Anger and Waistlines

Well, you might be wondering, how’s it going?

I mean, since I started “officially” trying to do something about my ballooning waistband.   Not in general, although likely the size of my waistband is in direct correlation to how I feel about the direction of my life and times at any given moment.  And if that’s true, there’s an awful lot of stuff going on in my head that isn’t positive, because my weight is high.  Higher than it has been in four and a half years, when I lost 35 pounds.  Close to the highest it has ever been.

Which is why, two weeks ago, I decided to do something about it.  On a whim I downloaded the Couch 2 5K app for my iPhone since I’d seen another friend (a friend who incidentally is heavier than I am) posting from it to her Facebook page.  She was actually doing, and seeming to enjoy the program, so I thought, why not?  Let’s try that.

And in terms of the exercise, the running/walking that it regiments as you go through the workouts, I feel good about it.  I had been exercising haphazardly off and on until last spring, when I just gave up the ghost entirely (and packed on five pounds over the summer as a result).  Since I was not doing anything really regimented before (walking the dog, sometimes popping in my favorite Biggest Loser DVD), there was little inspiration to continue.  With my weight last spring not really budging, I got morose and frustrated and angry and simply gave up.

So in terms of wanting to keep going, the workouts I am doing now are providing the motivation.  There’s a challenge each new week of going a little farther each time you run.  It’s not easy; my legs are still sore when I run outside and I’m probably the slowest runner anyone has ever seen.  Plus I have to completely get over my self consciousness about having people witness me huffing and puffing outside; I really hate the idea that someone I know might see me out there red faced and struggling.  It’s something I have to work on.

But more than anything in the last two weeks of working this program I’ve learned that I am angry about my weight.  Angry.  I read on someone else’s blog the other day that she had “weight anger” that had bled into so many other areas of her life, and that is so true for me.  I actually found myself avoiding a certain girlfriend last week because she’s lost a great deal of weight; my jealousy of her success made me ashamed.  I went to a party and struggled to find a pair of pants in my closet that fit; Sunday morning for church the same thing.  I am frustrated far too many minutes of the day about my weight.

There’s so much emotion caught up in this battle for me; it really isn’t about the food at all, but how I feel about myself.  The exercise is helping lift that fog from my head, and this week I am commiting to making smarter food choices as well.  I’ve set a concrete goal for myself:  I’d like to lose 20 pounds by January 1.  It’s a big goal that will require every food choice I make to be a good one, and for the exercise to be regular and substantial.

I am hopeful.  But still angry.  There is no worse anger than the anger you feel toward yourself.

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How Did This Happen?

Bizarre.

There are days that I can’t believe this is my life…today feels like one of them.  I am killing time before my morning PTO meeting at the middle school.  I’m going there as a member of the “Executive Board” which sounds impressive but basically means that I’ve branded myself as a sucker that can be asked to do a multitude of tasks and I’ll actually do them.

Upstairs I hear the cleaning women wipe down my bathrooms and change the beds.  My siblings and friends back in Michigan, where I could barely afford to pay my Target bill each month, give me that “harumph” when I mention that we have cleaning people.  It’s not something I advertise; I pretty much feel guilty and one step short of the crazy “Real Housewives” that have like six nannies so they can go to lunch with their girlfriends and workout all day.  Not guilty enough to step in and fire my sweet women who clean better than I ever learned how to do or anything, mind you.

Speaking of ladies who lunch, last week I hosted a luncheon for eight of my favorite girlfriends.  During the day.  I spent days baking and cooking and buying the booze for Bloody Marys (a girlfriend brought the fixings for Mimosas) just so I could spend three hours eating and gossiping with women I know and like.  You know, instead of doing something productive like laundry or say, earning a paycheck.

Although I did do that last week, too.  I work at the studio of one of my freelance jobs.  It’s sporadic, but every so often provides me with some work and a small check.  I don’t need to work there because R’s job is enough for us (the job that has kept him at work past 9 every night for three weeks, but I digress) but I do because there are days when I feel that I will simply go crazy with nothing outside of my children to call my own.

I went over to a girlfriend’s two nights ago to plan our Religious Education lesson.  I’ve taught at our church going on five years, and I taught at our church in Ohio for a few years before that.  I didn’t even have a religion growing up.  There are times when I’m sitting in church, mystified by the the stories and not knowing the details, and I wonder:  when will they figure out that I’m an imposter here.  Then again, they have wine at the Catholic Mass, so it kind of makes sense.

Being available for my kids…active in church…great girlfriends…a comfortable life.  These are the things people dream of.  But there are days…like today…when I wonder if this is really, truly all that there is.  It should be enough.

Right?

Wondering

“So Mom, do you think that you’ll be going back to teaching or something now that Michael is doing better in school?” asked my eldest son, home for the in between of his college days and his working days.

I understand why it’s on his mind.  He has spent every day since his graduation last May searching for a full time job.  He worked hard for four years, graduated with top honors, and is ready to strike out on his own.  I remember the feeling; I was so excited to be “near the end of the tunnel” at the end of my college experience.  Since I’d moved home when I had Z, I looked forward to that rite of passage of graduating, getting my first job and setting up my first apartment, just me and my little boy, finally self sufficient and on our own.  My end of college and subsequent job search though ended up getting intertwined with my mother’s illness and then her passing, so life and plans and expectations changed.

But Z, he has a clear path.  And he’s very focused.  So I can imagine that he looks at me, the former teacher with a degree and a certificate growing yellow around the edges in a file cabinet in the basement, with some confusion.   He’s seen me work as a teacher when he was young, and then still pursue it in the evenings when he was an early teen.  But that all fell by the wayside when we moved here and my youngest was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.  I needed to be available during the days, because sometimes things happen.  And over the years we’ve lived here, R’s job has made him less and less able to help, until we’ve gotten to the point now where it truly is all on me, all of the time.  If R’s around it is a bonus, but I pretty much expect that I am the one in charge of all things related to the children.  It truly is my job at this point, and everything else plays second fiddle.

It’s not where I thought I’d be when I was standing where Z is right now.  I thought I would work and have children and be married and share all of the home and children responsibilities equally with my partner.  I made all sorts of black and white statements, the kind that kids that age make when life hasn’t thrown them too many curveballs yet.  But yet somehow, here I am.   I’m OK with it for now, after many years of struggling and chafing at the thought of being “only” a mom.  Watching Michael do well in school or Melinda push herself because of something she’s seen me do or say helps me stay in the game, seeing Z prepare to take on his first real job after college and start his life.

But still, I wonder too, where I will go from here.  I thought of the times in my life when I didn’t have a choice.  All of the choices that life took away from me.  But I realized:  I’m lucky to have choices now. And I realized that I have plenty of time to think about it and make the right choice for me, whatever that may end up being at this stage in my life.

“I don’t know yet,” I answered Z, honestly.  “I think I’m fortunate to be able to be here for all of you now, and to be able to decide which job I want as opposed to which job I need just to survive.  It’s a blessing, and I’m grateful to be in this place now, because so many people don’t have a choice.”

“That’s So Gay”

“Oh, that is SO gay,” my daughter said the other night at the dinner table.

My husband and I looked at each other, a question there for both of us.  Do we go there?  My 22 year old son, home now post college graduation and furiously interviewing at any number of amazing companies, looked down at his plate.  He was surely wondering, “Let’s see how they handle this one.”

This was obviously my job, my responsibility here.  After all, it is my father who is homosexual.  It is my dad whose marriage was broken up after my mother found out about his affair with another man.  And it was my own anger and frustration at the way I discovered it that made me vow that with my own children, it would be different.  No one came to me, sat me down one day and told me my father was gay, and that was the reason my parents weren’t married anymore.

It was another time, back in 1977.  No one talked about homosexuality.  This is a world my children don’t understand:  no Will and Grace, no Arizona and Callie, no “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.”  I’d never even thought of it as a possibility that my father was gay; by the 1980s, there certainly was a stereotype out there of what gay men must be like.  My father didn’t fit a single one of them, so when he moved in with another man, I accepted that they must be roommates.  These were just things that didn’t get talked about much in my family (to be fair, they didn’t talk about straight sex to me either, leaving me to find out about all of the details through conversations with my best girlfriend).

And my father really still doesn’t talk much about being gay.  I’ve never really asked him about how he met his partner, Keith (although my mother probably mentioned it to me one night late after she’d been drinking; I’ve never thought to verify it).  He still lives with that same man he moved in with in 1978, and they are just…there.   Keith never came to any family weddings, because he always felt it would be too much of a distraction.  He doesn’t travel with my father when he comes to visit us kids.  Keith isn’t my stepfather, or even my father’s husband.  To be honest, I’ve never thought to ask my dad if they want to get married (not that they can, they live in Florida).   And while I love Keith and have never had a problem with him in any way, I really don’t need all of the details of how their relationship works.

Which means there isn’t really much of a guidebook for introducing your children to the fact that their grandfather is gay.  We finally told Z, somewhere in his early teens that his grandfather was gay.  He seemed a little surprised, which honestly surprised me…my father and Keith don’t even bother with the pretense of separate bedrooms anymore, and Z has been to their place many times.  But I suppose for him, like me, that one simple fact answered a lot of lingering questions in his head.  It hasn’t seemed to alter their relationship in any way.

“Missy,” I started slowly, “Does that mean you think that being gay is bad?  Because it sounds like a put down, what you just said, using gay in that way.”

She looked at me, surprised at being questioned on the phrase.  I’m sure she was thinking that everyone says that.

“Missy,” I repeated.  “Do you know what being gay is?”

She made a face somewhere between disgust and anger.  “Really?  Of course I do.”

I forced myself to sound steady.  “Why did you make that face?”

“Because being gay is gross.”

And there it was.  Even at 11 years old, she already had heard the talk on the schoolbus, on the playground, from her friends.  Because of course she would have never heard that at home.  And it was clear to me she didn’t realize at all that her grandfather was gay.

“Missy,” I said a third time.  “Being gay is not gross.  It’s just another way to be.  Some people love the opposite sex, some people love the same sex.  But it’s all love.  And love is a good thing, not a gross thing.”

She looked up at me, her big brown eyes caught up in confusion. “Okay…” she said, trying to give me what I wanted, but clearly not there yet.

“There are a lot of people who are gay,” I started.  But I paused.  I had to get this lesson into her before I could go to the next one.  I just couldn’t give her the whole thing yet.  I had to work past our church, the kids at school, the culture of hatred that was so prevalent everywhere and get her to acceptance.  I couldn’t go all the way, not here at the dinner table.  Not yet.  “Lots of people.  So many, because it isn’t something you choose.  I’m sure a lot of people would choose to not be gay, because it is awfully hard to be that way when so many people are so awful towards them.  But I need you to understand that being gay is not gross, it’s not wrong, it’s just the same as my blond hair and your brown hair.  It’s the way you were made, and that’s all.”

She nodded slowly.  I looked around at R and Z, nodding at my words, waiting to see if I was going there.  I shook my head the tiniest bit at them, and they both started talking to her, taking up the torch, following my lead.

I’m a coward, I know.  I’ll get there, I will.  But for now, I am hoping that my little girl is just a little less judgmental than so many in this world.

Trying Again

When I was younger I thought that being thinner would solve all of my problems.  I would be instantly surrounded with friends, boys would want to go out with me, and my crazy life would somehow find order and purpose.  It’s a struggle I have fought my whole life, this inner dialouge I have with myself about my weight.  It is very true that you can figure out right away where I am in my head on any given day by looking at my waistline.

I was never really heavy until I got married and started having more children.  I gained weight with my second pregnancy, miscarried, but kept those extra ten pounds.  I gained even more with my third pregnancy, and lost about half of it.  By the time my fourth pregnancy rolled around I set an all time high water mark for myself.  Another cross country move and sedentary days spent updating websites and answering emails didn’t help.

When I stopped working on websites so much, and the kids started preschool, I found myself with a little more time to think about my health and my weight again.  I lost 35 lbs following the Weight Watchers plan, and finally felt good about my body again.  I went to my 20th high school reunion in a black Calvin Klein dress and didn’t, for once, worry about how I looked.  I knew I looked great and spent the evening not once worrying about whether or not my but looked too big.

It was a fabulous feeling that I didn’t choose to value.  Over the next few years the weight has slowly crept back….ten pounds one year, ten pounds the next, and in this last year, another ten.  I am slowly working my way back to that high water mark, and very frustrated with myself.  And while I no longer peg my self worth to my weight, it is true that I find myself just feeling frustrated; I know what to do, I’m simply choosing not to.

And there’s the drinking.  I know that I am drinking too much these days, more than I ever have in my life.  It wasn’t until just a few years ago that I would pour myself a glass of wine every night with dinner, whether or not I was sharing the meal with family and friends or if I was eating alone at the kitchen counter.  I drink daily at this point, sometimes more than one drink a day.  And out with girlfriends?  Forget about it.  I hold my liquor, and then some.  It’s not only bad for my waistline, but it worries me because I know my paternal grandfather was an alcoholic.

So today, in My Current Life, I’m going to try (again) to take back my body to a healthier place.  I started the Couch 2 5K program this morning, and while I sweated and ached and pounded out the minutes unhappily on my treadmill, I do feel better now.  I’ve been told this is a great way to start back into an exercise program, because it slowly builds your pace and your stamina.

I celebrated my 41st birthday over the weekend with great meals, great friends and great food.  I know that my weight doesn’t make me a more likeable or better person…but it sure would be nice to celebrate number 42 next year feeling less self conscious and more able to embrace the positives in my life.

Another Day In the Life

Michael lost it the other night.

It had been a good day for him, in fact a great start to the school year so far.  Last year, he stumbled so badly at the beginning of the school year, in terms of academics and behavior, that I actually phoned his teacher on Friday in tears wondering if he should have been held back.  This year, has been much different.  The behavior journal that became our communication lifeblood for the last two years has been stellar.  He’s needed minimal homework help in the assignments that have (yes, already) come home over the course of the week.  He proclaimed that “Fourth grade is much easier than third grade,” proudly, happy with his luck and circumstance this year.

So I figured Wednesday night would be an easy evening.  My husband’s cousin, who is our only family anywhere nearby, lives in the same town as we do.  A happy circumstance that occurred not long after we moved to our tiny, New England town; they’d lived about thirty minutes south of here, in the active NYC commuter corridor, but had been looking to move to a place that had better schools and a slower pace.  They’d liked what they’d seen when they came to visit us, so they purchased a home about five minutes north of us. A lovely, four bedroom home with a pool and a deck…and a well.

Wells and septic tanks are commonplace here in our tiny town, but they were so foreign to us as transplanted Midwesterners that our own home search included prerequisites that no one out here seems to care much about:  city water, gas heat and stove, and central air conditioning.  This placed us in a home that wasn’t ideal for other reasons (namely, we live on a busy street across from a cemetery), but these items were deal breakers for us.  And in the nearly seven years we’ve lived here, we’d started to question our wisdom; we could have had a much larger house on a quiet street if we’d only decided to go for a well, or oil heat.  But R’s cousin does have a well, and it went kaput two days ago.

Regardless of whether it was storm damage or something else, the family asked to spend the evening at our house.  I happily agreed, and decided upon a menu for a crowd that would simmer while her kids took their hot showers.  So I made beef stew, since it was a cool, early fall, rainy day.

I should have known.  Beef stew is food all put together.  Food covered in a sauce.  Two things that are triggers for my boy.  Food can’t touch one another in Michael’s world. It also needs to be plain; he never gets sauce, or salad dressing, or toppings on a sundae.  Never.  Why I thought this would be OK for him, I have no idea.

But my beef stew set off a series of events that started with a sad face at dinner and ended with me pushing him (all nearly 80lbs of him) up our stairs to his room so the cousins would not hear him screaming at me at the top of his lungs.  He didn’t hit or strike out at me, thank goodness, but he entered a place that I don’t often see anymore, where my sweet boy changes into an angry, belligerent child who is out of control and looking to therefore control everyone else.  It took me an hour to calm him down; I’ve learned for the most part that the only thing to do with these incidents is to ride the wave and let it peter out.  As the anger and the emotion takes control of him, he gets more and more tired until the spell just finally breaks and he returns to his senses.  At school this happens in the principal’s office or a quiet room.  At home, I had to force him up a flight of stairs and into his bedroom, a safe zone.

It will be telling to see this year if we have more of these incidents at home or at school; last year they were largely confined to school.  I worry every day that he will not “grow out of” these tantrums (though, to be fair, they happen every few months rather than the every few days or even hours that they were when he was a toddler) and that he will not be able to function in society.   But for now, we got through it, and by the morning, the storm was gone.  My sweet, smiling boy was back, and racked up another stellar day at school yesterday.  I still see the clouds on the horizon, but I am out of the rain…for now.

The News

“Mom, I have some news for you.”

I gulped, holding the phone.  It was a cold day in March, and I wondered what my boy, standing in his apartment seven hundred miles away in college was about to tell me.

I remembered uttering those words to my mother as well, from my dorm room 100 miles from home.  They were life changing words.  I was 18 years old.  A lifetime, my son’s lifetime, flashed before my eyes in the pause before I said, “Sure honey, what’s up?” as if I wasn’t shaking a little.

“Well, I have a girlfriend.”

A girlfriend.  This was indeed news.  Poor Z had never really had a serious relationship in high school; there were some crushes back and forth, and a long distance thing he’d carried on via the Internet with some girl out west, but he’d never really had anyone special enough to confidently give that designation to.

“Wow, that’s great news,” I responded cautiously.  “How long have you been seeing each other?”

“Two weeks,” responded my son with the seriousness that only a 21 year old can muster when speaking of a relationship.

I sighed.  I remembered the days when two weeks seemed like a lifetime.  When you thought you knew that your entire world had changed and that you could confidently say that this person was going to be there for you, forever, after only two weeks.  I stifled the matronly words that leapt into my head and spoke:  “Wow, OK.  What’s her name?”

And just like that, things were different.  My son had a girlfriend.  My son was an adult, graduating from college, looking for a job, and had a serious girlfriend.  I have friends that are married to the people that they met when they were where my son is.  More than one.  As if I wasn’t quite sure that my son was growing up, moving on, getting ready to start a real life, the news brought it all into very sharp focus.  And that’s a good thing.  This is what parents work towards, hope for, make sacrifices for their whole lives for.  To see their children happy and moving forward.

Fast forward six months and my son has come home with his girlfriend for the weekend.  They are still together, they are still serious, and they hold hands under the table at dinner.  She is polite, she is respectful and she loves our younger children and our dogs.  Her parents are closer to my father’s age than my own, but I suppose that is to be expected.  I can’t tell who is more nervous:  her at staying with us or us worried that she’ll find us somehow less than her own experiences.

Either way, we’re all trying.  Who knows where it all will lead, but for now, it’s good.

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