The Best Shape Of Your Life

by Keenan McGrath
Originally Published: 

Hello, 18-year-old Me,

I saw a girl at the gym today who reminded me of you. She swaggered in to class with her middle-aged mother, looking smugly around her at the flabby older women readying lightweight equipment. I watched her toned, fit legs stretch at the front of the class, making sure everyone saw just how much more in shape she was than the rest of us old hags, purposefully selecting the heaviest set of dumbbells.

I knew her at once, Teenage Me, because you are just like her. You think outward shape is the only meaningful indicator of fitness and find fuller figures weak and disappointing. I know if you could see me now you’d be wailing over the size of our thighs and covering our upper arms with sleeves at all costs. If you looked in the mirror right now and saw my reflection, you would drop your fork and recommit yourself to a diet soda and low-fat yogurt.

But you don’t know the strength beneath my sag. You won’t know for many years, but I desperately wish I could tell you that…

My thighs, dimpled and much fuller than yours, can climb up a flight of stairs holding an 8-year-old who fell asleep in front of the television.

My arms, flapping with extra skin, can carry a wriggling toddler and four bags of groceries through a parking lot.

My abs, which remain hidden beneath a puckering layer of skin, have performed more feats of extension and contraction than a hundred of your pitiful sit-ups.

So maybe your time is much faster on the track, but you watch our kid fall off a swing set and see who makes it across the playground first.

You can sprint and not get winded? Congratulations, but now I’m living in a marathon and breathing just fine.

My daily routine includes running up and down stairs a hundred times to find forgotten items, pulling a wagon loaded with children, coolers and crap up a hill to the pool, carrying multiple loads of laundry, lifting children up to reach the monkey bars, and dragging loaded trash cans to the curb among many, many other things.

You know how Mom helped you pack for college, and Dad carried your heavy boxes into your dorm room? Well, we move our own boxes now because we don’t have time to wait around for help.

When you’re carrying your family on your back, a 10-pound dumbbell is the lightest thing you’ll lift all day.

Many days I’ll do this on five hours of sleep after being awoken in the night by a cry from a nightmare or a fever. When moms pull an all-nighter, they don’t get to sleep until noon the next day. The physical fitness it takes to be a parent is nothing compared to the mental fitness it takes to survive parenting.

Because yes, right now you can run an obstacle course with more agility than I, but then…can you run through the grocery store on your way to drop a kid at soccer practice, on your way to take your other kid to the doctor, then pack yourself and three others for a road trip, load the car, board the dog and water the garden all while responding to emails and having a conference call? No? Probably a little more coordination than you’re used to, seeing as you barely make it to class three days a week in anything other than your PJs.

You can race, but can you endure? You may have the muscles, but you don’t yet have the strength. Moms keep going when we’re dead tired, when our heads hurt, when our brains are frazzled. You’ve changed your major three times in a semester, but I don’t get to drop this class—ever. It’s called fortitude, Mini Me, and it’s what’s left when pretense is gone. Unfortunately, it will take you a couple more decades to figure that out.

So you run your race with your skinny legs and show off your perfect abs in your teeny bikini. Take lots of pictures because you won’t win the swimsuit contest for much longer. Keep training and keep growing because one day you will have kids, and then you’ll know what it’s like to be truly strong—inside and out. You will be wearing larger clothes and carrying extra weight. Your skin won’t be as smooth or as firm as it is today, but you’ll finally be in the best shape of your real life.


The Fabulous Older You

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