Emily’s selfies have transformed over the years from simple silly faces to really original, gorgeous works of art. I am always amazed when scrolling through the photos on my phone, looking for a completely unrelated image, when I stumble upon pictures like the one above. Emily had some congenital eye issues that required four surgeries (at least so far) and left her with some compromised depth perception. My good friend and amazing photographer, JM, remarked that because of her lack of 3D vision, maybe Emily takes such great pictures because what she sees when she looks through the lens of a camera, isn’t much different than what she sees when she isn’t . I’m not sure. But I can tell you that I look forward to these little sneaky surprises waiting for me in my photo stream. And I hope you enjoy this one, too. I should mention that all of the images, including the Chucks on the banner, were taken by Emily.
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.
Yesterday we continued a long tradition of making the silliest faces for the roller coaster cameras as possible. We have ridden the rides so many times, we know exactly where they hide the flashes, waiting to capture that freaked out, horrified, terrified rider. But not us. We absolutely love roller coasters and always have, so we make it a challenge to get the best. Picture. Possible. And on this special shot we can thank those friends of our kids whom we roped into the deal. It takes planning, precision, and perfect performances from all involved. Clearly from this image you can see, mission accomplished.
Should you find yourself in front of a roller coaster camera in the near future and have the wherewithal to pose, I invite you to take the Hnath family challenge and give it your best shot. No money in the deal to the winner, but some serious bragging rites to anyone who aces our faces, and in our house, that’s more valuable than an Oscar.
Ah April, that time of year when schools take some time off and families connect over amazing vacations to ski resorts, sunny beaches, and big cities with multi-level American Girl stores. At least that’s the way it seems if I peruse the photos my friends post on their Facebook pages. I click through pictures of kids, toes in the pristine sand of exotic beaches, with perfect sunset backdrops, and can’t help but feel like a complete shit in comparison. “Having a blast in Turks and Caicos!” the caption reads. I look out my window and it’s the same leafless tree limbs and brown grass I saw last week. I love spending time with my kids and husband, but school holidays often leave me mentally, physically, and financially tapped out. And we barely even leave our own zip code. By the end of it, I’m Spring Broke on every level. So I decided to come up with some rules to help us survive this time off with as much of our sanity intact as possible.
1. If we are actually paying for 5 of us to get on a plane, EVERY child must be old enough to remember the vacation. On the downside, sorry oldest daughter to two younger brothers, you will never be able to revel in the memories of meeting Snow White and Ariel at Disney World when you would have appreciated it the most. Money is tight and there is no way your father and I could have stomached shelling out $200 a night so that your youngest brother could whine and cry his way through the “happiest place on earth”. On the upside, now that you are 13 and that brother is 6, if we do decide to go, I think we will safely avoid the PTSD, and the therapy costs, attached to meeting Goofy in the fur.
2. As long as we can manage to do it and still sleep in our own beds, we will always incorporate a visit to an amusement park. Busch Gardens, Williamsburg is within a short drive from our house. Every year we do our very best to spend at least one day there, since even though they irritate each other to no end bumping elbows in the car on the way TO the park, somehow, magically, once inside those heavenly gates, all of my children would gladly sit on each other’s laps if a roller coaster were involved. Now that my kids are old enough to enjoy at least a handful of the thrill rides, we can all scream at the top of our lungs, and for at least one day, it isn’t at each other. The benefit to kids and parents alike is impossible to measure.
3. I will do my best to arrange an activity where my children can hit, kick, or punch something really, really hard without getting in trouble for it. Now, this could be as simple as a batting cage or as complex as a soccer camp with Messi himself, as long as my kids feel worn out, and therefore, too tired to take unsanctioned aim at each other. This year our family spent the first night of our Spring Break at a trampoline park, where my two boys spent almost the entire time in the dodgeball area. They whipped balls at each other, laughed hysterically when they missed, and gave props for well-aimed shots. And when our youngest landed on his head after he decided that he just had to try that back flip, his older brother was really sweet to him. For almost 5 whole minutes!
4. One of the most challenging aspects of school breaks in our home is the noise, so I will try to designate a Panic Room. A little nook of neutrality. A place in my house where I can disappear, if only for a few minutes, and get some peace. And I will stock it with earplugs. Laundry room? Great. Closet? Fine. Garage? Perfect. Dog Crate? Brilliant. As long as it is closed, quiet, and calm. I just need to be sure I come back out at some point.
5. Finally, I will try not to compare our family Spring Break experiences to those of others. I will post pictures of neighborhood bike rides, trips to our local zoo, roasting marshmallows in the backyard, and picnics, with pride. I will try to soak up all of these moments and revel in the fact that I won’t have to re-pack a suitcase, deal with jetlag, or face an airport security line. I will seek out new and unique things to try in our hometown, and spread the word if I uncover a local gem. And I will take great comfort knowing that those toes on that gorgeous beach I saw on my friend’s Facebook page, probably just kicked some sand in his sister’s face.