Mum went swimming the other day. She wore a brand-new bathing suit. It’s been three years since she recovered from brain cancer, and I don’t ever remember her swimming before.
My brother says she has. He says I just don’t remember and he says this with his face bent down a little, protecting the memory. But for all of our long-distance trips in our rusted mini-van with the hand-sewn flower curtains and no air conditioning, for all of our tenting in Arizona and the sun drying us off the minute we stepped from the water, I don’t remember Mum in a bathing suit.
She was always covered. The home-school way, some would say, because we were home-schooled and she wore long flowing skirts or a jean dress and I wore the shortest shorts I could find. My long legs like sticks for the anorexia and Mum didn’t know how to handle her willful oldest child so she handed me over to Dad who’d been too busy writing a sermon to see what I’d done. And I’d be spanked with a hand or a wooden spoon or belt, and my shorts got shorter.
Showing skin got me attention and I was starving. God didn’t approve of me, I knew that, because vanity was a sin and modesty was the Christian code but I was too hungry for love to be fed by religion.
If I’d noticed Mum swimming, I might have felt a little freer. All I knew was, I shouldn’t care so much about my looks and that Mum shrugged out of Dad’s embrace when he tried to hug her and she didn’t think she was beautiful so she didn’t tell me I was.
And then Mum got brain cancer. I went home at 26 to take care of her, to feed her from a spoon and read to her when her head drooped and to help her to the toilet. To change her Depends on the days she slept straight through and to sing to her when morning came. I went home to help Dad who never stopped trying to hug his wife and finally she returned his hugs when she was awake.
And modesty wasn’t an option for the woman who couldn’t pull up her pants or pull on her shirt and she couldn’t stop telling me how beautiful I was.
I thought I was going to lose her. And I wished I’d never stopped hugging her those two years when I was sick. Because Mum was dying and no amount of anything mattered for the way she suddenly did.
And then, after eight years of dying she was suddenly gloriously alive. The doctors rubbing their heads, because the tumor was gone. And in the face of death, life – no matter its size or shape or details – becomes excruciatingly stunning. Like the sun, after days of rain.
And Mum began to walk and talk again. She stopped sleeping all hours of the day and re-learned how to cook and clean. And she hung up a plaque that said “Life’s short, eat dessert first.”
Then she put on a swimsuit and went swimming.
And I don’t know that she’s ever looked so beautiful.
Friends, I am a former anorexic who’s written a book, along with Dr. Dena Cabrera, called Mom in the Mirror: Body Image, Beauty and Life After Pregnancy, which celebrates our femininity and our strength as women, while teaching us how to LOVE ourselves so we can, in turn, love our husbands and our children.
I’m giving away FOUR HARD COPIES, so don’t forget to enter to win on Monday’s post! We will choose a random winner at the end of the week.
Emily Wierenga is an artist, blogger, journalist and the author of Chasing Silhouettes and Mom in the Mirror. She blogs regularly at www.emilywierenga.com. You can also connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn or Etsy.