Monday, March 18, 2013

More Youthful Scars and Shaming

I asked Husband, "Did my last post make my parents sound like monsters?", which they most definitely are not. He said, "Not at all." He thinks, and I agree, that particularly for my dad, a child like me was simply incomprehensible. Sports are such a huge part of my dad's life — how could someone not find this world as fascinating and engaging as he does? Or at the very least — fun?

They did their best. They were very young when they became parents. Neither had exceptional models of parenting. I cut them a lot of slack. And, as I've said — we're fine now. I've had a lot of therapy, the three of us have talked a lot over the years — our relationship is great. I actually feel very lucky. If I had to choose between a kinda sucky childhood and a kinda sucky adulthood, I'd pick the former, no question.

But here's the other thing that haunted my childhood and had a huge impact on my feelings and choices regarding my body: My mother (despite all of her softball-playing) was fat. She was as big as I am now. And in fact, I just wrote that sentence incorrectly. It should read like this: My mother was fat.

We never said that word out loud. Never. It was the elephant in the room that nobody discussed. But it was clear, from how everyone in the family talked "around" it, that being fat was the worst possible thing that a woman could be.

Dad would buy Mom clothes for Christmas and birthdays, and they were almost always slightly too small, and Dad would sigh and Mom would cry. Every damn year. Periodically, Mom would go on diets, and Dad would get very excited and encourage us all to support her. And then she'd fail (because most diets don't work, as we all know. But facts had no role in this dynamic. It was a character failing on my mother's part, and that was clear to all of us) and two clouds would descend over our home: the black cloud of Dad's disappointment and anger, and the blue cloud of Mom's misery. And I, as the oldest and the only daughter, learned to do the Caretaker Dance, tiptoeing carefully around Dad's wrath and shielding Mom from any more pain.

In my first memory of consciously doing this, something bad had happened at school, and I came home crying . . . but then I saw that Mom was crying, so I wiped my tears, put on a smile, and set about cheering her up.

I was 8.

At this time, I began to shred my cuticles, picking at and ripping off the skin around every finger until it bled. (Before my cuticles it had been my lips. For most of my elementary school career, some part of me was visibly bleeding.) A therapist later pointed out that this was my way of begging for help. (And of course I still do it, but I truly think that now it's just a terrible habit, without any deeper psychological meaning.)

So, obviously, this was a fairly intense environment, and I absorbed all sorts of life lessons from it, mostly along the lines of I will never never never let this happen to me. But then there were all those other life lessons doing their part: Food is love! Food is comfort! Food is a reward! Exercise is for "other" people!

Two things happened to me in my 20s:
  • Mom got thin. When I was 22, Mom went on the Optifast diet (the one Oprah famously lost a ton of weight on) and she started exercising, and she lost all the weight she needed to. During one phone conversation, she said, sadly, "You're the only one who never asks me how my diet is going." I was speechless. Here I thought I was doing a good thing. I'd assumed that like all of her other diets, this one wouldn't work either, but for whatever reason this one did the trick; she's been thin ever since.
  • I met Husband and got fat. The two events may not be connected.But these are the facts: I was at the high end of a reasonable weight when we met, and I promptly began to gain, five pounds a year. I'd gone up 10 pounds by the time we got married, and I remember looking at my honeymoon pictures in dismay. And I've steadily gained five pounds a year ever since. Twenty years = 100 pounds. And here we are.
But remember that life lesson I'd absorbed: I will never never never let this happen to me? Turns out, that is the right lesson, I just interpreted it incorrectly. I did get fat, despite my best intentions — but I do not let anyone treat me the way Dad treated Mom, and I do not feel ashamed of myself the way Mom did. This is what I weigh. This is how I look. It is not a character failing, it has nothing to do with my worth as a person. I would like to be thinner and healthier for a variety of reasons, and I'm working on it — and that's that.

My parents and brothers know that I have a blog, but they don't read it, which is fine — and I didn't personally invite them to read it, either. Weight is just such a weird, crazy issue in my family. I don't want my parents getting all excited because I'm "on a diet." I don't want to hear that they're so proud of me for losing weight. I do other things that I'd like them to be proud of. In this realm, it's enough for me to be proud of myself.

OK, enough reminiscences for today!

In other life news:

  • Aw, my funny friends. I appreciate your good intentions and your faith in me, but I need you to listen carefully: It is huge that I have found an activity that I love, namely, zumba. Huge! And I will do as much of it as I can afford and can fit into my crazy schedule. But I will not take this activity that I love and turn it into a livelihood (so that I now have all this work associated with it: Find a venue! Attract clients! Get CPR-trained! Keep my certification current! Attend zumba conferences!) No, no, no. That is not the reward for finding "my" activity. Please let it go now.
  • And speaking of zumba: The instructor whose mother-in-law died seems to have vanished from the earth, so they may have to cancel my Saturday class. Weep! I will likely go back to Sexi Danci Nanci's class if they can't line up another instructor. But this past Saturday, since I didn't have zumba, I took a long brisk walk, up and down many hills, and lifted weights and worked my core and did all that stuff I haven't been doing, and since then my body aches like I've got the flu. Exercise will kill you, man.
  • I love love LOVE my Sunday night UU sex class!! I'm teaching OWL (Our Whole Lives — incredibly stupid name, IMHO) to seventh graders, and I adore all of them, and it is the funnest Sunday School teaching experience evah!!! It's the job I was born for.
  • I'm reading my third Lesley Kagen book and I am crazy about this author!!! Highly recommended. Check her out. 
  • I also just got a book from the library that was on Brunie's summer reading list; I couldn't resist the cover. Creepy as all giddy-up. I'll let you know how it is.

I have no idea what I'm going to do with my Math kids today . . . an hour from now. And tomorrow I've got jury duty at 8 a.m., and I don't know where I'm going. Oh, life — what a bewitching bevy of mysteries you are!

—Lady C, proud fat girl


  1. I'm sure Glum Albie will give you plenty to do in Math Practice. ...or at least plenty to write about.

  2. There was no consoling Glum Albie today. While he and the girls had to do Math Practice with me, the rest of the class got to construct marshmallow-toothpick contraptions (and eat marshmallows). Seriously, I could've smacked the teacher. And in my third group, the other kids got to do math on iPads, while poor Em had to do two-digit subtraction problems with me. Em was a good sport, but Glum Albie -- his head sank so deeply into his shoulderblades, I don't think he'll ever be able to retrieve it.

  3. Sounds like it is time for some skittles graphing!

    On a more serious notes - this was a such a soul-baring post. It made me think of those things in life that we want others to bask us in the glow of pride and how deeply our parents, and their approval, impacts on us even when we are all grown up.

    1. Re: Skittles! Absolutely! Though graphing is somewhat beyond my poor kids. The teacher did give them each five marshmallows, but I'm still giving her mental bitchslaps.

      I thought of you this morning when the auto-call from our superintendent came at 5:45 a.m., canceling school. Is the storm also in N.J., were you up at the dawn-crack as well?

      And yes, beautifully said about parents, approval, and what we want, hope for, and need. I did call Mom immediately after I "taught" that zumba class, because I knew she would know what it meant for me and how thrilled she would be. But sometimes I guess wrong: "Mom, they just asked me to be the auctioneer at our church auction!!!!" [Long silence.] Then she said: "I can't really see it. Wouldn't Woody be better?" But I'm so *mentally healthy* now, I can just laugh. :)

  4. Fantastic post. Fantastic insights. Incredible awareness of what you do and do not want to do.
    When I started making good money as a speaker, my husband wanted me to go to the next level, to get paid super well, become well known, etc. I had achieved EXACTLY the level of my dreams. I still cannot believe I got there. I did not want to go through what I would have to go through in so many different ways to get to a higher level.
    Oscar Wilde said something to the effect that unsolicited advice is worthless and the only thing to do with it is pass it on!

    1. Thank you, my angel of inspiration!

      When I finally finished my master's degree, Mom's first response was, "And now you can get your Ph.D.!" I tried to have a reasonable discussion with her about why people get Ph.D.'s and how that didn't apply to me, but she couldn't hear a word of it; in her mind, I was on a track and this was the next step. Finally I knew what to do: "I will get my Ph.D.," I said, "when you finish your bachelor's degree." (She went to the local college after high school, met a cute boy in her Oral Interp class and married at 18, then dropped out twice because of pregnancy and never went back.)

      It hasn't come up since. :)

      I know that people mean well and that everything is said in a spirit of love and support, and I know that by writing a blog I'm putting myself out there and that readers will have their many opinions about what I should be doing differently, and I know that my lame halting slothlike approach must be *incredibly* frustrating to read about sometimes, and I cut people tons of slack for all those reasons -- and yes, there are also days when all I really want to hear is, "Good for you, you did your best, tomorrow is another day." !!!

  5. Dear Lady C. -- This post and your last before this really rang bells with me. Hard enough that we were exposed to these rigid conventions regarding body image and exercise, much less nuanced in our youth, harder to be (as I think we both are) extra sensitive to the feelings and energies of those close to us. I think your current vision of health and body image is balanced and wise. Even so, I feel myself wanting to say to you that you are incredibly beautiful at any size. I applaud and support your wanting to get healthier, but you will always be stunningly gorgeous, inside and out. That's just who you are! -- SDF

    1. You are such a sweet good friend. Thank you so much!

      I wrote in today's post that I felt very cute in my zumba outfit - but then again, I can grab large handfuls of my own stomach and shake it around (should I want to do such a thing. I'm just saying that I *could*) and that is really not something I wish to be able to do. And trust me when I say that it is not a beautiful sight. !!!