Friday, March 15, 2013

Bad Memories from My Youth

Thank you, everyone who left a comment about my zumba-teaching story! Much food for thought there, particularly those of you who alluded to "certain experiences when we are young."

Here's the thing: I love my parents and we have a great relationship today, but they couldn't have been more successful at raising an overweight, sports-and-movement-hating daughter with a poor body image.

My family — we are athletes. Dad played almost every sport in his youth and was an avid golfer as an adult. Mom captained a softball team. Both brothers were groomed to be star athletes. Sports were serious business in our house. Dad followed the Northern California teams — the Giants and the 49ers — and we could only watch TV during dinner if a game was on.

And then there was me. Oh, how they tried. I played softball, every damn summer. I was on a soccer team and took tennis lessons. I did gymnastics and ballet and synchronized swimming. My dad taught me to play golf. Every family member made me play catch and shoot baskets and play H-O-R-S-E with them. My youngest brother invented ping-pong tennis (hitting a tennis ball back and forth across the driveway with ping-pong rackets — need me to go over the rules?), and Mom made me play it with him after school. I also did daily PE and rode my bike to school, a six-mile round trip.

And I loathed every second of it. It wasn't just that I wasn't particularly good at anything (which I was not — and I was picked last for every single team, accordingly), I also didn't find any of it fun. I did get better — you shoot baskets with your brothers and catch the balls they throw at you regularly over the course of several years, you eventually get better at it — but I never enjoyed it. And when you're a bad player and also a sensitive kid who cries on demand, team sports are excruciating. I would stand in right field, praying that the ball wouldn't come near me, so I wouldn't drop it and let down our entire team. If I'd had the wherewithal to suggest an individual sport — say, running cross-country — that probably would have been a better fit. But my parents never suggested it, and I was a child — all I could think was Please, please, please let me stop. Please let this be over.

But not playing something wasn't an option in our house. As my brothers became their school's stars in baseball and basketball and blazed their way through the town's soccer league, Mom and Dad would look at their sad trudging daughter and sigh, "Well, let's try something else."

So my childhood years were pretty grim. I was not pretty (glasses, braces, head gear, bushy red hair, freckles), I was not good at sports, and I was a misfit in my own family.

But when I became a teen, it suddenly occurred to me: Other families don't operate like this. I had lots of friends — and not one of them was on a sports team. No surprise, my friends were the nerdy drama kids — and that was just fine with their parents. And I was good at so many things — reading! writing! acting! math! Why weren't any of these valued the way that sports were? I grew to thoroughly resent the fact that loathsome, pointless activities were the nucleus of our family, the entity that our entire family revolved around.

To be fair, it wasn't that my interests weren't valued at all. My parents are both avid readers, they came to most of my plays, and they were always happy when I brought home a good report card. But it wasn't exactly the same. I was required to attend every single sporting event my brothers participated in, but they did not come to my plays. We didn't talk about books at the dinner table, we talked about sports. Mom drove all over creation, transporting my brothers and teammates to away games, but she refused to take me to a writing conference an hour away because "writing isn't my thing."

Here are some other things I remember:
  • Ninth grade, I brought home my report card, beaming with pride. It was my best one yet! Five A's and a B+ in PE. Mom and Dad read it and hugged me. Then they looked at it again and sighed, together. "Too bad about PE," Mom said. "If you can get straight A's, I'll take you to dinner at any restaurant you want," said Dad. Silly me, I thought I'd just gotten straight A's, in the subjects that mattered.
  • Around eighth grade, my thighs got larger, a problem that has plagued me ever since; I always have disproportionately large thighs, no matter what I weigh. (Attractive, oh yes.) Flash forward a few years: I stopped taking PE as soon as I was allowed to drop it (my junior year of high school), but I still had to do all that other crap, including the six-mile daily bike ride. In April or May of that year, Mom and I went shopping for a new bathing suit for me. I tried on my favorite one and then grabbed my thighs, kinda regretfully, saying, "I know it doesn't look that great." Mom's response? "This wasn't a problem when you were still taking PE."
  • Senior year of high school, I took a year-long writing seminar and wrote a short "book" each quarter, four books total. I was particularly proud of one of them and gave it to both parents to read. Mom read it right away and complimented me, Dad put it on his stack of things to read . . . where it sat. For seven months. I finally took it away, and he never noticed.
The minute I got away from home and had a chance to redefine myself, I did. I am a reader, a writer, an actress! I plan party games and invent cocktails! I work, I volunteer, I adopt kittens. I'm a wife and a mom, a good friend and a good daughter. And lately, I'm a zumba goddess.

But I am not an athlete.

Wow, look at the time. I have more to say, but Part 2 will have to wait.

—Lady C


  1. Mr. Lady Chardonay (aka Husband)March 15, 2013 at 10:45 AM

    Once again, even though I already knew just about all of this already, the way you write about it brings so much more to it.

    One slight correction: "I always have disproportionately large thighs, no matter what I weigh. (Attractive, oh yes.)" In fact, your thighs are AWESOME, positively gorgeous beyond belief! I mean, yeah, OK, over the past now-going-on 2 years, they've been getting even MORE awesome and gorgeous (in fact, at the rate you're going, in another year or so, I expect my brain to be totally fried), but, still: AWESOME and GORGEOUS!

    Your panting and drooling Husband

    1. You are hilarious, and being married to you is the joy of my life. I love how you look at your aging fat usually cranky wife and see a sex goddess. :)

      But I especially loved your compliment about my writing, which means the world to me. Thank you, sweety!

  2. Mr. Lady Chardonay (aka Husband)March 15, 2013 at 10:47 AM

    Yes, I did just write, "...I already knew just about all of this already." Sigh. What can I say? I had my mind on something else....

    1. All the time you have your mind on something else all the time.


  3. We have talked about all of this over the years, each of us the only girl (and eldest sibling) in a family of adored brothers. Sigh. Were/are our parents subconsciously succumbing to the idea that boys are somehow better than girls? Double sigh.

    All I know is that I totally relate to Sue Heck on "The Middle". If she were the oldest sibling that show would really be my life story!

    PS: I'm currently reading a book about the history of rabies. I'd look into the reasons your hubby is "panting and drooling". Just in case. ;)

    1. Mr. Lady Chardonay (aka Husband)March 15, 2013 at 3:58 PM

      Oh, wow, the history of rabies? That sounds so cool! What's it called?

    2. It's called Rabid by Bill Wasik & Monica Murphy. Fascinating. I love books about diseases. I'm a nut.

    3. The beauty part in my family is that the tables have turned, and now I'm totally the favorite. Not that I'm keeping score or anything. :) (Oh, crap, you know my family -- of COURSE I'm keeping score. We all have, every one of us, since birth.)

      In "The Middle," I think I'm Brick, the genius bookworm who nobody in his family quite gets. That is such a funny show, and I never remember to watch it. I should get a whole season from Netflix.

      When you come to visit, I will introduce you to Mr. Brunie, who LOVES to talk about disease. You will adore each other.

  4. I was only ever good at swimming. And you, my dear, have re-defined yourself as something fabulous and lovely and I'm so glad to have made your acquaintance. Your positive outlook and humor inspire me every day! :-)

    1. Thank you so much, sweety! and right back atcha! I can't believe that you were in Boston last weekend, a stone's throw from me -- though it sounds like your schedule was pretty packed. But it would have been my joy to invite you to a wheat-free dinner with many bourbon cocktails! I would even have vacuumed my cats in honor of your allergies!

  5. Good Neighbor AnneMarch 17, 2013 at 9:10 PM

    "Athletics" conflates physical activity and competition. Too bad for many females of our generation. Thank goodness that today more and more females can own the good feelings that come with a particular physical activity without feeling that that must a) be "good" at it or b) beat someone else while doing it.

    Despite all the pain of your childhood and teenage years, Lady C. you HAVE done a fabulous job of building your own strong identity and wonderful self! And you have found a way to experience good feelings about physical activity. :-) Kudos to you, girlfriend!

    We all have to define ourselves separate from our families of origin. It is very painful. I suspect everyone feels this one way or another. And, of course, as one matures, one's attention shifts from recovering from childhood wounds to preventing one's self from wounding one's own child. One paradox of parenting, it seems, however, is that even as we vow to spare our own children from this pain, we find that, despite our love and best efforts, they suffer. And we suffer in this knowledge. Fortunately, however, this particular suffering of ours brings blessings because it allows us to see the pain of our own parents and forgive.

    1. Yes, exactly. My parents raised a daughter who became fat. In my efforts to avoid repeating their mistakes, I'm raising a daughter who's well on her way to becoming fat. I am truly at a loss...but also realizing that the women in my family are mostly big. Genetics and heredity are powerful forces.

      To shoot baskets *in front of other people* and miss 8 out of 10 times - such a thing would have been *unthinkable* in my youth. I've come a long way, baby!

      Thank you for your kind words.