Liberty and Justice for All

Having just watched Jon Stewart’s commentary on racism in the U.S. (and if you haven’t seen it yet, you absolutely should; you can find it here: http://www.upworthy.com/this-might-be-jon-stewarts-best-rant-ever-because-ferguson), I felt compelled to share a few stories of my own:

1.

When I was in high school, a few friends and I decided to go to the mall. There were five of us, three girls and two boys, all clean cut, white bread looking youths, who’d parked our cars outside of Dillard’s department store and were simply making our way through as we headed to the main section of the mall.

Shortly after we walked through the doors, an employee of the store began to follow us. He made no attempt to hide the fact that we were being tailed. To the best of our knowledge, we had not done anything to garner such personal attention other than being teenagers. We weren’t goofing around, weren’t acting suspiciously, weren’t causing any trouble whatsoever. When we noticed him following us, we intentionally stopped to look at something just to confirm our suspicions. The man stopped too, glared at us for a few moments, then came up to us and asked in the most condescending voice possible if there was something he could help us with. “Oh, no, we’re just looking,” we replied and moved on. He followed us all the way to the mall entrance and, once satisfied that we would not return, he turned and walked back into the store, presumably content at a job well done—keeping the hooligans at bay.

My teenage indignation was monumental. I was livid! How dare he treat us this way? I used to fantasize about going back to that store with a huge wad of cash in my pocket, enough to buy something very expensive. I would engage a sales person with feigned interest in some costly item, pull out my large bankroll, and then say, “so sorry, I wouldn’t dream of spending my money HERE,” and walking out in a haughty huff. That would show THEM!

2.

Years later, I had been in El Paso for the wedding of two friends with whom I had gone to high school with several years before. After the ceremony, the three of us drove back to the Dallas area (where we all lived) together and stopped along the way at a Dairy Queen for lunch. My white friend and I went to wash up while her newly-wed Hispanic husband, Pete, got in line to place our order. We came out of the restroom just as the women ahead of him completed her order and slid to the side to wait for her food. Pete then stepped forward to place our order. The white woman looked casually to her left, noticed Pete standing there, and proceeded to WRAP HER ARMS around her purse, which was sitting on the counter in front of her, in a BEAR HUG and stare him down until her food arrived, at which point she quickly shuffled away. Not ONCE did she take her eyes off of him, nor release the death grip from her purse.

My friend Holly and I were enraged! What the hell was the matter with this woman?! We had a strong inclination to go give her a piece of our minds. Pete is a one of the nicest guys ever! But she did not know that. All she saw was a Hispanic man standing next to her in a fast food place (in broad daylight, mind you). She had no similar reaction to any of the white people, male or female, in the place. Pete remained calm and tried to blow it off, which made the two of us all the angrier on his behalf. Why was he not outraged?

Clearly, this was not the first time he had encountered such a situation. Sadly, I am sure it was not the last.

~~~

Mind you, this first incident especially was the most minor of slights and both occurred some time ago. I mean, I graduated from high school 25 years ago, yet I still remember these incidents vividly, the impressions they left still burning in my memory. Mostly, I remember how I FELT—being followed, watching a woman shrink away from my friend, simply because of how we looked and their biases.

Is it really that hard to imagine what it might feel like to a person who endures such slights (and much, much worse) over and over and over again based solely on the color of their skin? That in some cases it has become a literal life of death situation? Is it that hard to believe that people get tired of just shutting up and taking it, and that maybe they are not ‘tired of talking about it’ because they are living it?

~~~

3.

Last month, I had occasion to be in the great state of Michigan, where I was lucky enough to visit the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn. The place is enormous, with all manner of exhibits on American culture and history. One such exhibit, titled “With Liberty and Justice for All,” traces America from her humble beginnings as we mounted and eventually won out Revolutionary war, through the trials and tribulations of various people at various times in our nation’s history. A timeline stretching the length of several exhibit walls reads like a who’s who of oppressed people: Native Americans, Blacks, women, immigrants, Japanese, the Red Scare…

Turning the corner into the section on the Civil Rights Movement, you come face to face with a KKK outfit on display. The sight of it sent a chill through me. My 8-year old son asked me to explain what the KKK was. I told him they were people full of hate who did horrible things to other people just because they were Black. ‘Like what?’ he asked, his beautiful innocence showing in full force. I explained that they hurt people very badly and sometimes even killed them. “But why would they do that? Just because they were Black? That doesn’t make any sense!” Exactly.

Further down the corridor, in all its refurbished glory, stands the Rosa Parks bus. THE Rosa Parks bus. The one she was sitting on in 1955 when she was arrested for not giving up her seat to a white man, thus beginning the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The bus is not set back behind some velvet rope, either. You can actually go right into it and sit down. Sit in the very seat that Mrs. Parks was sitting in, even. I climbed up and took a seat, listening to the recording of Mrs. Parks describe what happened that day that she refused to give up her seat. It was quite a sobering experience, unlike any I have felt before.

I sat there on the bus for a few minutes, just absorbing it all. Eventually, as I rose to leave, a wave of emotion overcame me. I am not sure exactly why this particular exhibit hit me so hard. Before I could stop them, great sobs gushed forth from deep within my chest. Something about it struck me at my core. It is all so stupid. So senseless. So utterly maddening! I mean, what is WRONG with people? Why do we keep treating each other this way?

~~~

Racism is not going away just because some of us have grown weary of the discussion. Gee, what a luxury it is to just decide that it is no longer a worthy topic of conversation. While racism may seem like a ‘non-issue’ to some–something we have overcome in the past and need to ‘get over’ –this is clearly not the case for people who are still facing it every day. Nearly 60 years later, there is still so much to do.

 

A quote on the wall in the “With Liberty and Justice for All” exhibit reads:

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
–Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

If you’re tired of hearing about racism, you may be part of the problem.

If you’re tired of hearing about racism, maybe you stop should complaining and join the efforts to end it.

Just Say No: Igniting the Anger of the Little Man

It all started because my 8 year old wanted a beer.

When my son was younger, her would tell me I was “the best Mom in the world.” Super sweet, but so not true. Any mother worth her weight in Mommy-guilt could tell you that. You know you could always be better, strong, faster (clearly, bionic). More granola. More hip. More sporty. More Pinterest-astic!

Eventually I began to tell him so:

“I’m not the best Mom in the world, but that’s OK. I don’t need to be. I just need to be the best Mommy for you.”

Now he says, “you’re the best Mom in the world (universe, galaxy), for me” and I say, “ditto for a son.” But sometimes I will tease him and ask: “Are you sure? Are you sure you wouldn’t rather have a Mom who let you play video games and eat candy?” To which he assures me he would not, because in the end, that would not be good for him and he knows I am looking out for his health and well being (did I mention that he’s 8??).

 

So the other night, after we finished reading before bedtime, I asked with a grin, “What if you could have a Mom who let you do anything you wanted?”

“ANYthing?” he repeated. He thought a moment, then laughed and said, “Well that wouldn’t be good, because if she let me do ANYTHING I wanted, I’d probably be drunk right now.”

<insert record scratch noise here> Ummm, what?!

I laughed, perhaps a bit too nervously. “Why would you be drunk?” I inquired.

“Well, I’d really like to try beer, but I can’t because I’m not an adult, but if she let me do anything I wanted, then I’d try it and I’d be drunk.”

“So, first of all, you don’t have to drink to the point of getting drunk. And when you’re 21, you can try beer and see if you like it or not.”

“Is 21 the Mommy Law or the real law?”

“No, 21 is the real law. The Mommy Law is 42.”

 

The next day, still perplexed by this sudden and unexplained interest in beer, I decided to pursue the discussion further. Since I don’t drink beer, or much of anything in the ‘adult beverage’ category around him (or at all, for that matter), I was curious as to where this idea had come from. After work that day, I revisited the topic.

“So, remember yesterday when you were talking about wanting to try beer?”

“Uh huh.”

“What made you think of that particular thing? Had you hear someone talking about it, or was it mentioned in something you read? What made you decide that you wanted to try beer?”

“Oh, I don’t know. No one was talking about it or anything. I just thought I might like to try it. Is it sweet? I know birch beer is soda, not beer, not alcohol, but is beer sweet like that?”

(A month or so ago, we were out to dinner with my Mom and they happened to have birch beer made by a local company, so I ordered one. Little Man does not drink soda, but he wanted to try it so I let him have a sip. His comment now made me laugh.)

“No, honey, beer is NOT sweet. Not a bit. I think it’s bitter actually and I don’t really like it at all. I almost never drink beer.”

Part of me had a good mind to go buy a warm can of beer and let him have a sip, just to get a sense of how truly revolting it is and demystify it for him, at least for a while. But my Mommy-guilt shut me down: what if he had a genetic alcoholic tendency that I inadvertently set off and sent him spiraling into a lifetime of fighting the bottle at the tender age of 8? No, I’m not quite ready to go old school just yet.

We talked a bit more about beer—was there any kind of sweet beer? What about wine—was that sweet? Did I ever drink wine? Did I like dessert wine?

Somehow, our conversation eventually turned to drug use, which seemed a natural path to follow given the current subject. So I reiterated conversations we’ve previously had about how we only take medicine when we need it, only the amount we’re supposed to take, only medicines that are prescribed to us. How even if someone has the same sickness we do, we don’t take something that was prescribed for them and not us. How we NEVER take something when we don’t know what it is, what it’s for, and what it will do.

I told him about how some teenagers take different medicines from their homes and throw them all in a bowl and then take a handful to see what will happen.

“What?! People really do that? That is really stupid, Mom.” (YES! This was a good reaction)

“You’re right, it is. Why do you think it’s stupid?”

“Well, they’re not sick. You don’t take medicine when you’re not sick.”

“Right! And you don’t know what you’re taking. You could be allergic to it, it could be medicines that counteract each other, or are meant to treat something you don’t have. Like Grandma—she takes medicine for her high blood pressure to bring it down. But if your blood pressure is normal and you took her medicine, it could lower your blood pressure too far and make you really sick. AND if you take a bunch of stuff that you don’t know what it is and you get really sick, when you go to the doctor for help, they may not be able to help you right away, because they have to run tests to figure out what you took so they can give you the right thing to fix it. And by that time. you might be so sick that they can’t fix it.”

“I would never do that, Mom. That’s so dumb.” (can I record this for later use??)

“This is why your pediatrician was telling you at your check up that you need to make sure that you pick good friends—friends who bring out the best in you and that you bring out the best in them. So you have each other’s back. Sometimes people we know might give us something that is bad for us and not tell us what it is, just to see what will happen, because they think it’s funny.”

“Are you kidding me? That’s not funny, that’s just mean. Why would you do that to someone!”

What happened next was at the same time funny, sweet, and just amazing to me. First he made this sort of frustrated sigh and then he said, very calmly, “ Excuse me for a minute, Mom, I’ll be right back.” He got up from the kitchen where we’d been talking and walked swiftly into the living room, where I heard this sort of muffled thud.

“Are you OK?”

“I’m fine. I just needed to come hit a pillow.”

Hit a pillow?? He came back into the kitchen and sat down at the table.

“That just makes me so mad, Mom. How could people do that to one another?! That is just so MEAN. I tell you, that ignites my anger, Mom. Like, this is my anger (he holds up the fingers of his left hand as if her were holding a match). And this is me thinking about those kind of people (he brings the other hand over and makes an explosion sound and movement).”

He did this with all the sincerity that only an 8 year old can muster when they come to the realization of something in this world that makes no sense whatsoever to their pure hearts and minds.

I sat there for a moment sort of stunned. I could feel the corners of my mouth twitching, but I did not dare smile for fear that he would think I was somehow making fun of him. Nothing could be further from the truth. In that moment, I was reminded once again of the truly remarkable boy that he is.

We talked about a lot of things after that. About who he could think of right now that were true friends that would not ever treat him in such a way (and that those were the kinds of friends to surround yourself with). About how our brain chemistry changes in our teenage years and how those changes sometimes lead us to make bad choices (that are made even worse by drinking or taking drugs). And about how if he or his friends ever find themselves in a situation where they may have made some bad choices and needed help, he can always come to me. It doesn’t mean that I might not get mad, but he can always come to me. Always.

As I watched him climb the stairs to brush his teeth before bed, I smiled at my little boy who is not so little any more. He is far from perfect, as am I, and I know that he will stumble and fall many times along the way. But he is, and always will be, the best son in the world, for me.  :-)

The Death of the Tooth Fairy

It all began innocently enough: we went out to eat, Little Man, my Mom and me, on the day after my birthday. After chowing down for a bit, Little Man began to fiddle in earnest with his loose tooth– #8, the last one he would lose for a few years. It had been loose for a while, slowly working its way free of the root, and I could see it was now hanging by a biological thread. Hoping to keep him from swallowing the darn thing (not EVEN going there!), I whisked him off to the restaurant bathroom where he successfully pulled it out all by himself. We wrapped it in a napkin and I tucked it away in my pocket to keep it safe. Returning to the table, he proudly gave Grandma a bright, gap-toothed grin. All was right with the world.

Getting ready for bed that night, Little Man wrote his note to the Tooth Fairy and told me not to forget to tape the tooth on to it, then ran upstairs to brush his remaining choppers. I followed his instructions and laid the Scotch tape encase parcel to rest on his dresser.

Then, as we snuggled up to say our goodnights: “Mom,” he said, in his angel sweet voice, “are you the Tooth Fairy?”

And there it was.

I lay there a minute, looking blankly into his adorable almost 8-year old face. Did he really just ask me if I was the Tooth Fairy? Seriously?

I tried to pretend that I didn’t hear him: “Time for bed now.”

“But Mom, you didn’t answer me.”

Playing dumb: “Answer what, honey?”

“Are you the Tooth Fairy?”

Dang it! That didn’t work!

Psychology: “Do you think I’m the Tooth Fairy?”

“Are you?”

Pressing the question: “What do you think?”

“Yes and no.”

Reprieve? “Why yes?” And why no?

“Well, yes because you always know when I lose a tooth, and you are very quiet, so I wouldn’t hear you come in my room. And you can type, so you could type the notes the Tooth Fairy leaves. Oh, and you have fancy scissors, too, like the Tooth Fairy uses on her notes.”

Wow, some serious logic at work there. I try not to react. “Ok. Why no?”

“Because maybe there is a Tooth Fairy.”

Avoidance: “Maybe there is.”

“So are you?”

“Am I what?”

“The Tooth Fairy! Mom, please. I really want to know. Are you?”

“What if I am?”

“If you are, then I will no longer believe in any mythical creatures. And if not, I will still continue to believe in some mythical creatures.”

It was at this point that I began to giggle. Not because what he said was funny; although the way he said it was somewhat amusing, I found his words quite sweet and yet heartbreaking at the same time. Instead, it was that nervous laugh you sometimes get, bordering on hysterics. When you literally don’t to whether to laugh or cry. It’s a 50-50 shot either way.

I looked into his face, half hidden in the shadows of the falling sun peeping through his window. He would not let it go. And I did not want to answer. I am not entirely sure why I was so adamant about withholding this information. I was hoping the questions would just go away, like a random pain in your side. But I knew they wouldn’t.

Finally, I managed to pull myself together: “Why do you want to know?”

“I just want to know. I won’t tell anyone if you are. For real. It will be our secret.”

“So then why does it matter?”

“Because I want to solve the mystery, the mystery of the Tooth Fairy. If it’s you, then I’ve solved it. And if it’s not, I can cross you off my suspect list.”

Well, that made me laugh outright. His ‘suspect’ list? What, now I’m on CSI??

“Please, Mom, PLEASE! It’s ok if you are. I just want to know.”

We went on like this for a little while longer. For some reason, I just could not say it. I had to put him off for one more day. I told him that we were both tired and it was past bedtime. I told him to go to bed and ask me again tomorrow if he still wanted to know.

It was the Meatloaf response: Sleep on it, and I’ll give you my answer in the morning.

He looked at me through sleepy eyes. “Will you tell me the truth?”

“If I answer the question, I will answer it truthfully.”

Later that night, when I was quite sure he was asleep, I crept into his room to remove his note and tooth, trading his pint sized printing for the Tooth Fairy’s fancy font. Then I snuck back downstairs to contemplate the next morning’s query that I knew would come.

I would not lie to him. I had hesitated in the first place when venturing into ‘mythical creatures’ like the Tooth Fairy and Santa, as I knew the day would eventually come when the myth would be revealed. I have always encouraged my Little Man to think what he wants to think and believe what he wants to believe, and to be content to let others do the same. There’s a part of me that is actually surprised that it took him this long to figure it out, as his mind moves at a lightning speed. Maybe he had figured it out long ago and just recently summoned the courage to ask the question, the type of question that you are not sure you want the answer to. But an answer he was obviously ready to hear, even if I was not yet ready to speak it.

The next morning, he came bounding into my room, note and silver dollar in hand.

“So are you?”

“Well, good morning to you, too.”

“Sorry, Mom! Good morning. So are you the Tooth Fairy?”

Sigh. “I don’t know about THE Tooth Fairy. But I am YOUR Tooth Fairy.” There. I said it. Out loud. A little icy stab to my heart as a bit of his childhood fell away. I hugged him tight and swallowed hard around the knot in my throat.

Was he broken up about it? Hardly.

A big smile spread across his face: “I thought so! But I wasn’t totally sure. It’s OK, Mom. I won’t tell anybody else,” he said quietly, pleased to be sharing a confidence. “I do have a question, though. Where do you get all those silver dollars?”

Big hugs and kisses all around. He read over the note I left him once more, then hopped out of bed and ran off to put his loot in his piggy bank. Hesitating for a moment in the doorway, he looked back at me and smiled again.

“Oh, and Mom. Thanks for telling me the truth.” :-)

The Making of a Hero…or a Villain

My Little Man and I have been working our way through the eleven volumes of the “How to Train Your Dragon” books on which the film of the same name is based. We read them together before bed, sometimes taking turns, sometimes me reading to him. He likes to make up funny voices and read the parts in Dragonese (the language spoken by the dragons and spoken/understood by our unlikely hero, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third ). The author, Cressida Cowell, has a way of keeping those pages turning, eliciting pleas from Little Man of “Please, Mom, PLEASE, can we just read the next chapter? We can’t stop now! I have to know what happens!”

I think I enjoy the stories as much as my son does, and I sometimes find it hard to keep myself from continuing to read the next chapter after he’s gone to bed. Thus far, I have been able to contain myself, although as we near the end of the series, I’m not sure how much self-control I have left.

The stories follow a teenage Hiccup, the literal runt of his family, as he makes his unlikely was to become the Last of the Great Viking Heroes. It reminds me a bit of the Harry Potter series but aimed at a younger set. Like the Potter books, the series tends to get darker as it goes along, more complex. You know there is hope somewhere far down the line, but at each turn, you’re not sure exactly how the heck Hiccup will get out of this one. And like our good friend Harry, Hiccup’s books of memoirs are both self-contained individual stories as well as interlinking volumes with an overriding arch. They are amusing, occasionally crude, adventures from which surprisingly adult concepts emerge from time to time.

In Book 9: How to Steal a Dragon’s Sword, I was caught a bit off guard by one of these ideas that resonated with me on many levels. Towards the end of the book, in Chapter 20: The Triumph of the Treacherous (Alvin the Treacherous being Hiccup’s arch-enemy), my son and I lay in bed one night reading the following:

“You see how sometimes it is not clear what story we are telling from the outset? For the story we have been part of, it turns out, has not just been about the making of a Hero, but also the making of a villain.

The Alvin who we first met, many books and years ago, was not the same terrible man who was now about to be crowned upon the castle that once was Flashburn’s. When we first met him, he was a charming, sneaky, elegant sort of fellow, barely able to hold his own in a swordfight.

Since then, dreadful things have happened to Alvin, all his own fault, of course, but he has suffered nonetheless. Suffering can, of course, make a man a better person—but with Alvin it went the other way, and it had made him far, far worse. With every ghastly experience, he lost a little more of his humanity…

And now he stands, muscled, hardened, brutal, and merciless, a truly awful man indeed to wield the power he would hold from now on.”

This passage really struck me. Everyday, we see people, perhaps we are, ourselves, those people, who have been struck by adverse conditions. And how we deal with those adversities can make our lives better or worse because of it.

Later, in chapter 24: The Boy Hunt, Cowell writes:

“A Hero cannot triumph all the time.

Sometimes he will be defeated, and how he faces that defeat is a test of his character.”

Indeed.

And yet, there is that nagging notion of the making of a villain to contend with as well.

It struck me that we are sometimes the instigators in the creation of the “villains” within our own lives. Hopefully our villains are not as wicked as Alvin, but those ‘everyday’ sort of villains we come in contact with—perhaps even the villains within ourselves that tell us: ‘you can’t, you won’t, you’re not good enough, no one cares.’

It struck me, too, that how we treat each other every day contributes to the creation of heroes and villains all around us. And I wonder how many of my choices have contributed to the making of each.

I cannot wait to finish this series. I am not sure exactly how it will end, but I am certain I am the better for having read them.

Are there any eggs left in Fargo, North Dakota?

Here we are on November 1, the day after Halloween, when the candy is marked down 30% and Target has swiftly replaced the plastic pumpkins and fake blood with the twinkling lights of Christmas (what? There’s another holiday somewhere in between? To hell, you say!).

The day after a woman in Fargo, North Dakota claimed she was going to give the sturdier trick or treaters who showed up at her door the sweet treat of shame and self loathing, with a healthy dose of parental chastisement. And I’ve been wondering all day, if this lady was truly legit, just how many square inches of her property are NOT covered in TP?

If you haven’t heard the story, and at this point you have most likely been living under a rock if you haven’t, you can find one of the many retellings of it here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/30/fat-letters-halloween_n_4177341.html . Basically, a woman wanting to take a stand against childhood obesity claimed that on Halloween this year, she would not pass out candy to children that she deemed to be “moderately obese” (through the apparent use of her bionic eye that instantly calculates BMI from a momentary glance). Instead, THOSE children would receive a snappily crafted letter of good intent informing said child’s parents of her assessment of their irresponsible behavior for allowing their chunky kiddo to be out “looking for free candy just ‘cause other kids are doing it.” She states that she’s looking to send said Mommies and Daddies a message in hopes that they’ll parent-up (my term) “and ration candy this Halloween and not allow your child to continue these unhealthy eating habits.”

She is doing this, she claims in her letter, because it ‘takes a village’ to raise children and she is just trying to do her part. I’m sure you can imagine the ‘village idiot’ comments that followed the story.

Let’s assume for a moment (perhaps a rather large assumption) that this woman is, in fact legitimate, and does have a genuine concern for the children’s health in her community. The truth is not only childhood obesity, but adult obesity as well, are a major concern in our society right now. According to the CDC comments in the article mentioned here, childhood obesity has more than doubled in the past 30 years, bringing with it all its physical and mental health related issues.  That’s the real deal and something we all should be concerned about.

I don’t think there are many people in the U.S. that would deny there’s a problem here. But Fargo Lady’s solution is flawed from the beginning. First of all, why is it ok for kids who don’t LOOK ‘moderately obese’ to be allowed to “consum[e] sugar and treats to the extent of some children this Halloween season”? If she is really concerned about childhood obesity, then shouldn’t she not hand out candy to ANY children? Why assume that children who are not currently showing outward signs of obesity have ‘healthy eating habits’?

Several people have suggested she give out healthy snacks, stickers, pencils, quarters, toothbrushes, etc. or simply turn off her light and not give out anything at all.  Each of these would support her position of taking a stand against obesity while being inclusive of all children who came to her door.

If Fargo Lady really cares about childhood obesity, she needs to do her research, which shows that shaming children about their weight actually has the opposite effect (see article) and can increase their obesity risk.  If she really cares about childhood obesity and wants to be part of her village, perhaps she could consider volunteering at her local Y or Boys and Girls Club to organize fitness activities, healthy food tastings, parent and child cooking classes, nutritional classes, etc.  There are so many positive ways to support all children and help them make changes that could last a lifetime.

May people have commented on this story that they use Halloween as a learning tool to teach lessons about moderation, portion, and nutrition in a kid friendly way that still allows their children to have treats but understand why gorging is a bad choice for many different reasons and that treats are just that.

Until my son was 5 years old, I did not let him have any candy at all.  He is in no way considered obese and had no health problems and I want to keep it that way.  We had occasional treats that were high quality and few and far between, but no candy. He would dress up for Halloween every year, but we didn’t go out trick or treating.  And I didn’t give out candy, because I thought, how can I justify giving stuff out to other kids that I won’t let my own kid have?  So instead he would dress up and we’d go do something fun and then go out to eat (not fast food) and have a yummy dinner that we both enjoyed. We still do that—Halloween dinner is our family tradition. In recent years, I’ve allowed some occasional chocolates.

Now 7, this was the first year we went out to trick or treat.  We only went to one place: our local high school that was doing an indoor trick or treat charity event. He got plenty of candy (enough to last at least a month or more at a piece a day) and even offered to share with me. I told him I would buy from him any candy that he wasn’t allowed to have and he could put that money in his savings bank to spend on what he wants (with Mom approval!). He was happy as a clam.

As to Fargo Lady and her plans, I don’t really understand how she’s going to ‘deem’ children ‘moderately obese’ simply by looking at them, in costume, no less. Clearly there are some people you can look at and see that they are heavier than others, but where is that line? Is she going to hide a scale in her porch steps.  Shall the children fill out a height/weight chart prior to ringing the doorbell? Perhaps they should have a note from their doctor stating that they are healthy enough for trick or treating activity.

Because the truth is, you don’t know what’s going on with that kid in front of you.  What medication she’s on, what illness he has.  Perhaps this is the one night she gets to go out with her friends and feel like a ‘normal’ kid. Perhaps he’s recovering from an injury. I am not making excuses, just indicating that there are a lot of factors that can’t be taken into consideration with a quick glance in the dark.

Can you imagine being six, seven, ten, twelve years old, going up to someone’s door with three or four of your friends or neighbors and each of them receives a candy except you? Wow.  I WAS that ‘moderately obese’ child.  And I would have gone home and cried myself to sleep.

There’s a better way.  I hope Fargo Lady found it.

Because I’ve gotta be honest.  If that were MY kid who came home with tears in his eyes and a note such as hers in his hand, I’d be makin’ a trip to the local Quicky Mart for a dozen large whites and some Angel Soft. It would be totally wrong of me, but I wouldn’t care. I would be taking a stand against bullying in my village. Perhaps I’d even leave her a snappily worded letter of good intent.

 

Dear Weight Loss Plateau: Bite Me

Surprised that I should greet you so boldly, with such a sassy disposition? Ah, but I’ve been expecting you! You don’t really think I came to this party unprepared, do you? Come now, surely you know me better than that!

I’ve spent the majority of my adult life contemplating, attempting, succeeding, failing at weight loss. But this time, this time it’s different. Oh, I’m sure you’ve heard that a million times, from so many people at so many points in their journey that you’ve lost track. But I know.  I know better than you.

This time, I’m not hoping to get into some specific size.  No, no ‘perfect’ size 6 for me.  I WAS a size 7 once.  In undergrad.  For about 4 ½ minutes.  And then I ate a Tic Tac. And I was back to a size 9.

This time, I’m not looking to hit a specific weight.  Of course, I have a target in mind.  You should know; you are trying to keep me from it. You stopped me dead in my tracks as I tried to reach my second goal: to lose 10 pounds. So close was I when you showed up at my door and held the scale fast, refusing to budge, despite my best efforts.  Despite the fact that I’ve been steadily chugging along, watching the numbers slowly roll back.  But I am not discouraged. I knew you would get here eventually, and I was prepared for your arrival.

This time I will not beat myself up, belittle myself, punish myself. I will not starve myself. If I want to eat a cookie, I’m gonna eat a damn cookie.  Or two. And that doesn’t make me a bad person.  A failure.  A weakling. Hell, no.

I am in charge here.

No, this time I’m not just trying to change my waist (and thighs and bat wings).  This time I am changing my life. I am not dieting, but I am journaling my food, to learn what I eat and how I eat and where the opportunities are to make better choices that work for me and will help me be successful. I am exercising in a smarter, more efficient way. I’m on the right track, baby. My track.

You see, I’ve been doing research on you.  Because that’s what I do.  When I’m in a quandry, have a query, am faced with a conundrum, I research the crap out of it, compile the data and devise a plan. So I knew you would inevitably show up—there’s tons of information about it. Did you know there’s research out there on you? You should be flattered! I know you can be frustrating, irritating, disheartening. I know you are a tough cookie.

But I am stronger than you.

My body is getting stronger.  Not Incredible Hulk strong—with all due respect to Lou Ferrigno, that’s not really the look I’m going for. But day by day, slowly, but surely, my body is gaining a physical confidence.

My mind is getting stronger.  I’m striving to resist making unrealistic comparisons to others in their various states of fitness.  Will I even be Jillian Michaels?  Highly unlikely. And that is OK by me.

So, with all sincerity, my dear weight loss plateau, you can bite me.  Hang out if you must, but don’t get too comfortable.  Because eventually, I will send you packing.

Oh, I’m sure you’ll be back again, at more than one point along this journey of mine.  But I’ll be ready for you then, too. Because every day I try to do what’s best for my body is a success.  Whether that success is reflected in the scale this week is irrelevant. It’s reflected in me. And in good time, the numbers will show it, too.

Working It Out: Adventures at the Fitness Center

Two weeks ago, I started going to the gym.

I haven’t been to a gym for about 20 years. And even then, I only went for the classes one day a week. Not sure exactly why I joined back then, other than the fact that I was flush with cash from my first real job in my field; fresh out of college, I thought an annual salary in the low 20s was a miracle straight from heaven. I was young and round and had cash money—the gym seemed like a logical place to be. It was the thing to do. So I signed up for my one year contract and was ready to go.

Initially I thought I’d go more than once a week.  But being a brand new teacher at a school about 30 minutes from home (on a good day), I found that I returned home each night utterly exhausted and with piles of work to be completed.  I’d be lucky to grade, prep, eat and sleep (not nec. in that order).  It was just not happening.  So I’d go in on Saturday, through the gianormous glass doors, averting my eyes as I passed the rows of muscle heads on my way to the group classroom in the back of the gym. When I saw the commercial for Planet Fitness featuring the massively bulked up man repeating, “I lift things up and put them down,” I knew instantly the type they were talking about (if you’ve ever been to a gym, any gym, and you haven’t seen this, it’s worth a view: Planet Fitness Ad).  I went for a few months and then wound up quitting altogether; it seems I just didn’t have it in me.

So here I am 20 years later, more than 20 pounds heavier, not getting any younger and watching the scale creep higher and higher. Something, I thought, something must be done!

I know enough about nutrition, exercise, weight loss, etc. to make me dangerous.  I know that, statistically, since my 30s I’ve been losing muscle and that loss of muscle slows metabolism.  I know I can’t lose weight from diet alone and that even aerobic exercise alone is not going to work for me at this point.  Help, yes?  But I know it will not get me where I want to be. Which is not to a ‘I lift things up and put them down’ place, mind you. Just a place where I am healthier, with a little more lean muscle and a little less jiggle.

I also know that I have 2 sets of dumb bells in the hall closet that I can’t seem to make myself pull out and use, even as I sit on the couch, contemplating their very existence. No, it is time for drastic measures, I think.  Around this time, I saw some ads for a local gym quite close to my house with no start up fee and a membership of only $10 a month. The time has come, I think. It’s time to join the gym.

The weekend after school began, my 7 year old son and I traveled to this previously mentioned local gym to check it out, with every intention of signing up. From the outside, the building is quite unassuming, but once inside, we were smacked in the face with a wall of sound in the form of upbeat pop/rock music blaring over the loudspeakers.  There were lots of machines: rows and rows and rows of them. Wall to wall. Eyeing the weight machines, I began to have flashbacks. My son was not impressed with the place at all.  “It is too loud in here,” he yelled.  “Can we go now?  I don’t want to come to this place.”

As we stand in line waiting to be assisted, I reminded him that Mommy is here trying to do something good for herself and would like to at least talk to the man about the gym before we leave. He sullenly conceded the point. When it was finally my turn to speak to the gentleman behind the desk, my hopes were dashed in one foul swoop: they do not have any form of childcare. Buzz kill

He mentioned to me, however, that a new gym (part of a national chain) that has just opened up not to far from my house in the other direction, does offer childcare and he has a friend who works over there that would be happy to talk with me. Determined to maintain my resolve, we left the local gym and its disco surround sound behind and headed over to the new place.

My son is thrilled.  “I’m glad they don’t have childcare here, Mommy. I don’t want you to come back here, even without me. I don’t like it here.” Kids and dogs: they have a sixth sense, you know?

In the car, I began to lose my nerve. A national chain. Muscle heads.  That intimidated feeling. Maybe the fact that the local gym had no childcare was a sign that joining a gym was not the right thing for me. I resisted the urge to turn the car onto my street and instead drive on.

We pulled into the parking lot in front of the gym, a location we’ve visited many times before as it used to be a Borders Books. Sad we were to see them close. But up from their ashes a mighty fitness giant did rise.

My son was immediately impressed with the change of venue.  Gone was the dance club feel with its dim lighting and pulsing beat. The new facility was bright and shiny new, with machines in neat rows and an open, airy feel. As we waited to speak to someone at this facility, I began to relax.  Perhaps the lack of childcare at the other place wasn’t a sign that I shouldn’t join a gym, but only that I shouldn’t join THAT gym.

Mother and child returned home much happier, with a gym membership for me and a dropin childcare option set up for him. I was headed in the right direction!

A week later, I went in for my ‘assessment’ with a personal trainer.  It was a great meeting, but having not been to a gym in a very long time, it did not occur to me (nor was I advised, as I apparently should have been beforehand) that a trainer was an additional contract for an additional fee. I was feeling a bit intimidated by the whole process, but I decided I was not going to let fear keep me from what I knew I needed to do. I resolved to find my way on my own.

Twenty years later, I have found that the gym is a very different place for me than it was those many years ago. Yes, there is still a sense of intimidation as I try not to look too stupid figuring out how a machine works or contemplating how exactly I’m going to remove these 100 pound cheese wheels of weight off the bar bell so I can move the empty bar to do push ups (I did figure out the moving of the bar height, at least).  Yes, I try to make myself look small and inconspicuous off in the corner as I work through my exercise routines.

But as I warm up each visit on the elliptical (wow, where has this machine been all my life? Love. It.), I find my emotions fall away from intimidation and towards inspiration. These rows of cardio equipment turn out to be a great place to people watch. I peep out around the TV screen attached to my machine and steal glimpses of my fellow exercisers and cannot help but find motivation. There at one end of my row is a little old lady, 70 years if she’s a day, walking on the treadmill.  She’s already been there a while by the time I arrive, and she’s still trucking on when I leave.  A few rows ahead, there’s a very heavy gentleman who comes with…a friend? …a partner? …a trainer? Whomever he is, they cycle side by side sharing quite conversation and support. There’s a wide variety of men and women just like me, young and old, of various backgrounds, who are soft in the middle (and suddenly I have Paul Simon in my head…) and working to improve.

Sure, there’s a few muscle heads and several super fit people working to stay super fit.  But my presence at the gym is not met with their searing glances; we’re all just doing our thing.  And should someone feel the need to throw a hairy eyeball my way, I’m no longer inclined to shrink away as if I don’t belong. I know I’ve as much a right to be in the gym as anyone else, dammit. Hell, this week, someone actually asked ME how a piece of equipment worked! We both had a good chuckle over the perplexing item.  Yes, this time around, being at the gym has given me a sense of empowerment—a growing internal strength to match my sl-o-o-o-wly growing external progress.

And speaking of inspiration, I wear my Wendy Davis shoes to work out.  I figure if she can stand up for 11 hours fighting for the health and rights of women in an entire state, the least I can do is stand up for my own health for half an hour three days a week.