When I was about 12 or 13, my mom and sister and I traveled to Florida to visit my aunt and cousins. I was so excited to spend a week in the sun, lounging by the pool and practicing being the cool pre-teen that I thought I was. I was awkward — all long limbs and skinny body and bad hair cut. My cousin, although she was the same age, seemed more mature. Blonde hair and the beginnings of real boobs and she wore sports jerseys with knee high socks which, don’t ask me why, I thought looked so cool.

Part of us were still little girls — we pretended to be dolphins in the pool and read Babysitters Club books. And part of us wanted to be grown up, trying on black eyeliner, and stuffing her knee socks in our bras.

I was just beginning to pick apart things about myself and spending time with my pretty cousin only amplified those feelings. She seemed to have it all and next to her outgoing personality and pretty face, I felt paled in comparison.

On one of our last days there, we ran into a boy about our age at the pool. I thought he was cute, but not knowing how to talk to him, I let my cousin lead the way. She tossed her hair and touched his shoulder and I looked at her in wonder and thought, “how does she do that?”. Despite her efforts, he actually paid more attention to me and directed his question my way when he asked if we wanted to ride on his Jetski the next day.

We agreed, and spent the rest of the day excitedly talking about how cute he was and how fun the ride would be. The next morning we headed to the pool to get some sun, and by the end of the day we were giddy. I picked out my best swimsuit and cutest shorts and took out my totally unnecessary green CoverGirl compact to powder my face.

I looked in the mirror and wanted to cry. Staring back at me in the mirror was a face completely covered in freckles. Exacerbated by the last few hours in the sun, every surface from my eyebrows to my upper lip was sprinkled with what I thought to be the ugliest thing ever. My cousin walked into the bathroom, all tan and freckle-free and I panicked.

I don’t feel well,” I told her. “I don’t think I can go.”

She tried to change my mind for awhile, telling me how fun it would be, but I insisted. No, I couldn’t go.

But she did. I watched from the window as she bounded up to the boy in the parking lot and moved behind the curtain when I saw him look up at the window disappointingly. I watched her hop on the back of the Jetski, wrap her arms around that boy and drive off.

Almost 15 years later, I still regret my decision that day. I regret allowing myself to feel so inadequate next to my cousin. My cousin, whose life utlimately took a bad turn later in life. I regret allowing myself to be overshadowed because I was scared and most of all, I regret hating something about myself that makes me so unique.

It took a long time, but I eventually learned to love my freckles. To marvel at how quickly they appear on my arms or how cute the sprinkling across my nose can be. I love when my husband kisses his favorite freckle, the one right below my left eyebrow and take solace in the fact that they will always give me a youthful appeal.

It’s hard to accept who I am all the time. To love my arms or my ears or my inability to make quick and witty comebacks on cue.

But I accept my freckles. I more than accept them.

I love them.