weeks, perhaps months, my mother tried to dissuade me. She could not see the sense in spending all my Christmas money on such a specific item of clothing, when there were so many other things I might need or enjoy.

In the end, I stuck to my plan, and either I persuaded or annoyed my mother into ordering that suit for me. I chose red, and stood anxiously by while my mother phoned in the order. I chewed down my nails, waiting for the call that would say the parcel had arrived at the store, and was ready for pick up. I anguished through the days, waiting for my parents to make the drive into town to pick up my precious package. It seemed as though it would never happen, but finally it was in my hands, a surprisingly small, light weight sack. I rolled it out of the bag with something akin to wonder. There it was, in all its fire engine red polyester glory, and I knew that I loved it.

My mother looked at me and sniffed. "I hope you're happy with it." Her tone implied that she did not believe I would be, but she was wrong. I was happy for every gym class until I went off to high school. It never made gym class fun or enjoyable. It didn't make me less sweaty when I got overheated. But every time I hurried out of my warm clothes and into those soft ,warm long pants and sleeves, I was happy. Every time I lined up in a chilly gym, or on a windy playground, next to shivering classmates, I was happy.

I learned a lesson with that purchase. I learned that sometimes you just have to spend all your Christmas money on the thing that will help make life bearable. Sure, I could have economized and kept on shivering. Would I even remember the thing my mother would have talked me into buying with the Christmas check from my grandmother? I learned that most of the time, nobody else understands what you need, or how much it matters. My mother never understood my horrible fear of the warm-up suit getting delayed in the laundry, the fear of being reduced to a worn out pair of shorts. I guess it was the first time I learned a little something about self care. Even now, I often equate self care with selfishness. I wasn't selfish by buying that suit. Sure I could have sent my Christmas check to starving children in Mexico, but we all know that wasn't going to happen. My mother would have discouraged it. My Grandmother already sent money to starving children in various locations. She meant this money for me.

Sometimes God sends me a Christmas check, and often I try and send it to starving children or give it away, but God doesn't always want me to do that. Sometimes He intends it to be just for me. Sometimes, I believe, He wants me to order a fire engine red polyester warm-up suit and stay warm.


Anonymous said...

Amen! God is not stingy. He provides us with the necessities, as well as all other "unnecessities".

I know we're not the same age, but this brought back memories for me as a little girl, too - poring over the JCPenney catalog. I always wanted a cash register. I have no idea why, I just wanted one.

Lisa said...

What a sweet story and so true...God knows what we need and he wants us to have it. Self care should not be equated with selfishness. I think we see true selfishness in others sometimes and want to flee from it, we don't want to be associated with it or be accidentally defined in that way. I think if you're ever worried about looking selfish, you probably have been going without things you've needed for far too long. We need to learn to appreciate all of our blessings - the ones we pray for specifically and the ones that He knows we need.