I was a happy toddler. Many a time my mom would recollect with melancholy how as a baby I would laugh endlessly and oh, what happened to me? She’d scolded me to stop laughing somewhere around the age of 9. Her anger was so deep and everpresent I did stop laughing. There was not a deep enough breathe I could hold to float above her unhappiness and stay out of the danger of being punished for exhibiting joy.
You may think what follows to be unkind of me. It’s been 27 years since she asked why did I stop the laughter. Poor mom. She’d suffered from Parkinson’s disease had become bedridden. I sat at her bedside and fessed up she’d told me to stop. She was mortified.
I believe that until that moment she had forgotten the miserable battle ax she was at one time. Obese, her unhappiness selfishly furnished the little bungalow our poverty-stricken life afforded us. I was an obese child from the age of 6. Bullied everywhere I went, school, outdoors, the neighborhood and yes, even at home, she was just as much a tormentor to me as anyone else. One day she found her way, discovered Weight Watchers and drove across Detroit to the other side of the tracks to lose weight and not be hungry. It worked, way back in the old days as we at WW like to recall, when we made our own ketchup, substituted canned bean sprouts for pasta, ate liver once a week, fish five, added no fats, sugars, starches, sweets, and ate specific foods in specific amounts. She weighed everything on a tiny little scale she even took with her to restaurants. Seventy-two pounds dropped off of her and she suddenly became a happy person. I was suddenly seen as the grudge-a-mudgeon she and the rest of life had trained me to be. Good lord.
She tricked me into joining Weight Watchers. For a while, I succeeded. Then I got distracted, I missed eating like a normal person, the skinny kids around me had sandwiches made with two slices of bread. My sandwiches were made with one slice of toast that was then sliced or shall we say cloned in two pieces from top to bottom so that the bread appeared to be two separate slices. I took enough hounding at school about my cracker sandwiches I would eat my lunch in the toilet stall so no one would see me struggle with the 4 ounces of tuna fish mixed with dried onion flakes and French’s mustard. I often recall this regimen when taking a pee.
I did start to “cheat”, taking a taste of this, a dab of that, a bite of a candy, cookie, cake, ice cream, etc. letting the little food scale go over slightly, or using heaping tablespoons instead of a level measurement. But I was hungry, I just didn’t really understand what I was hungry for. Sometimes, if the item fell out of my hand, I would remind myself God was watching, and watching out for me. I spit out a lot of this and that tidbits. Call me a spiritual anorexic who was not thin. Just fucking hungry.
Because I’d been cheating, my weight stopped its decline and I held steady at a weight I wasn’t taunted for yet not trim enough to get a boyfriend. Mom, who had been recruited by Weight Watchers to open and lead groups on our side of the tracks, decided to put me on the adult program with a LOT LESS food to eat. That didn’t help. It did save me from having to chew. Growing even hungrier, I cheated more. When I earned a driver’s license she would allow me to take myself to the Weight Watchers meetings for teens and children. She would check to see I’d checked in and with a heavy sigh not understand why I wasn’t losing weight. In hindsight, I see I was an unhappy child who was hungry for love, approval, and the opportunity to make some of my own choices. I also needed a good laugh.
During true adulthood, I finally gave up being stubborn and joined Weight Watchers, determined to lose the weight. I did. Not easily I made it to goal weight and earned Lifetime Member status thirty-seven years ago. I struggle to keep it off, and that struggle is my own doing when I submit to drinking wine as if it counts pointwise like water, eat ice cream as if there is no caloric value to it, and frost my toast with enough Smart Balance it just isn’t smart anymore.
A niece of mine died suddenly on a Friday the thirteen this year. I proceeded to drown my sorrows and grief in an ocean of wine and ice cream. A late friend of mine who had been a recovered alcoholic for a number of years before he too passed, put his finger on it for me when I explained to him my unmistakable hangover as a result of having to send my cat of 16 years to wait for me at the Rainbow Bridge. “You just don’t want to feel the pain, do you?” he observed. I will always be grateful to him for that wisdom.
I knuckled down to WW (as Weight Watchers is now known) when my jeans were fitting too snug and too short. I didn’t want to feel the pain, but I was feeling the pain of not being comfortable in my clothing, or in my skin. September 30th I went back to the meeting place to show up more than occasionally and get back the feeling of confidence I have as no longer the fat kid in the house, on the block, in the class, in the troop, in the hood, in the pool, on the earth. I made my goal weight yesterday and damn, it sure feels good.
So here I am, and you are probably wondering about why Santa and I are featured on the page. It is that most wonderful time of the year and I can feel that same smile I had on my face when the photo was taken. I could use a good laugh but I will settle for being content.
Oh, and by the way, Mom apologized.