(This piece has been a work in progress for quite sometime. I thought I would finally post it on something. The last three paragraphs are the most important.)
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“Big” was the word my mother used to describe the size of my feet in my baby book when I was born. “Tallest” qualified me to become the first female flag holder at Eastport Elementary’s kindergarten graduation, and “heaviest?” Well, “Heaviest” was the notation used on my school nurses report in the third grade when I was forced to publicly weigh in at ninety-nine pounds, taking gold as the “fattest” kid in my class ~ a day of extreme humiliation that I will never, ever forget. I can even remember what I was wearing that day; a flowered print turtle neck tucked INSIDE a pair of turquoise-blue sweatpants (yes, I said tucked-in… it was 1984). Seriously, if it was Halloween I could have passed for a stuffed polish sausage tied off at the ends by strings about to suffocate. I guess one could say that if you looked at my history, I was always somewhat of a sizable challenge.
For each year following the public third grade weigh-in I cursed my mouth. I cursed my arm which brought the fork to my mouth, and I cursed “the curse” which has been cast upon each and every female on my mother’s side of the family. Collectively, in some form of another we have all battled our inner bulge demons at times. My Grandmother, for example, a little peanut of a woman whom I can vividly recall standing over the kitchen sink, sucking tiny chicken remnants off of a wishbone, only to wash it down with a box of prunes to “speed up” the process. I could be wrong, but I honestly never recall her sitting down to actually eat a FULL meal. Was it a true eating problem or was she just the product of a European generation growing up during the Great Depression which was forced to learn to eat to live, instead of living to eat? As for my Aunts, my cousins, my sister and myself of course, in some form or another we’ve all battled our waistlines forever. Some worse then others, but from choosing not to eat dessert, to Weight Watchers, to hypnosis, to diet pills it has all been done. I sometimes joke that the only thing left to try is my invention of the Kiddy Plate Diet. That’s right. The diet in which you can only eat what will fit in between the dividers of a three-sectioned kiddy plate. Yup, just a little alternative plan I dreamt up one night after polishing off a half gallon of Hershey’s Moose Tracks Ice Cream. I figured if that did not work, then the only thing left to do then was to wire my jaw shut.
Now, my mother – and this is why I write this story.
Seven years ago I lost my mother to brain cancer. My mother’s illness and death was a time in my life that has forever changed me. But, the day I cleaned out her closet was an eye-opening experience I would have never imagined. It was a task which only confirmed what I already knew, that when it came to watching my waistline, the apple certainly does not fall very far from the tree. I can honestly say that you never really know a person until you’ve gone through their underwear drawer. Everyone has ghosts and conveniently hidden behind everyone’s closet door is a story yet to be told.
My mother was not tall. Five foot, two to be exact with small bones. She bore four children over the course of thirteen years, but I never recall her actually being “heavy” until after child number four. Was it that she just gave up trying to lose the “kiddy-weight?” Or, did her metabolism change after age thirty-five? Or, perhaps the constant fatigue from her slow-growing tumor caused her to become less active over time. If there is one thing that I have learned, it is that when I am tired, I eat like a friggin’ refugee and that could have been a primary contributor to her weight gain. One will never quite know for sure.
About three months after my mother’s death, my Aunt Vee and I went through forty-eight years of my mother’s belongings. I could not help but notice the extreme variation in clothing sizes (sizes 6—20) to be exact. I always knew that her weight struggles were just as significant and painful as mine and looking back, I do recall her always being on some sort of diet. She was a frequent flyer at WW (Weight Watchers), just like her daughter. She was addicted to diet pills at one point, just like her daughter, and, I distinctly remember her telling me that Susan Powers said, “You can eat seventy-five baked potatoes for the same number of fat grams in a piece of steak.” Not exactly a lesson in portion control Mom, but hey, perhaps just like her daughter, she would try anything to just to lose a few. Hey, if she was here today I’m sure she would be up for trying my Kiddy-Plate plan, but as I am learning there is much more to life than what is on your plate.
If you knew my mother, you would inarguably agree that my mother was the “mother” of all mothers. A stay at home mom since the age twenty-one, she lived for her children. She never missed a day of helping us with our homework, she went to all of our games, concerts ~ and she even made our Halloween costumes each year. But, like many mothers and daughters, we fought constantly. It was not until she fell ill, that we quit the bickering. Given only a few months to live, our strained relationship became non-existent. I find it unfortunate how we sometimes wait for tragedy to strike in order to fully see life’s big picture ~ a lesson I have since learned. The interesting thing though about the fights between my mother and I is that not one argument was ever related to weight concerns. She never told me I had piano legs, or looked chubby in an outfit, or forbid me to eat a second cookie (although sometimes I wished she would have now!) – She did once tell me and I quote, “Your boobs are pathetic.” (Thanks mom). But, like mother, like daughter, our physical insecurities were one in the same. A hidden pain, much better suited brushed under the carpet, or in this case, kept in the closet.
What I learned over the years since cleaning out my mother’s closet that day is that when you come to the end of your life, nobody remembers, or gives a crap whether you were a size six, ten, twelve, or fifty! Nobody cares if you were a fatty or a skinny or who won the race. They remember the person you were. They remember the mother who saved in her top drawer four children’s worth of baby teeth inside of a shell-covered jewelry box. They remember the wife who in the drawer just beside cherished the diamond ring her husband gave to her on their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. And, in the closet waiting to be taken off hangers to give to those less fortunate, they remember the strength of a cancer fighter with sweaters decorated in angel pins who never gave up the opportunity to spend just one more day with her family and friends.
So, my point today my friends is that the next time you feel frustrated about the size you are, or the spaghetti strapped dress you can no longer fit into, shake it off. Remember, in the end, all that matters is who YOU are and how one day YOU will be remembered. And, I guarantee, it will not be by the size of your pants.
**I write this for all of the woman in my family, those who knew my mother, and those who each and everyday struggle with their weight. I’m not saying to turn in the gym membership or belly up at the China Buffet, but just be HAPPY and enjoy the chocolate chip cookie every once in a while.