When I was a little baby, people would stop my mother on the street and tell her I was too small, that there was something wrong with me, and I just assumed that 32 years was so very long ago that they didn’t even have weight charts, for babies, but my mother scoffed at this notion during our recent conversation, scoffed in that way that only your mother can scoff, and it turns out that they did have charts – and on the charts I was always in the 5th percentile, every single time. I wasn’t sick, there was nothing wrong me. I was just a very small bean.
I heard all the time, growing up, about how skinny and small I was. In my second grade picture there are the usual height differentials, and then it’s a long stair step down to me , the absolute tiniest second grader in the picture.
In the fifth grade, we moved up to the third floor at school with the rest of the big kids. The big kids wore skirts and blouses instead of jumpers, except for me. My skirt required straps, to stay up, and people were always telling me I was on the wrong floor, even though I was a fifth grader. But these things pretty much rolled off me. I didn’t really care. The fact of the matter was that I was just small.
And then I hit puberty, and all of a sudden all the things I could eat – the six ice cream bars at once, the Costco sized bags of chips, the endless cups of ramen – all of this started to take a toll. I was far from fat, but I felt disgusting. Overnight I had changed from a tiny little slip of a thing into someone with hips and a booty and from that moment on, I felt fat.
I didn’t have anyone to help me figure out what things looked good on me, to point me away from the red glasses or the baggy sweaters or the flat shoes or the shirts tucked into pleated shorts. My mother just isn’t that kind of mom. I had to figure it all out on my own – how to pluck my eyebrows, how to walk in heels (still working on that one), not to wear flowered pants.
Transferring high schools and moving half way across the country was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I went from a small private all girls school on the west coast, a school where half the time we wore our pajama pants to class and we had a condom lady and we had open campus and we worked at a homeless shelter and we all competed to see who could outsmart each other – I went from all of that to a school in the midwest where the girls wore the uniform skirt as short as it could legally go and never raised their hands in class, where the boys called me Einstein, and not in a nice way, where I didn’t know anyone and I wore the wrong shirt to school for the first week, and I felt lonely and afraid and sick and confused. And fat. Most of all,I felt fat.
I am not sure when I decided to stop eating, but I can tell you that it was a highly effective diet. When I left for college I weighed 95 pounds, but by the time I came home I had been eating three meals a day again instead of nothing, and I gained a bit more than the freshman fifteen, probably about twenty five pounds, and for me anything over a size 6 felt like failure, total failure, and I was right back to feeling fat, every minute of every day.
And then I moved to Ann Arbor, moved in with Mr. E, and got a job and sat behind a desk every day for the first time, and that’s when I first really started to eat, and I gained weight with a rapid fire force, so fast I didn’t realize what was happening, and when it seemed like that was just the way the world worked I gave away the pants that didn’t fit anymore and continued right on sitting next to Mr. E on the couch and eating Doritos as fast as I could.
One day I couldn’t wear the biggest size jeans they sold at Old Navy. I sat in the bathroom in my office building and thought about the number I’d seen on the scale that morning, how I was wearing Mr. E’s extra large sweaters to work, and I decided, right then and there, that something had to give.
I joined Weight Watchers and I very slowly started to exercise, I started with Pilates and yoga and the weight started to come off, and it took me forever, just forever, we moved to Nebraska and I gained some weight back but I had a best friend who listened to all of my boring weight loss stories, and I had a running path that snaked for thirty miles behind my house, and I had money to buy running shoes and fast songs on my IPOD and I had a room in my house just for my treadmill and my tv and I’d run, every night, never missing a day, I’d run for hours, I had all the time in the world, time just stretched out before me. I ran two half marathons and I had some great runs and I rewound Nike commercials and I felt like, for the first time in ever, I was an athlete.
And I worked and worked and worked and the day I got pregnant I weighed 124 pounds. Five pounds short of my goal, fifty five pounds lighter than that day I sat in the bathroom and decided to change.
We moved to California and I got pregnant and I got sick and I lost nine pounds, that first trimester. The pictures of me pregnant are ridiculous, when you realize that I was already moaning on about how fat I was.
I was sick as hell the entire time I was pregnant, but I still gained twenty five pounds. I couldn’t run, and I didn’t really want to. Whenever I made myself, I’d have terrible side aches or round ligament pain or feel intense shortness of breath, so I stopped, cold turkey, and my runner’s legs turned flabby beneath and me and I got sicker and sicker and forgot what it was like to want to eat – I had a bag of Dove chocolate in the refrigerator the day I got pregnant, and it stayed there for nine months, if that gives you any idea what it was like to be the pregnant sick as a dog me.
The week after Eli was born, I lost 22 pounds, and he only weighed five. I couldn’t zip my size 4 jeans up, but I could pull them on all the way. My mom said “you look so skinny” when I walked out of the bedroom in the morning. I couldn’t believe what it was like to watch myself shrink before my own eyes.
And then I started to eat. Breastfeeding ignited a hunger in me – I have never felt such a thing. Staring down the barrel of that hunger that threatened to devour me, after nine months of wanting nothing to do with anything edible, ever, I could not put the doughnuts down. I mainlined King Size Snickers as a snack. I ate and ate and ate, and I gained back all of those 22 pounds and then some.
And sure, I fought. I tried running, tried squeezing it in wherever I could. And when it was hard, or when I couldn’t find the time, or my sports bras didn’t fit, or I didn’t like having a treadmill in my living room or my ankle hurt or I forgot to record my points or I was hungry or I felt sad and chocolate chip cookie dough was the only thing that helped, all those times, I blamed myself. When it was too hot to run and I had to get up at six am and run ten miles, and I didn’t want to get up at six am and run ten miles, I blamed myself. When I didn’t want to push a baby through a neighborhood that scared me, when I didn’t want to run the three mile loop past people sitting in parked cars with darkened windows, I blamed myself. When couldn’t get my weight to go below 143, when I had to buy new shorts, when I trained for a half marathon and never ever ever ever had a good run and couldn’t stop going to the bathroom and had to stop every mile to walk and when I finished in 2 and half hours instead of the under two hours I wanted, I blamed myself.
And then when we moved and I still couldn’t find the time – in between counting points and trying to cook healthy, cheap, gluten free meals every damn night and trying to be a mom and run a side business and return email and get some sleep and not have a mental breakdown, when I still couldn’t drag myself out of bed to run in the early morning or drag myself off the couch to run in the dark, I blamed myself.
My whole life is different now, and I haven’t been able to shoe horn all of the things from my old life right smack into the middle of the new one and I blamed myself for not trying to cram it all in just a little bit harder.
And yet. My whole life is different now.
I do not have 35 miles of paths running behind my house. It is never the right temperature. I don’t have a room with a treadmill and cable. I have a toddler. I have a food allergy. I have a really small living room and I can’t afford new sports bras and I don’t have three hours on Saturday morning to go for a long run.
And so, we walk.
Every day, I put Eli n the jogging stroller and I walk for three miles.
I don’t change into special clothes. I don’t need a sports bra, or a chunk of kid free time. It doesn’t really matter when we go, and the weather isn’t that important. We don’t need to map out lengthy routes and I don’t have to take a shower afterwards. I don’t have to do it when I’d like to be doing something else.
I may eventually start running again. I might lose thirty pounds and decide I want to lose ten more, or ten less. I might decide that I’m never eating another Lean Cuisine for the rest of my life, or that I’m eating nothing but.
I only know that I am done beating my head against the wall, trying to make things fit when they won’t, and then blaming myself when it doesn’t work. Things change. My life is different now. And I am doing what I can.
And so, we walk. And somehow, amazingly, that feels like progress.
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