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My son and I walk the quarter mile down the street from our house to a large track. On this spring evening there are lots of people out: a group of girls practicing softball, two brothers with scooters abandoned while they play soccer, couples walking, a few on bikes, some with small dogs on leashes. We head to the middle grassy area with our own undersized blue soccer ball.

In the hour before dusk, my boy and I run and kick. He falls dramatically like a pro player, winces when we get in close and shins collide. I race after him, barely breathing, trying not to trip in the divots, cursing myself for not putting on my tennis shoes. I make him practice skills, not just race toward goals. Passing back and forth across the field, slowly moving the ball forward. Teamwork I say—the game’s no fun if only one person has the ball.

I’m 37 years old and weigh more than 200 pounds. I’m an inhuman shade of red, sucking air. I break for a minute with my hands on my hips, admitting I need to pause the fun. My boy is unfazed and practices headers while I inhale and exhale dramatically.
Not until we’re left in the gloaming and decide to head home do I consider what I look like to the dozens of people around me. I try to put it out of my mind but see myself from the outside and can’t forget the image: plus size hot pink ankle length pants, a navy top with zipper in the back. Clothes I’d felt good about earlier in the day. But now I see how I must jiggle when I run. I worry about awkward angles, clothes riding up, how I look sweating and heaving with my hands on my hips.

The joy leaves me all the sudden. The joy of chasing my son and watching him laugh. The joy of moving my body and being halfway decent still at a game I love. The simple joy of being outside in the air and light, the whole neighborhood fragrant with blossoming citrus trees. All I can think is how fat I am. How people must be talking about me. Laughing? Or disgusted? Which is worse?

My son walks ahead of me on the way back, still full of energy. I don’t make eye contact with anyone as we leave. From the sidewalk I look back over the park to make sure we’ve left nothing behind. No one is looking at us. People are talking and walking, unaware of me at all.

I feel my muscles stretching as I stride home. It feels good. My lungs are over the burning but there’s still the elevated heart rate and my cheeks are hot. I feel great. I’ve been using my body, not just inhabiting it. My son and I played hard and have bruises to prove it—he’s good enough that I don’t go easy on him which gives him permission to get aggressive too. I don’t get a lot of that adrenaline rush in everyday parenting.

Screw it, we’re doing it again tomorrow.

Eliana Osborn is a mother of two, wife to one, English professor to thousands. She tweets @Eliana0Eliana

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