Koala park near Brisbane, Aus

Koala park near Brisbane, Aus
Koala's digging in

Search This Blog

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Advice from a Former Chubster

                    To my Preteen Daughter
                 Advice from a Former Chubster

Meatballs and Pitches
I’m at a networking event. A slap-on-a-nametag-and-a-smile affair, where I belly up to the hors d’oeuvres to crunch away nerves, munch because it’s dinner time and graze because maybe someone will talk to me while I guard the food.

I chew and cover my mouth while commending meatballs – “Try one; they’re really good,” or forecasting chicken skewers – “There’s a chance they’ll return…they disappeared pretty fast…” 

Suddenly, the action stops for a word from our sponsors.

The sponsors are two health-related businesses, trainers offering to help us ‘slim down and tone up.’  I finish my meatball and reach for a carrot stick. I bet you could bounce broccoli spears from these people’s abs. One trainer touts a new, exclusive-to-the-area machine designed to ‘reduce the appearance of fat.’  In fairness, both business owners talked of fitness, of reaching goals, of fostering good health and a sense of wellness. I’ll raise my glass of nonalcoholic grape juice and drink to that.

But certain industry buzzwords make me want to throw meatballs rather than eat them. I can feel my left eyebrow creeping towards my hairline when I hear “tone,” (a word too vague to mean much).  Mention, “slim down,” and my teeth clench. Say, “target your trouble spots,” and my c-section scar starts to mambo. That’s almost a workout in itself.

New Intolerance

Fitness-speak has been boxing our ears for decades, but lately, my patience for buzzwords has grown thinner than a fat-free, wheat-free, soy-and-dairy-free sandwich wrap.

I lay blame for this language intolerance at Fiona’s feet. My ten-year-old has started sprouting the odd zit –  a taunting whiteheaded precursor to adolescence. At puberty, formerly reedy girls like my daughter often sprout taffy tummies and marshmallow thighs. The development of their bodies, combined with media messages and the language adults and even their peers use sow seeds of body hyper-consciousness. So, I catch myself rehearsing scripts in my head. What do I tell my daughter about weight, size, strength and appearance?

Mom's Four Tips
  •     Hon, it’s not all about looks. Oh, sure, who doesn’t want to be told she’s beautiful? But the older I get, the more grateful I am for what my body can do. It can chase children, swing a racket, run a marathon. And if I lose those abilities, I’ll line dance, walk, and perform chair exercises with the retirement village gang. How I look won’t matter thanks to our failing eyesight.

  •     Fitness is about performance. How fast and how far can you run? How well can you kick a soccer ball to a teammate? Swing from monkey bars? Throw a basketball through a hoop? Backhand a tennis ball and enjoy a decent rally? Can you swim freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke and even butterfly? Someday, when you’re older, how much can you bench press? Can you dance all night? (like my Mom). Your body allows you to perform these feats. Congratulate it. Celebrate it. Forget about fixing, toning or targeting.

  •     Plan to be active the rest of your life. This is not a sentence, but an opportunity. It’s not someone else’s program, it’s your plan. Sure, a trainer or coach can teach you the basics, provide a re-start after prolonged periods of inertia or injury, or help you prepare for an event, but those sessions are spendy. Ask yourself if your plan is sustainable. Most of my fit friends who are forty or better have found a sport they can’t live without. They’re hooked. Instead of making excuses, they make time to play.

  •     Don’t let anyone (including media) tell you how you’re supposed to look. It’s much easier to stick to a healthy weight because you love (and eat for) your sport rather than getting skinny because you hate (and starve for) your body to meet someone else's ideal. I was a hopeless dieter in my teens, not because I couldn’t see my two chins, but because I hadn’t yet found my mojo ignition switch – running.  I remember overhearing a friend of my parents, when I was 15 years old, say, “Dawn has such a pretty face. It’s too bad she’s not 15 pounds thinner.” While I was a chubby teen, I wasn’t fat enough to break furniture. Still, I ingested the critique faster than a packet of after-school Ho Hos. That first-remembered ‘fatty’ comment has stayed with me longer than my first home, first husband or firstborn… for 28 years. You are marvelous, my dear. Gorgeous to your core, regardless of its shape.

I appreciate and admire many folks who work in the fitness industry. I’ve joined gyms, have engaged in the odd session with a personal trainer and am considering pooling resources with a couple friends to hire a running coach before my next marathon. But the next time someone from the local gym calls my home, asking whether I’d like to ‘tone anything,’ I’ll tell him the only thing I want to tone are my pelvic floor muscles so I can bounce on a trampoline with my kids.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Mother's Day Geisha

                      Mother’s Day Geisha

Start with Soccer

It’s noon Saturday, and we’ve just returned home from a morning of kids’ soccer.  I toast cheese sandwiches for my hungry players while Pete dozes in a front room chair. Before I scamper upstairs to write, Fiona (who’s ten) shows me a friend’s business card, asking, “How much is it for a massage, Mommy? That’s what you said you wanted for Mother’s Day.”

“No honey,” I say. I don’t want you buying it. It’s too much.”

As I climb the stairs, I see eight-year-old Finley though his bedroom window, stuffing string into a homemade Mother’s Day card.

I warned my family en route home that since tomorrow is ‘my day,’ I would pick an activity we could do together. Fiona said, “Oh no, not some kind of exercise!”

Finley said, “We don’t wanna walk anywhere.”

Pete smiled while driving the minivan and said nothing.

“I want us to ride our bikes and go for a nice walk, then have gelato,” I said.

“Oh no!” cried Finn.

“You don’t like gelato?” I asked the boy who once gobbled three servings of Italian ice cream in fifteen minutes: his, the rest of mine and nearly all his sister’s.

“I do, I do! I just don’t wanna walk.”

Keep it Simple, Stupid

This is the long way of saying I want to keep Mother’s Day simple – share it, even, with child-free family and friends. I felt my head nodding in agreement yesterday while reading author Anne Lamott’s musings about Mother’s Day:

"I hate the way the holiday makes all non-mothers, and the daughters of dead mothers, and the mothers of dead or severely damaged children, feel the deepest kind of grief and failure... Mothering has been the richest experience of my life, but I am
still opposed to Mother's Day. It perpetuates the dangerous idea that all parents are somehow superior to non-parents."
Of course we should honor our mothers by acknowledging them more than once each year. I am, indeed, grateful for my mom and for other women who’ve offered kitchen table wisdom, judgment-free advice and a fresh perspective.

Mother's Helpers
Spokane, WA, February, 2010

One of those women is Aunt Cheryl. Cheryl is 64 years old. She’s never birthed children, but was stepmother to two teenagers. I didn’t see a lot of Cheryl growing up. We haven’t had much contact the past few years. News about Aunt Cheryl comes mostly through her sister, my mom.

Cheryl lives in Dayton, Ohio, about four hours by car from where I grew up in Ashtabula.  When I moved to Oxford for college, Aunt Cheryl was just an hour’s drive away. I’d travel through the hamlets of Middletown, Franklin and West Carrolton, past fields of corn and soybeans, before arriving at Cheryl’s home in the suburb of Kettering. I remember feeling like a pampered niece when she treated me to restaurant lunches and showed me to her guest room with high thread count sheets and fluffy duvet. When I suffered a fever that sent me shaking under my cap and shivering beneath my graduation gown, Cheryl brought me to her home to recover.

Memories of a Ten-Year-Old Geisha

Aunt Cheryl was a critical care nurse. She also liked to draw. I remember when she stayed with us in Ashtabula and made up my sister, Heather, and I to look like geishas. I can still see my ten-year-old white face, drawn black eyebrows and painted red lips with peaked Cupid’s bow. Cheryl completed the look with a large, pointy-top bamboo hat. She took photos, later producing lifelike portraits of her nieces, smooth faces of pre-teen probity.

Glamour and Exes

Cheryl’s the Joan Collins of the family, with three ex-husbands, a large wardrobe, and enough makeup to spackle the cast of Dynasty. Her second husband, Byron, would joke that Cheryl and my mom followed a 42-step process to get ready each morning. In my early teens, I would watch, wonderstruck, as Cheryl outlined her naturally bee-stung lips with liner before filling them in with lipstick, and polishing them with gloss.

Cheryl spoke softly and slowly, a kiss of New Orleans in her voice from years of living there with her first husband in her twenties. She liked talking about energy fields and the metaphysical. She brought a copy of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos – the eighties epic about the origins of the universe – when she visited in Ashtabula.

Spanning the Globe

Cheryl's Christmas and birthday gifts were legendary, procured from trips across the country or around the world from Italy, France and England. She gave me a wooden nutcracker about the same height as Finley one year; the following year, she sent a nativity set requiring a five-foot long table for display.

Mom and I met Cheryl in Thaxted, England, in 1999, for her third wedding. The ceremony took place in a 14th century stone church. We buzzed with excitement during the reception, when we were greeted with a vintage airplane flyover.

Family Tree
Spokane, WA, February, 2010

In the last decade, Cheryl developed a passion bordering on obsession for geneology, spending hours researching every branch, stem and leaf on our family tree. She could talk about dead relatives until you started wishing you could join them yourself.

Like my mom, Cheryl developed breast cancer around age 55. Unlike Mom, Cheryl did not get regular mammograms Her lump went undetected until it had grown to two centimeters. Doctors later found cancer in her shoulder and said she was Stage Four. The malignancy was incurable. But Cheryl could still be treated and continue to live.

And live she did, ditching husband number three, ballroom dancing and finding love again.
50+ Dancesport Challenge, Columbus, Ohio, February, 2012


Then, last November, I got an e-mail from Mom. Cheryl was in the ICU. The cancer had invaded her brain.  She left the hospital. I lost track of her, spinning in a cyclone of engagement, wedding preparations and parenting. A couple days ago, after another message from Mom, I called to learn what was happening. Cheryl returned to hospital. Then hospice. And now, according to the boyfriend, doctors say she has just hours or days to live.

This is where my own guilt about the fact I haven’t seen Cheryl since Sean’s memorial in 2010 sneaks in like a cat through an open window. I’m sad my aunt is (according to Mom) drowsing in a drugged state, unable to reminiscence or talk much at all. I’m sad I’m eight thousand miles from Dayton, Ohio. Shame about my lack of contact, things left undone and unsaid rests on my shoulders as useless and uncool as a pair of 80’s shoulder pads. That’s what Death does, even if He hasn’t yet arrived. His twin, Guilt, starts buzzing in your ears like a housefly evading capture.
Me, Mom, Cheryl - Davenport Hotel, Spokane, February, 2010

Big Hearts 

But this isn’t about me. It’s about Cheryl. And all the other aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends whose hearts are big enough to care take someone else’s kid.

My Mother’s Day wish isn’t for flowers, chocolates or a restaurant meal, though I like all three. What I want is to drag my husband and two small fries to the top of the Mount. And eat gelato afterward.

And I want to think about my mom and Aunt Cheryl, and all the other men and women who’ve added flavor, love and a sprinkle of glamour to my life. The ten-year-old geisha in me will never forget.