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.
But I am not an athlete.
Wow, look at the time. I have more to say, but Part 2 will have to wait.