Of course, I’m closer to the age of Strayed’s mother when she died, than I am to the age of the daughter losing her. And unlike Cheryl Strayed when she lost her mother, I am a mother. So, as I sat there, reading by the pool watching my long-legged girl doing flips off the diving board, I found myself identifying more with Strayed’s mother, than with Strayed herself. Not in an entirely morose way. Naturally, it went through my mind how devastating it would be to have to say good-bye to your daughter prematurely. But that wasn’t where my mind dwelled. Instead, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the brevity of life in a seize-the-day good way. I felt urgent about the need to appreciate each moment that I am here with my children, to make the most of them, of myself, of our lives together however long that is. I don’t think that way enough.
Between writing, household chores, arranging for home-repairs, dealing with the car, getting people ready for their Next Big Thing, be it camp, school or a family trip, re-starting my therapy practice after nearly three years, preparing talks—I am so caught up with the minutiae of my life that I am often at risk of missing all the good stuff. The moments that matter most, those where I get to enjoy the people I love.
So I closed my book and just watched my daughter in the simple act of being her smart, silly, inventive self. The girls had stopped their game of Marco Polo by now, because a younger girl, hoping to get ingratiate herself to the big girls—had lent them her enormous, inflatable seal. Zoe and her two friends took turns trying get on its slippery back for a ride, more often than not, causing the seal to slip out from under them, pop up into the air, knocking them back into the water to the tune of their own hysterical giggles. Finally, when each of them had mastered it and taken a turn riding around the section of the pool where inflatable toys are allowed, a new challenge arose. From where I sat, I couldn’t tell what they were up to at first. One of Zoe’s friends took hold of the seal’s head, the other its tail, trying to hold it steady as Zoe climbed aboard. Now she crouched with her feet planted shakily on its back. Her goal, it seemed, was to stand. A few attempts ended with Zoe sliding off one side or another, but finally she got her balance—albeit in a bit of a squat—let go and, arms outstretched, shrieked that she was surfing! Her friends cheered as Zoe toppled off the seal once again, creating a surprisingly big splash for a sixty-five pounder.
It was just a split second of victory, but the delight on her face brought tears to my eyes. It is a snapshot of Zoe’s childhood that I’ll remember always, a moment I was around to appreciate, silently cheering her on.