|photo credit here|
In a few hours I’m going to wear a bathing suit in front of other grown-ups. For the first time since I was eight years old, I am excited to go. My body looks exactly the same as it did a year ago, with the same 20 baby pounds I simply don’t have time to shake, and the same mid-30’s-and-four-babies flab I swore I would tone before this moment arrived. My body has not changed at all, but my attitude has shifted dramatically. To understand why, I have to tell you a story.
It was warm, probably August, and late - after 9 pm. I was almost ready for bed when my phone buzzed with a text. “Have you seen Kayley?” Kayley is a year older than my big boys, and they spend most of their afternoons together as part of a gaggle of kids roaming the back yards along our street. “No,” I quickly typed. “Is she ok?”
The answer came just as fast. “Her mother can’t find her.”
We jumped to work. My mind raced. It was late! What was she doing out? Where was she? All I could think was, nothing good happens to a little girl outside alone at night.
Within a few minutes, a crowd of parents had gathered in the cul-de-sac. My husband and I brought our bikes. We offered to ride down the trail that runs through our neighborhood. It had no lighting, and after dark, it would be pitch black. In my gut I was afraid we would find her there. While a few other parents plotted what sections of the neighborhood to check first, Kayley suddenly materialized from around the corner.
Now I have to be honest: Kayley’s mom had a reputation in the neighborhood. The rumor was that she loved her kids, but was distracted by life and health issues. We almost never saw her outside. I’d only met her a few times, and she was always polite but distant. I knew Kayley spent a lot of time with extended family. I really didn't know her mother at all. Yet, unexpectedly, I was witnessing a very private moment in this woman’s life.
The moment she realized her little girl was okay.
In the streetlight I saw her hands shaking as she wrapped her arms around her child. She gasped with relief and repeated, “Don’t you do that again, don’t you do that again! I was so scared Kayley!” Her child looked overwhelmed. She hadn’t expected to find a search party in her front yard.
I watched this mother I hardly knew embrace her daughter I knew well, and I thought - no matter what else is true about her, she loves her child. And every kid needs someone who will cry with relief in her front yard.
Four months later - last December - I sat at that mom’s funeral.
Aneurysm. Three weeks before Christmas she woke up with a headache. By that night, she was gone.
I wept in a way that made her family uncomfortable. After all, I hardly knew the woman. I sat in a pew with my neighbors, and Kayley joined us. She was fidgety, uncertain. Unmoored. The crowd mumbled the Rosary numbly, but I couldn’t speak. All I could do was think about that night, and how Kayley had lost the person who would weep with relief on her behalf.
Now it’s summer again, Kayley’s first without her mom. And this year my thick ankles and flabby arms seem inconsequential. My body works. My body WORKS. My arms and legs do what my brain tells them to do. I’m mentally, physically, and emotionally able to care for four little kids and (somewhat) maintain a home. I’m here. I have this summer with my kids. And I won’t waste it worrying about 20 silly pounds.
So today I will take my kids for a swim with our friends. I will take off my cover-up, and I will happily jump in. I will pause my conversation when the big boys ask me to watch one more cannonball into the deep end. I will help my daughter paddle and kick. I will enjoy the immense privilege of living another summer in a healthy body alongside my family. And I will say a prayer for the kids who’ve lost their person who cries with relief at their sight.