Out of Focus

“Every pound you lose takes 7 pounds of pressure off of your joints,“ my podiatrist told me. We had been going over my MRI in which she pointed out that are wrong with my right foot. There was a partial tear in this ligament, a longitudinal tear in that tendon, a ganglion cyst, and a single ligament that had, somehow, survived my pigheaded decision not to see a doctor when I broke that foot several years ago. I’m less pigheaded about going to a doctor when I need to these days, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other blindspots.

I hit the 40 pound weight loss mark on the scale this weekend. I know that’s equal to a bag of garden soil, and I was pretty happy to think about not carrying all that extra weight around on a bum foot.

That should have been enough. Just as I was celebrating being able to zip up an old favorite coat, though, a blind spot was opening up.

I got a haircut a few mornings ago, prepping for holiday dinners where we’ll wear something dressier than good jeans. The hairdresser managed to give me the perfect, idiot proof cut (I am all thumbs with a hairdryer), and that should’ve been more than enough.

As I was driving home and glancing in the mirror, however, happy with the way I looked for the first time in ages, my focus changed. I started noticing lines on my face that I hadn’t seen the day before. Had that peach fuzz always been there? I really wish I could get rid of that wart on my eyebrow.

Suddenly being able to get into that favorite old coat or triple layer my jeans for winter protection wasn’t enough. Suddenly, instead of thinking about that 7 pounds of pressure and all the other reasons why I was losing weight, I was thinking about all the outward things that were still wrong with me.

The trap was right there.

My last attempt at make-up a few months ago failed miserably (a skills deficit). I hadn’t thought about it again until that ride home. Now I was mentally inventorying the items I had kept, trying to figure out what else I ‘needed’.

Thinking about the word ‘need’, though, instantly put me on another track. I didn’t need wax or makeup or another outfit to complete an outfit or holiday, let alone my life.

I turned up the road to our house. Some of the snow from the day before had melted, but it was still beautiful everywhere. It was just the thing to get my focus back on to all the things that are going right.

Now, I’m not saying make-up or dressing up is bad. If it makes people happy, they should wear it. But I realized there is a slippery slope between a little thing to make yourself happy and letting all the little things that you think are wrong with you steal happiness that is very real.

Got to Move it, Move it

I’d love to think that my latest round of weight loss, spurred by my job change, will be the last and final victory over my belly, but I’ve bounced the yo-yo enough times to know to hang on but not to hold my breath. What I find has really changed, however, is not the success rate or the method, but the motivation.

Twenty-five years ago, any goal weight centered around staying in a size 6 jean and being able to (almost) carry off a bikini. For most of this fall, my ‘fashion’ size goal has been squarely aimed at being able to fit a nice, heavy pair of fleece-lined jeans comfortably over my long johns, reminding me that weight loss and fitness are increasingly about function.

For me, function is about moving it at fifty so that I can still move it when I’m sixty-five. It’s about being able to keep up with my boys when we’re stacking firewood or taking that hike to the top of the Equinox. It’s about being keeping the life in a lifestyle.

Function, though, is also about fit. Anyone who’s plus-size can commiserate at how difficult it can be to find even practical items that actually fit. Stores will offer to special order sizes, but until recently, they’ve rarely carried anything over an XL.

Today is the first time I’ve tried on something fashion-wise that I really wanted to fit. I’m used to items looking like they may work and then being too small, so, even though my friends at Hiz ‘n’ Herz swore that the strings of my new Teacher Tool Apron would be long enough, until I tried it on, I wasn’t sure if I was still too big for an off-the-rack find.

When it did fit, I did a one-footed happy dance (one foot is bound for surgery in February, but that’s another story). It has pockets for my safety scissors and post-it’s and everything else you need in class. You can see their products and patterns on Etsy and on Facebook.

I tied the strings in back, and I laughed, remembering how hard I once worked to tie a swimsuit string. Being able to fit this apron was much more fun, and it gave me a new goal to lose just enough to be able to tie the strings in front so they’re easier to undo at the end of the day.

Right now, every little extra bit of function is just the right motivation to keep things moving, and, hopefully, this time that will be the recipe for success.

A Secretly Real Identity

The paunchy gal here is a figurine brought to me years ago from Mexico by a friend. He must have seen a resemblance, but in all fairness, she’s actually a little less paunchy than I am. She’s taken up residence on our new deck. Before the deck, our weedy patio hid her exposed body, but I like that she’s now shamelessly sunning herself, embracing life and the world, not hiding in fear among the weeds, and definitely not worrying if society will disapprove of her brazenness.

Anyone who’s read this blog for more than a few months at a time, knows I have a penchant for redecorating. I change banners and colors. Sometimes it focuses more on painting and then on cartoons and back again to writing with pictures. So, you won’t be too surprised to read that I’m thinking about a new banner.

What may be surprising is that, unlike previous PickingMyBattles banners, this one may include my brazen friend and also may not have more than a tiny a tip of the hat to the bad parenting and even worse housekeeping that have driven so many posts over the years.

Thing1 was still nursing when he started toddling. He went through the crawling stage and the pulling-himself-up stages. Then he’d reach out for our hands and walks with us for guidance.

And then he didn’t reach out. He figured it out, and our help was no longer needed.

For that.

And then he didn’t need to nurse, and he took another step away.

And now he’s getting ready to take a giant step away. Thing2 is taking some of the same steps as he starts middle school and finds his own identity.

And I’m questioning mine.

‘Mom’ was, for a long time, the primary (and sometime only) way I identified myself, and I was happy about it. I didn’t like myself before Thing1 was born. Being his mom, meeting his needs changed my perceptions about boys, about the world and about myself.

But there was a person there before he was born. That person evolved, but she’s still there.

She’s still bi-polar as hell, still eating too much and the owner of a bleeding heart. She’s no longer afraid of hard work or committing to others. She’s a techie, an artist and a writer. And she’s demanding to be as much a part of my identity as the person my kids know just as ‘Mom’.

There is no such thing as ‘just a mom.’ That phrase strips motherhood of the depth of its responsibility and meaning as thoroughly as it reduces women to one of the other popular one-dimensional labels of angels or whores. I’m a bit of all of them and more.

There are still battles to be fought on behalf of Thing1 and Thing2. Thing1’s hair trigger colon still threatens his independence while Thing2’s creativity combined with his pack-rat sensibility could give new meaning to Vermont’s image as ‘the Green Mountain state’ with more of a green glow. I’m grateful to be the one fighting along side them. They’ve helped me see how much stories about family do matter as much as – maybe even more than – the stories about politicians and generals. I will always write those because they are the stories about people coming together, they are ultimately stories about hope.

But there are otherbattles, my battles, to fight as well – battles for creativity and a life of contribution and meaning beyond the laundry pile. They are just as important, and all of those battles can only be won by embracing every aspect of my identity – the loving mom, the bleeding-heart angel and even what the world may see as the bi-polar whore.

They are what combine to make what any seasoned veteran truly is — a fighter.

Food, Glorious Drug

Food and I go way back. Almost fifty years now. We’ve had a great relationship. I mean, don’t all great friendships include an all-controlling dominant half (food) and a sycophantic lickspittle (me) or, in my case lick-whatever’s-left-on-the-plate?

I have started to question that relationship in the last few years. I’ve tried to take the upper hand by counting calories, cutting out certain kinds of food colored chocolate with labels like ‘Abandon all self-control here, ye of little self-respect’. A few years ago, I started to dominate the relationship to the point where I’d lost fifty pounds, which helped my five foot three frame look more like a short pear than a cantaloupe.

I controlled intake. I exercised. It lasted a few months.

A broken foot knocked me off my fitness routine, and soon I was back on the Bernaise sauce. And the steak and asparagus. And don’t forget the garlic mashed potatoes. Oh, yeah, that’s the stuff..

Last week I had an inkling a depressive phase might be setting in when the mental call of the country store round table took on a decidedly fried sound. My day of work and deep-fried self-medication wasn’t the first over-indulgence, but as I got home feeling sick from over-eating and somehow still willing to eat more to feel ‘better’, I realized, my relationship to food was more like an addict’s to a pusher.

Yesterday, online, I caught the headline of an article in the Guardian about not just changing the relationship with food, but breaking up with it for a few weeks. By taking it out of the equation.

After read the first few paragraphs (always a good idea when making a healthcare decision) about using traditional meal-replacement shakes that have been around since the 60s and 70s to turn food from emotional balm into pure function, I knew what I have to do. I headed out the door to our favorite British-style diner for a last supper.

Okay, maybe today will be the real last supper.

But I didn’t have to read the rest of the article to know that this sounded right. I need to break up with food. I need to get the upper hand and find another, more constructive emotional outlet like writing or painting (I hear some people swear by it).

So today, like the dozens (maybe hundreds) of Sundays before every diet I’ve ever broken, might be a free-for-all (okay, it will be), but tomorrow, we’re breaking up. I’ll make sure the calorie count is sane and that a bottle of multivitamins is handy, but for the next eight weeks, food won’t be what’s for dinner or for celebration or inebriation.

Food, I’ll call you in a couple months, and if you want to be friends, things are going to have to change.

Body Work

Thing1’s impending graduation has prompted a bit of cleaning inside and, since snow no longer covers the mess we call a yard, the outside too.

I used to have gardening problem, but recovering from a broken foot made digging uneven ground a tough hobby for a few years. I’m back to digging this year, huffing and puffing and trying to remind myself I ran a 12k a few short years ago. It also reminds me that my coveted, brawny gardening physique, and not a bikini body that won’t get used in Vermont anyway, is what  I should have been more disciplined about chasing on the treadmill all winter.

Fortunately, a shovel and a patch of dirt still make a cheap gym.