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Challenge: Stretched Too Thin

Chubby Thighs and Flashbacks from the Empty Nest

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She has swimming lessons every Sunday morning, at the indoor swim center just a few miles away from home. I am only aware of this small life detail from a brief conversation I had with her mother, probably 5 or 6 months ago.

I can no longer remember what I ate for breakfast, yet I retained this insignificant little detail about someone else's life.

As I putter around the kitchen, wiping down counters and storing away dishes, I catch sight of their SUV as it pulls into the driveway across the street. And for some odd reason, the first thing that pops into my head?

They must be returning home from swimming lessons.

Immediately I am both amazed and ashamed at myself for retaining this tiny detail of their lives. We chat here and there, but it seems ridiculous that this tidbit of information was important enough for me to file away somewhere.

I watch the dad get out of the driver's seat and walk around to the passenger side to gather the sweet little swimmer and take her inside for dry clothes, maybe a nap.

Because sometimes the nap afterwards was really the best thing about swimming lessons.

And then I see the mom exit the car, wrapped in a colorful beach towel, presumably sporting a wet swimsuit beneath. Our littlest neighbor probably isn't ready to swim on her own just yet, but my mind had blocked out the fact that mommies -- and daddies -- automatically become the secondary student when little ones are learning to swim.

And in my subconscious I hear it, ever so faintly...

The wheels on the bus go round and round...round and round... round and round...

When my daughter was learning to swim they played that song again and again, while the mommies in the pool spun their babies around, making silly puppet-like gestures with their chubby little hands. You never really knew just how many verses there would be, as there was usually an over-achiever parent who would invent a new passenger on the bus and a clever thing that passenger would say.

The porcupine on the bus says, "Ouch, I'm sharp!"

And then we did the whole thing over again.

round and round...round and round...

Damn those wheels.

They never really stop.

This summer I drove my daughter back to her college home-away-from-home for a six-week summer session. She came home for about a month after finishing her second year of college and running out of ramen noodles. The college she attends is just far enough away from home that a round trip there and back can be done in one loooong day. So I grabbed the chance to be alone with her for the five hours down, then alone with my thoughts for the five hours back home.

Wheels turning; taking her further away from childhood with every mile.

But the swimming lessons.

I remember them as if I had just stepped out of the pool and peeled her tiny suit off slippery wet skin. There was the excitement of signing her up for lessons at the same pool where her brother learned to swim. The angst of finding a swimsuit that hid post-baby curves and gave me the confidence to shed the coverup and just get in the damn pool. The fear that she might slip from my grasp and fall under the water, becoming scared and reluctant to go back. I would usually pack a snack -- since I was certain she would burn so many calories while swimming she would be famished. Goldfish crackers stuck to her tiny, prune-like fingers that turned a bit orange if she had too many.

Her older brother would usually have his lessons at the same time, in the big-boy pool right next to us. The games we played in the water seemed silly to him, even when reminded that he, too was a graduate of the Mommy-and-Me swimming classes.

round and round...round and round

The ultimate goal of the hours and hours of swimming lessons was to keep them safe in and around the water, of course. But there was also the unspoken wish that passed between moms as a half smile or a nod. The hope that one day we wouldn't have to be in the pool, but might be on a lounge chair on the pool deck, maybe reading a grown-up book or chatting with a friend. Heck, maybe there would even come a day when one of us brave souls might drop a middle-school kid off at the pool for the afternoon with friends and no MOM.

A rite of passage, a milestone of sorts.

One small victory; another box checked off a mental list we start cultivating as soon as we become moms.

round and round...round and round

And now, I drop her off at a messy apartment in a town 300 miles away — and with a quick hug I leave again.

I can finally sit poolside, not a care in the world.

Not too many more boxes for this mom to check.

And those damn wheels are still turning.

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