I did it. I said I wouldn’t, but I did. I caved. Emily talked me into buying her a bikini.
My mom refused to let me wear one, because her own mom had refused to let her wear one. So I was never able to show off the toned, swimmer physique my hours and hours in the pool had given me. By the time I had the confidence to bare my belly, childbirth had taken its toll and it was too late. So even though I knew it would place her firmly into a new category at only eleven years old, I allowed my daughter to buy her first two-piece swimsuit.
“Okay” I say, “we can buy you one.”
“Really?” Emily asks, her eyes and mouth wide open.
She shrieks and begins to bounce as we walk toward the girls’ clothing section of our local Target. The white floors gleam as we pass racks full of brightly colored clothes covered in peace signs and sequins.
Careful to make it age appropriate, we begin poking through the racks, looking at each suit. I choose the bikini with as much fabric as possible.
“How about this one?” I ask as I hold up a yellow, ruffled two-piece.
“Moooooom,” she groans, “that one would make me look like I’m four!”
I put it back and look through some more suits.
“Oh I LOVE this one!” Emily squeals. “It’s so cute!”
I look, and the purple, floral bikini seems like a nice compromise. It isn’t too daring, but not too conservative. And at least it has actual straps and not strings holding together the triangles intended to cover her budding breasts.
“Ok,” I say, “We can get that one.”
“Mom, you’re the BEST!” She says, and gives me a hug.
Soon, these public displays of affection will cause her embarrassment so I selfishly hold on even longer than normal to try and absorb every last ounce of love her embrace spills into my body.
As we make our way toward the check-out counter Emily beams with pride. It makes no difference that she won’t fill out the top half of the suit quite yet. She will be getting her first bikini and that alone makes her feel grown, but her pure and unbridled enthusiasm over the purchase reminds me that she is not.
Last summer she was a child, awkward and unaware of her developing body and beauty. But in the year between then and now, that girl has begun blossoming into the young woman who is skipping toward the cash registers. Her ponytail swings side to side, the ends of her hair still brassy and bleached from the sun and chlorine of last year. She is magnificent.
I wish that it was only time and puberty that aged Emily so much in just twelve short months, but I know it is much more than that. My cancer was diagnosed in August of last year and my young daughter was shoved into the very grownup world only children of sick parents get to see. I waited to begin my treatment until our children had school started; I felt the routine would provide escape and solace. But each day Emily had to trade the safety and normalcy of her day filled with lockers, books and classmates for a house of sickness, quiet and fear. It changed her, and I worry I will never forgive myself for what my illness has done.
Emily has always been so grounded, so eager to please, so reluctant to complain. During the past year she never cried or stomped her feet, even though she had every reason to. Instead, she began pulling out her eyelashes and eyebrows. I lost mine to chemotherapy. Emily lost hers to the stress she felt over my chemotherapy. She kept her smile, but the light that glowed so brightly behind her hazel eyes began to dim and I saw how my sickness drained her.
I’m so much better now. My hair has come back along with my energy and I am able to be present once again for my family. Emily’s hair has come back too, along with her light and happy spirit. So when my daughter asked for her first bikini I decided that if the purchase of a more adult swimsuit helped her feel the excitement of a kid, I could say yes.
I follow along behind her as we walk toward this milestone purchase and I close my eyes, trying to burn the image into my memory. I am witnessing her life transform in slow motion as this young woman heads toward adulthood. And I am so grateful that I am here to see it.