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As a single mom in my 40s, sometimes all I see in the mirror is the wear and tear

But the eightysomething matriarch of my local community pool makes me see I’ve been a lot harder on myself than I deserve.

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She’s eightysomething, a grandmother. And most definitely the matriarch of the community pool. She rocks her summertime look — a black, one-piece bathing suit and visor — while maintaining order at the deep end, fearless in her efforts to ensure pool-goers using the diving board, regardless of their age or gender, adhere to the rules.

On this day, the day I meet her, the matriarch of the pool becomes my hype woman. So much so that later on I’ll even take a bikini selfie. But I don’t yet know that’s coming.

Sitting close by, the matriarch notes my son’s swimming abilities and his respect of the diving board rules. She admires how I mother my son, she tells me, and how I keep a watchful eye as he swims and dives in deep waters.

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We talk about life, marriage, and motherhood. We swap diving board jumps gone wild when we were in far younger days — the disaster dives that resulted in our respective lifetime boycotts of diving boards. The matriarch of the community pool — I’m now thinking of her as a rockin’ granny — makes me see I’ve been a lot harder on myself than I deserve. After all, I never placed my feelings from the disaster dive in my youth upon my son. He doesn’t harbor my fear of diving, and for that, I am proud. Sometimes parents do that — put their own fears on their children; my hype granny praises me for not being that kind of parent.

And I’m not sure if she’s just a fan of leopard prints, but she also tells me I’m doing great in terms of my appearance. I won’t lie, that feels kind of nice to hear after some stuff that life brought this past year.

Maybe it’s just something moms in their 40s feel, but sometimes when I look in the mirror, all I see is the wear and tear of the road traveled — evidence of poor decisions made in my 20s, like when I fake-baked at the tanning salon on Newbury Street, which was next to the office I worked in when a life curveball had me accepting employment outside of education. I missed teaching, but I was in the midst of trying to put Band-Aids on my marriage. Kind of like trying to put a Band-Aid on a bullet hole — it only works for so long. I felt good fake-baking then; I don’t feel good now when I see the skin damage.

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“How old do you think that man is?” the matriarch asks me as I keep watch over my 12-year-old diver. “Would you say, 60?”

“Yes, about that,” I reply.

“He’s not supposed to stand at the back end of the board until the diver clears the area after their dive.”

When, having observed them in the deep end of the pool at the same time as my son, I tell her I think it was his son who just jumped off the board, she disapproves of my justification. “Even so, he should follow the diving board rules,” she huffs.

The rule-breaking dad emerges from the water post-dive. “Sir, you cannot be standing at the back end of the diving board when another diver is on the board,” the matriarch sternly informs him. He shoots her a piercing glance and retorts, “How about you worry about you and I’ll worry about me.” Things are getting heated at the pool.

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After my son gets his fill for the day, we head home. Inspired to see what my hype woman had seen, I take a selfie. Yes, still wearing my leopard-print bikini and no makeup, this fortysomething mom takes a selfie. Because I am me, and I’m going to love me for who I am and the strength maintained on the road traveled.


Suzanna Parpos is a single mom and writer in Framingham. Send comments to magazine@globe.com. Tell your story. Email your 650-word essay on a relationship to connections@globe.com. Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.