“You’ve got something to prove,” her husband says. She opens her mouth to object, then shuts it. He’s right. When a 48-year-old mama decides to join the crazies and jump in the waves at Coney Island on January 1— when up until now, she wouldn’t even touch her toe in the ocean before July 1—there’s something going on below the surface.
When she chooses a bikini with tassels over a classic black maillot, oils her body and drops and does 15 push-ups on the sand before hitting the water, she’s out to prove something, but what? That she’s still young? That’s stupid. She knows she’s not. That she feels young? That’s closer to it, but she can’t do a full split anymore, or sit in the lotus position. She can’t read recipes, or garment care labels, or the back of shampoo bottles without help from one of three pairs of glasses knocking about the house.
She doesn’t have a “bucket list” either – that would seem presumptuous to her– to tell the universe what adventures she expects it to sprinkle, like stardust, before she kicks, well, that bucket.
She just wants to take advantage of untasted opportunities that roll her way and won’t compromise her trick knee (skiing is out; ice-skating is approached cautiously.) So when a friend, over a recent pork roast dinner, warm from red wine, boasts that he’s going for a swim at Coney on New Year’s Day, she offers to join him. Besides, she has been hankering for a winter beach holiday and this one fits her budget.
There’s another reason too. She fears she’s making too traditional an impression on her nine-year-old son—because she does rock her domestic side. She is the cookie-baking mom that Hillary Clinton once derided, the mom who throws end-of-school year ice-cream socials and hosts piñata parties. When she tosses out the idea that she’s thinking of joining the polar bears for regular Sunday afternoon dunks, he replies: “Why would you want to go to the beach in the winter? The rides aren’t even open. I want you to stay home Mom.” Now she knows she really has to do this. That rigid, rational mindset must be challenged.
So mother and son head for the Q-train on New Year’s morning, with the pork roast friend and his nine-year-old son too. The uneven sand, even through snow boots, offers welcome softness after asphalt. She peels off the layers, throws her towel at him and takes the plunge. Happy New Year! The water is as packed with bathers as on the Fourth of July. The whiff of seawater brings back the summer of her youth, before it is quickly overtaken by the stench of second-hand smoke. She skitters out of the surf and her son is there to wrap her up, shivering and triumphant. She has no idea what he thinks.
On the subway home she can’t feel her extremities and she’s nodding off like an ‘80s junkie on Avenue D. It’s been a shock to the system. “Get ready,” she tells herself, “there are more to come.”