Saturday, October 20, 2007

documenting change: three.

Health, fitness, motherhood - on not wanting to be like my mom.

In a previous entry I wrote about my mother’s health. That it was poor. I wrote that there are ways I’d like to emulate her, but her physical health is not one of them.

Right before my sixteenth birthday, in fact, if I remember, it was either Christmas Eve or Christmas night, my mom went to the emergency room. She hadn’t been feeling well. When the doctors saw her, they advised that she needed to have triple bypass surgery right away. If you had seen her, you would never have imagined that her arteries were so clogged that she could potentially keel over of a massive heart attack (which in fact, is exactly how it happened sixteen years later). She was about 5’4, had a small-frame; she had a belly blamed on having birthed four girls, but she was never grossly overweight. She was actually quite petite overall. Of course, now, if you read about it, you’ll find that when women hold weight in their bellies it’s a sign of heart-unhealthiness, not merely motherhood.

When my mom had the bypass surgery, I remember, in my own hormonal adolescence, feeling angry. Why had my mom had me so late in life (at thirty-six, which today is commonplace)? If she had been as young as the other moms, I wouldn’t have been dealing with a sick mother, the potential to loose her, or with a mother two generations removed from me. These things incensed me, even though at the time I couldn’t articulate the rage. Women hold our mothers to a high standard. We expect from them, all the time almost, so very much. We don’t even realize how demanding of them we are.

Here I am, thirty-two, and when I think about kids – which remain a bigger-than-life-size question mark – the only time they seem somewhat imaginable is when I’m 36, 37, 38. And the closer I get to 36, the scarier that notion becomes. I wonder, did my own failed expectations of my mother prevent me from wanting children as strongly as some deeply long for them?

I’ve always been thin. If you looked at me now, you’d never say I look heavy or unhealthy. You’d notice I’ve gained weight in the last four years or so, but you wouldn’t call it fat. After my mother’s death, and after I quit my job, I felt acutely aware of my weight for the first time. It is almost all in my stomach.

In July, I began going to the YMCA. I made myself go every day for a good three weeks, just so that I would not feel so completely alien inside of a gym. First I just got comfortable walking on the elliptical machine. I didn’t want to do anything that required me to use the locker room. I walked in, went to the elliptical, bottle of water in hand, and I-pod turned on, walked for a half hour, and left. Later, slightly less uncomfortable surrounded by who I perceived to be workout fanatics, I started using the weight machines. Finally, in September, just after Labor Day, I took another big (baby) step – I stepped foot in a class and kept going. As of three weeks ago, the fantasy of training for a triathlon vivid in my head, I began working with a trainer.

I’m a fairly confident person, but this is one area of my life that throws me back into youthful shyness and a feeling that I’m not good enough, that I can’t succeed. When we’re doing various exercises, I hear these words come out of my mouth: I can’t do that. Later, these words and the fact that I spoke them, infuriate me.

It’s nerve-wracking to allow a stranger to see a log of every morsel you’ve eaten over three days, to allow a stranger to measure the diameter of your waist, arms, thighs. In fact, it verges on humiliating. But I did. I find myself in a constant state of soreness. Have I really NOT been using all these muscles all this time?

The other day, I asked what was for me a dreaded questions, “Just how out of shape am I compared to other clients you’ve worked with?” The answer. “You’re in the twentieth percentile. Ninetieth percentile being the best fitness.” And whose face flashed into my head? My mother’s. If you look at me, in fact, the trainer actually said so, you’d never ever know I am so unfit. If you had looked at my mother, age fifty-two, you would never ever have imagined what was happening in her body. Even later, recovered from the surgery, at age sixty, there is no way in hell you could have looked at my mother and seen a massive stroke in her near future. And when it happened, I felt quietly angry at her once again.

I can’t fight my genes. There’s heart disease, there’s diabetes. There's some unspoken depression too. But I can certainly work toward prevention. I think about this consciously when I think of these hypothetical maybe-babies, when I think about being a partner to my husband, when I think about me and all the things I want to experience in life, in my tomorrows.

So, I go to work with this trainer, full of UN-confidence that I’m unfamiliar with at this stage in life. And I think something that no mother wants a daughter to think: I will not be like my mother. I will not be like my mother. Friday, as I was leaving, I said, “Do you think I’ll be ready to train for the triathlon in January?” And he said, “Absolutely. I’ve already got your routine planned out,” (which was certainly an exaggeration). But I left feeling better.

My birthday is in January. I’m going to be more fit at thirty-three than I’ve ever been in my life. That is my goal (part therapy, part vanity). And if ever I do have children, they’re not going to have an opportunity to wonder why I didn’t take better care of myself. To be angry that I waited to have them only to blow off my own health - to not make them enough of a priority to be around for as long as they needed me. (That's one of those counterintuitive things, isn't it - that if you invest in yourself, your health and well-being, you're doing something amazing for your kids. That sometimes just showering them with every ounce of you - your time, nurturing, etc. is only a short-term way of loving them.) It’s something I still get angry about - rational or not, and I don’t want to pass it on.

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