simply mom

She gets littler and littler each time I see her. In so much as it’s her frame shrinking over time, it is also her being, her mind.

Scott and I approach Mom on the grass and swoop in for a group hug. Her downy, white head buries into my chest, her longish arms wrapping around our waists. Though she might not remember our names she seems to know she’s being cradled by her adult children and I’m sure she’d embrace us forever if she could.

We take Mom to the San Diego YMCA to watch Scott swim. In the shade I feed mom pieces of a Subway sandwich and some blueberries, dolling them out one by one so she doesn’t eat too fast and upset her digestion. Just like Calvin, I think. The skin around her watery eyes is red and irritated from rubbing or allergies or both. After lunch I set her down on a lounge chair, thinking the slap-slapping of swimmers arms will help her to rest. I offer her a stick of gum that she attempts to put in her mouth, paper and all.

For a good part of an hour we sit there on the deck. I’m taken back to my days as a child when I spent nearly every day at the pool. Some things don’t change. There’s the lifeguard wearing red and white sweats sitting behind sunglasses, under a visor and atop a tall sturdy white wooden chair. A man on the deck teaches swimming lessons to a couple of grade school kids. One of them, the boy, swims like a spider the way so many of my swimmers did when I was a coach. He’s telling the boy, who is about Calvin’s size, though younger, to reach with his arms and I find myself smiling. Then I find myself crying. I want to be transported to a place and time where I’m teaching my kid how to swim, telling him to keep his chin down, kick his feet and keep his elbows up. I long to see his little scrawny body move down the lane inch by inch until he reaches the deep end where I shower him with praise.

I see Scott in the next lane over, his own long arms tanned and toned from hours spent in the pool every week. He moves through the water like a serpent and I wonder if my stroke looks at all like his, and I am aware that my own boy will never grow into the same kind of man that my brother is, that his father is.

After the swim, at my sister’s condo, we lay Mom down for a nap. She falls asleep hard, then jitters and shakes and I wonder what is going on in her brain. Thirty minutes later she wakes to go to the bathroom. I take her in to help her and as she’s washing her hands we look into the mirror at each other. With my arm around her I tell her that I love her. Looking into the reflection of my eyes and smiling, she replies, “I love you. Really. No kidding.”

photo by Scott Shake


  1. All this sorrow and loss, suffused with profound beauty...

  2. How beautiful and simple. Christy, your boy swims in freedom in your mind and that is something.