Family


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.

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My husband is one of those men who was born about 100 years too late.  He is old-fashioned in ways that are almost always charming.  He loathes computers, does not have an email account, and had never text messaged anyone until we started seeing each other a few years ago.

It is absolutely batshit crazy how much I love this man.  Oh hell no, we are not perfect.  We argue and clash and miscommunicate.  We are simultaneously infuratingly similar, and shockingly different.  We have known each other for a very long time, but we were out of each others’ orbits for many years.  We face a lot of…logistical challenges these days.  Those challenges can be heartbreaking on bad days.  But this man…my soul is right with him.  And if every day for the rest of my life is a heartbreaking, challenging day, it is still worth every second to share this life with him and these beautiful children.

And last but not least, my blog link of the day; it’s another blog of the humorous variety.  Meaning, I am prone to combing the archives on supremely sucky days.  And after uploading holiday photos to my Facebook page today, one of which prominently features the big butt of Big Dog, I was reminded of my love for PhotoBomb.

I am totally overweight.

As of this morning, I weigh in at 211 pounds.  Now, this is a teeny bit deceiving, because I am quite tall; 5′ 10″ to be exact.  But according to this handy BMI calculator, my BMI is 30.3, which puts me just over the edge into the obese category.  Ugh.  Obese.

My mother has been obese for as long as I can remember.  She was a petite teenager and young adult.  After her first pregnancy (with me), she lost some of the weight, but stayed chubby.  After her second pregnancy (five years later, with my brother), she never lost the weight.  Her father died not long after my brother was born, and years later, my own father (with whom I have a complicated relationship, but don’t we all?) shared with me that my mom was never the same after her dad died.

My mom was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes when I was in middle school.  She never really did anything to control her diabetes, and she continued to gain weight.  14 years ago her doctor put her on insulin.  She considered that a “relief,” because it meant she now had a pharmaceutical way to control her blood sugar and could continue to drink Coke and eat crap.  12 years ago she stopped working, and since then has had a series of health issues that have caused her weight to balloon to what I believe is well in excess of 500 pounds.  She is virtually bedridden.

My own weight issues are inextricably tied up with my mom, and my feelings about her own weight and health.  I have never been morbidly obese, and my heaviest (non-pregnancy) weight was about 4-5 years ago, when I was creeping up on 250.  I’ve been in the low 200s for several years now.  Frankly, I’m surprised I haven’t gained weight since S was born last year.  I’m eating like crap.  I’m not respecting my body, and I’m not making choices that will maximize my potential for a long, happy, healthy life with my family.

I struggle tremendously with exercise.  We cannot afford a gym membership, or a treadmill.  Because my husband works out of state, it is not possible in the winter for me to exercise outside (there is no one to stay with the children, and I am already gone 11-12 hours a day because of work).  Part of me screams to check out some exercise DVDs from the library, and then I get discouraged because there is no place in our teeny tiny house for me to actually do them.  Our living room is far too small.  I get angry with myself because I know these are just excuses, but I feel stuck.  I know I need to exercise, but my mental block seems insurmountable.

I know I am capable of eating better.  I’ve done it in the past.  I’ve had success with Weight Watchers, and with various “watch what you eat” programs endorsed by Oprah/her chef/her trainer over the years.  I’m an intelligent person who certainly KNOWS that Cherry Coke and Twix do not make an even remotely acceptable breakfast.

One of the many reasons I’m here is to give voice to these as-yet unspoken things inside me that seem to stymie my personal growth.  I know I can do better.  I know I deserve better.  And I certainly know my husband and kids deserve better.  So why aren’t I actually doing better?

Anyway, on to lighter things.  Here’s another of my favorite blogs, and it’s one I turn to when I need a laugh.  My pets have ruined plenty of things; it’s great to know I’m not alone.