As the weather slowly warms in Chicago, people gradually shed their various layers. It is now commonplace to see people without hats, scarves and gloves.

As I walk to my office in the morning, I notice peoples’ bare hands as they walk. Their fingers curve inward as their arms swing. I wonder what those hands did this morning, what they will be doing at work today, and what they will do tonight to celebrate the weekend. I wonder if they are the hands of happy people. Sometimes I have an almost overwhelming urge to slip my hand into a stranger’s hand, squeeze, and tell them it will be all right.


Between the blizzard and being stretched pretty thin personally and professionally, I’ve been walking around in quit a fog over the last couple of weeks. But the sun is shining, it’s Friday, and I’m shaking the cobwebs out of my noggin.

I found a SUPERB blog this week, one that lessens the shame I feel about being overweight, while teaching ways to develop a healthy relationship with food, no matter what one chooses to eat. I give you, The Fat Nutritionist.  Once again, it’s a blog that’s been around for awhile, with many followers, and I’m rather late to the game. But Michelle over there is all about removing any sort of moral judgment from the fact of one’s weight, or what one eats.  And I *love* that.

Anyway, we are 16 days post blizzard, and virtually all the snow is gone.  It was well into the 50s here yesterday.  And all you big dog owners know what this means.  It means Big Dog goes out back, and comes back inside with mud caked up in between his toes and under his claws, and his undercarriage gets all splattered with God only knows what, mixed with mud.

We have hardwood floors in our little house, and with a newly mobile baby (crawling like a champ, if I do say so myself), I confess to being super-anal about how clean Big Dog’s paws have to be before I will let him roam in the living room.  So I dug out an old pitcher, and have taken to filling it with water and washing Big Dog’s paws, one at a time, when he comes in from the mud.  That’s right.  Big Dog gets a Doggie Foot Spa Bath several times a day.

So…Big City, USA, my home,  is Chicago.  And we are digging out from two feet of snow (which, I understand, makes this year’s blizzard the third worst in the 100-plus years that weather gurus have been keeping track of such things).

This is most definitely one area where the advent of technology is a tremendous blessing.  44 years ago a blizzard crippled the city for nearly a week.  No one knew it was coming.  This time around we had a week’s notice, and provided you were not one of the thousands who lost power, and you didn’t have to drive anywhere, it honestly wasn’t as much of a hardship as “24 inches of snow” would have you believe.

Anywho…digging out…catching up at work after two days away…I am formulating my next blog post over the weekend.

I am in third grade.  We have recently moved to a new city and state, and the transition has been deeply difficult for me.  I am a third-grade pariah, for some reason.  It is a Saturday, and I learn, somehow, that there is a school skating party being held at that very minute.  I march in the front door and sass my mother, telling her it is all her fault that I am missing the skating party.  She tries to reason with me, but I am filled with white-hot 9-year old rage.  She sends me to my room where we continue our battle.  She begins to hit me.  On my side and back, I think, although my memory fails me on that detail.  She runs out of the room, horrified with herself.  Minutes later my father, who cannot cope with a malfunctioning VCR and yet maintains the most serene disposition in the face of a real, legitimate crisis, comes in to discuss what happened with me.  We talk about my hurtful words.  We talk about how sorry my mother is.  It is the first, last and only time either of my parents will ever lay a hand on me in anger.  No one ever mentions it again.

I am in middle school; 12 or 13, I think.  My brother and I have been latchkey kids for several years, coming home after school to entertain ourselves until our parents arrived home from work around 5.  I am aware that my mother is overweight.  Very overweight.  I can never remember her NOT being overweight.  I am aware that she does very little cooking and cleaning (my father does virtually none), and that she almost always comes home from work, puts on her pajamas, and disappears into her bedroom.  I am aware that my parents are fighting, and that we are having financial problems.  I am aware that I have already assumed a motherly role toward my younger brother, and that we fend for ourselves a lot.  I don’t yet know that much of this is related to my mother’s deep, crippling depression.  I complain to my mother that her insistence on smoking while we are all in the car together irritates my asthma.  She snaps at me that her smoking has no impact on my asthma.

My mother comes home one day and tells us that she has been diagnosed as a Type II diabetic.  I can still see the light blue booklet she shared with us, showing the “exchange values” of several foods.  My mother talks of watching her diet and keeping her blood sugar under control and losing weight.  I say something about how she will look better at 40 than she did at 30.

I am 14, preparing to enter high school.  My brother is playing baseball at the local little league baseball diamond.  My parents have been relentless in their conflict.  I blame my father.  I ask my mother if she has ever thought of divorcing my father.  She says she has, but that she fears he would try to get custody of my brother.  There is no mention of me.

I am in high school.  While our financial situation has gone from dire to tolerable thanks in part to a very modest inheritance from my maternal grandmother, I know my parents barely stand each other based in part on still-fresh fiscal resentments.  They have not slept in the same bed in years.  After a dinner usually cooked by me or picked up from a local pizza or Chinese joint, my father retreats to the basement and my mother disappears into her bedroom, smoking her True Green 100 cigarettes and drinking Coke and watching television.  She has gained more weight in these past few years, but is still able to function enough to go to her secretarial job.  I rarely emerge from my own bedroom, because the clutter and the mess and the filth begin to overwhelm me.

I am a senior in high school.  My academic success has merited me a full tuition scholarship at a college 500 miles away in Big City.  It is the only way I can go to college: for free.  I am scared, excited, and deeply guilty.  I am guilty over leaving my mother behind.  I am guilty over leaving my brother behind to navigate his teenage years with my parents, alone.

I am finishing college.  I have become engaged, and my mother and I are discussing some wedding plans.  I am unenthusiastic and uninterested.  Part of me wants to marry this man so that I can insert myself into his Norman Rockwell family and leave my own behind.  Part of me knows this is a mistake, and that it is grossly unfair to the man I am marrying because I do not love him the way a wife should love a husband.  I do not share this with my mother.  She tells me that her doctor has put her on insulin.  She is happy and relieved that she can now worry even less about what she eats.  She is still smoking, still drinking Coke.  She takes countless pills every day for her depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

I am in graduate school.  I learn that I am expecting D1.  Through an entirely coincidental series of events, my parents end up moving to the same area where I plan to move after graduate school.  One of the conditions my mother places on her willingness to move is that my father allow her to retire.  She is heavier than ever; old habits never die for her.  She is 50 when they move and she “retires.”  We all know that it would be impossible for her to continue working.  My small-boned mother, who is just over 5′ 4″, weighs well over 350 pounds.  I am able to spend a lot of one-on-one time with my father over a period of several months during my pregnancy.  I come to understand that 99% of the time, there is plenty of blame to go around for marital discord.  My parents’ marriage is no different.

I am a young mother starting my professional career.  We host my then-in-laws and my parents for a birthday.  My mother is unable to do anything but sit on a chair, elevated as much as possible by extra pillows that I will wash three times after she leaves.  She sits and watches as D1’s other grandmother plays with D1 on the floor, enthusiastic, beautiful, lithe and full of energy.  She tells me later that it was very, very hard for her to watch that, how it made her feel bad that she misses out on so much with my daughters.  My father’s near-fatal heart attack scares her into quitting her smoking habit, but nothing else.  I am so grateful that she has quit.  Now that she no longer smells like cigarette smoke, I notice that she smells of unwashed body parts.  She showers every day, and yet there are places she cannot reach and clean.  She drinks Coke straight out of the 2-liter bottle.  Her bedroom floor is littered with sacks of empty 2-liter bottles, empty microwave popcorn bags, boxes of crackers, bags of chips, and the mangled remains of candy bar wrappers.   She will mention the possibility of weight loss surgery over the next year or two, but it will never be more than a passing comment.  Soon she will slip on some water on the floor in her laundry room and fracture her pelvis.  The fracture will go undiagnosed for many months.  Her endocrinologist will continue to enable her, and will never push her to face the harsh realities of her situation.  Her fractured pelvis will render her almost entirely bedridden for over a year.

I am a more seasoned professional.  D1 has started school, and D2 is in the middle of toddlerhood.  My marriage has finally started its inevitable collapse.  I am starting to buckle under the weight of serving as my mother’s primary source of emotional support.  For this and many, many other reasons, my then-husband and I decide to move to Big City, where his family lives.  My mother is devastated.  She tells me this.  She supports me emotionally and uses her credit card to pay many thousands of dollars of legal bills during my divorce.

I am in the midst of my divorce.  D1 and D2 are both in school now, and I have moved into my own place.  I have begun the long, painful, arduous process of putting myself back together emotionally.  What limited mobility my mother has enjoyed over the past few years is gone when she dislocates her shoulder.  She needs surgery to repair it, but the doctors will not perform it due to her extreme weight.  She is now well over 500 pounds.  She and my father are still married, but live separately due to his job.  He escapes to China for two years for work.  She develops a rash in the folds of her skin.  The rash becomes infected, and she spends nearly a week in the hospital with a severe staph infection.  When she is released, I come to stay for a weekend.  I walk in the front door of her house and am nearly knocked out by the smell of urine and garbage.   The smell has been there for years and years but now has reached a disturbing intensity.  She has not had a bowel movement in nearly a week.  The hospital has provided her with a bedside commode.  One night she finally moves her bowels, and the next morning she insists that I empty the commode.  I have an anxiety attack and nearly vomit, but I do it.  Later she tells me that I am not a nurturer.  The next night she falls in her bedroom, and we must summon an emergency crew to get her off the floor and back into her bed.  It takes four EMTs and me over an hour.  After I leave, she needs regular visits from nurses and home health aides to help tend to her wounds and try to stay on top of the increasingly disgusting house.

I have remarried.  I know that this concerns her.  Three weeks after my backyard elopement, I become pregnant much to my surprise.  She tells me that she cannot be happy about it yet.  At some point during my pregnancy she is able to feel some measure of joy about the imminent arrival of her only grandson.  S is born, and she and my father come for a visit, staying in a hotel near our house.  My mother is able to hold the baby for a few minutes at a time.  She gets up to use the bathroom, and when she returns she has put on her dressing gown (and is so out of breath I expect her to fall over dead of a heart attack right there).  She announces that she did not change because she wants us to leave, but because she “piddled” on herself while using the bathroom.  I am sad and embarrassed for her.  Since S was born eight months ago, she has held him a dozen times, for perhaps a total of 30 minutes.  I am sad for my son, who I know will never really know his grandmother.  I am sad for my daughters, who will not have their grandmother at their graduations or their weddings.  I am sad for my mother, who threw in the towel on life decades ago.  I am sad for myself, because I had to grow up before I even finished elementary school.  I know that she did the best she could with the emotional tools available to her.  I know she has been very sick emotionally for a very long time.  I am grateful to have a mother at all; my best friend lost her mother more than a decade ago, and another close friend was cut out of his parents’ lives after he divorced.  And I still feel cheated and mad as hell.

Today my mother is nearly 62.  I estimate she weighs at least 600 pounds.  She never leaves her house unless someone is driving her somewhere, and even then it is an event she must prepare for days in advance, and from which she must recover for days following.  She spends 90% of her time in bed, and the other 10% of her time sitting in an extra large office chair at the dining room table.  She is unable to wash her own hair.  She has congestive heart failure.  She is in complete denial about the severity of her condition.  She is my mother and I love her so much.  And she will likely be gone in a year or two, almost entirely because of the lifestyle choices she has been making for 35 years.

Lyn at Escape From Obesity has written beautiful things about her late father.  Check her out.

I have known for months, in the dark back corners of my mind, that my eating patterns are totally out of control.  And it is honestly a total miracle that I have not ballooned up to 3265789 pounds because of it.

When I was pregnant with my son in late 2009 and early 2010, I was sick. as. a. dog.  The nausea lasted well into my second trimester, and got worse later in the day.  I lost weight during the first half of my pregnancy, and had a total net weight gain of about 15 pounds by the end.  By the time S was 8 weeks old, I was already about 5 pounds below my pre-pregnancy weight, which is where I have stayed ever since (despite my atrocious eating and almost total lack of physical activity).  I’ve never had a particularly fast natural metabolism, so this kind of astounds me.  By any measure, I should have gained at least 15 pounds in the last 6 months. Probably more.

Part of this process for me has to be total awareness and acceptance of the crap I’m consuming, and just how bad it is for me.  I estimate that yesterday alone I crammed 4,000 calories in my mouth, including 4(!) cans of Cherry Coke.  And exercise?  That would be the walk between my office and my public transportation station: about 5 blocks each way.  Oh, and the physical exertion related to changing the Mt. Krakatoa of shit-filled diapers last night.

I’ve been perusing fitness and weight loss blogs (Jesus hell, there are countless such blogs that are really just web ads for some miraculous, super fast, all-natural weight loss solution), amassing tips and inspiration for this journey.  Several bloggers advocate taking photos at various intervals (monthly, quarterly, etc.).  I have to be honest…taking a photo of myself in my skivvies does NOT appeal to me, and I have a detailed plan about how I will immediately copy the photos to a password-protected CD and then delete from the camera before another living soul can even begin to be aware that said photos exist.  But I’m going to take those photos in the next few days.

I am putting together a detailed grocery list.  Obviously, the single easiest way for me to exercise the willpower to avoid eating crap is to THROW THE CRAP AWAY and replace it with healthful alternatives.  Tonight I will be purging my kitchen of the processed, refined, sugary, salty stuff and replacing it with the stuff we all know I should be eating.

I have also decided that I will be keeping a food and exercise log, at least in the beginning.  My capacity for denial knows no bounds, and I want to use that as a tool to hold myself accountable.  I’m going to share that log here.

Many, many people (including the gurus on weight loss shows like The Biggest Loser and Heavy) advocate taking measurements in addition to weighing in.  So I’ll be tracking my inches lost, as well as my pounds lost.

I’m going to apply some of my 12-step tools to this journey.  Most importantly, I am going to work hard to always examine my motives for doing things.  Am I eating because I am hungry, and/or for energy, or am I eating because I am bored or sad or anxious?  Again, it’s another way for me to get real with myself about what I’m doing to myself both physically and emotionally.  The truth is that food and eating are actually very complex emotional issues for me.  I will never treat my body better if I don’t work on those emotional issues, too.

Let me also proclaim my newfound affection for Jennifer’s blog, Losing the Shadow.  I relate so much to her, and I’m looking forward to tagging along with her as she works through many of the same issues that I face.

PS–Ordered 30-Day Shred yesterday.  Huzzah!  It will arrive early next week, along with the much-needed baby gate since S is on the very cusp of crawling.

I know I need to be healthier.  I know it in that intellectual way that we know things, and I even think I finally know it emotionally.  I know I have the strength to do it.

And honestly, I positively ache for more than just improved health.  One of my favorite bloggers, Kristin (whose “regular” blog can be found here), nearly made me all weepy with this post at her fitness blog.  I want that.  I want that feeling of power, of living in the very second that I am in at any given point.  My struggle with that is lifelong, and extends so far beyond fitness and health.  I joke that I have a PhD in worrying.  But it’s no joke.  While Al Anon has helped me a lot in this area (and maybe this is one reason why I feel more emotionally ready to really change the physicality of my life), I do still struggle with feelings of anger, bitterness, resentment, guilt, sadness and all that super awesome stuff when it comes to the past.  And I worry much more than a rational person should worry about the future.  I know that this has made me miss out on a lot of things in the present.  It makes me sad to think that this particular personality trait has not only hurt my own ability to live a happy life, but that it has done the same to my children.  And then I enter the shame spiral about the past, and here we go again…

I’m a good mom.  A damn good mom.  And I am feeling this need to be healthier and more powerful.  The need is starting to bubble up out of me and seep out of my pores.  I don’t want to be skinny.  I’ve never been skinny, and it is not in my genetic code to be skinny.  I want to be full of health and strength and power.  I want to push my body as far as it will go, and then push past that.  I want to take that feeling that my lungs have shriveled up into walnuts in my chest, breathe deep, and keep going.

I want to stop mindlessly shoving crap in my mouth, and I want to stop treating the refrigerator like it’s my savior.

I want these things.  And today, I am promising myself that I will do these things.  For me.  I will no longer use asthma or work schedule or parenting as excuses.  It’s hard for me to just leap off this cliff and make this promise to myself, especially since I am so Type A…I want a Plan and a Strategy and Rules to Follow.  But I know the more I overthink that, the easier it will be for me to give up.

What I know is that I have this DVD at home, and I’m going to start using it.  I have heard countless raves about this DVD, and I’m going to buy it today and start using it.    I am going to be kind to and gentle with myself, but I am going to have expectations of myself and I am going to hold myself accountable.  I am going to show my body and my mind the love and respect they deserve.

I live in a very large metropolitan area.  I didn’t grow up in a city this large, and I have a lot of mixed feelings about living and working in such a big place.

There are so many positives: the fantastic museums and fine arts opportunities, the fact that I hear people speaking foreign languages almost every day, the liberalness, the stunningly beautiful skyline.

And then there are things that drive me insane.

Revolving doors.  People, revolving doors are a GROUP EFFORT.  We are all supposed to push reasonably hard for our designated period of time.  When I was hugely pregnant last year, I lost count of the number of times big, buff men would step into a revolving door immediately before or after me, but allow me to do all the pushing.

Umbrellas.  I don’t even own one.  I have a tendency to leave them places, and only ever feel they are even remotely useful in a torrential downpour.  But people here, they unsheath their gigantic golf umbrellas at the sight of the slightest sprinkle or a single snowflake.  The sidewalks become a tight mosaic of huge umbrellas, poking me in the face and snagging my clothes and hair.

Commuting.  I commute on public transportation, and you can add a wonderful public transportation system to one of the things I love about this place.  But even on public transit, with people shouting into their cell phones about their most embarrassing personal details, seat-mates who do not respect the invisible line running down the middle of the seat, and eager beavers who get up to depart the train/bus/whatever ten full minutes before it even comes to a stop at the final station, it could grate on the nerves of Gandhi himself.  I spend about two hours a day commuting.

Summer stink.  Plain and simple, every big city smells foul and pissy during the summer.  My city is no exception.

I’ve lived in towns and cities of all sizes.  There is much to be said for just about any kind of environment.  I live where I live now because my circumstances require it.  I don’t know that I’m a “lifer” here, but you can bet that while I’m here, I will take advantage of what this city has to offer, even on my shoestring budget.