71. Shifted

71. Shifted

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Curvy & Confident

Shifted

The years teach much which the days never knew.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

The sales clerk looked at me in the long gown I was trying on. “It’s lovely on you,” she said, but she didn’t sound thoroughly convinced. “All you need is a little Spanx under it.” Spanx, for those who don’t know, is the skinless, boneless equivalent of your grandmother’s boned and trussed girdle. I nodded dumbly. I didn’t tell her I was already wearing Spanx!

I looked at my bulges, I mean curves, and did a quick calculation. I had two weeks before my special occasion. Even if I moved into the gym for two solid weeks it would not dislodge what had taken up squatter’s rights on my body for twenty years. When the sales clerk turned her back I slipped out and grabbed the same dress in the next size up. It draped over my childbearing hips and I didn’t have to hold my breath to get it zipped.

To be honest, I don’t think I cared what size it was. What I was trying to avoid was looking “matronly.” Heaven forbid, that I, a mother of four and a grandmother of five, should look matronly!

I well remember the first time I felt matronly. I was browsing the petunias for sale outside a neighborhood corner store. Thirty years old, with three little ones clinging to me and a fourth protruding from my maternity top, I wobbled around the annuals on display. Then I saw her, a nursing colleague of mine, my age, but slim-hipped and tiny-waisted, coming out of the store. She hopped on a red motorbike and sped off down the road. Norma looked like a young girl, slender and carefree. Suddenly I felt frumpy, lumpy and encumbered. She never even spoke to me. I was sure I looked so old and matronly she had not recognized me.

Life teaches us things in a funny way, so it was years before I gained a different perspective on that day. My children were all raised and I had gone back to nursing. There was my old colleague Norma, kindly orientating me to my new job. We were chatting and I mentioned how I had envied her that day when she didn’t even see me and she looked so young and carefree.

I didn’t tell her I was already wearing Spanx!

Norma explained. “I couldn’t speak to you,” she said, her eyes watering. “All I desperately wanted was a baby. And there you were, pregnant again, with all those little ones at your side. I took off fast before you could see my tears.”

That was a shift in perspective.

I’ve learned to look for those ways to shift. My husband loves all things techy and recently bought a new digital scale that is smarter than the old clunker I had, and twice as mean. This new shiny, silvery thing is programmable, an awful word, which means that it tells you not only your weight, but also your percentage of body fat. My husband kindly put in my height and his and set the thing to remember it all. I was encouraged the next day to find out I weighed the same as a television super-model. But did shiny-scale compliment me? No. It flashed body-fat warning lights so urgently I expected to hear a siren go off as well. It wouldn’t let me quite forget that I was only 5’4”. So, I adjusted my “personal data” a teeny, tiny bit. Mr. Meany Scale now has me at 6’4” and an almost normal body fat percentage.

Now I laugh every time I get on that scale. Of course I know I am not 6’4” and nothing I do will make me taller. The weight? I have learned to be more realistic in my expectations. I walk. I bike. I eat a lot of green soups and tofu, but despite that I have seen that after a certain age things shift. And maybe that is appropriate. I think of things that used to cause me stress and now I just take them in stride. I think of attitudes I’ve adjusted after hearing different sides of a story. I think of how the places I’ve been, the books I’ve read and the people I’ve met have changed me. Softened me. Broadened me. Perhaps, after all, my body is just trying to tell me it’s okay to loosen up a bit. It’s okay not to force fit myself into something not quite right for me. Everything shifts over time.

I learned to be grateful for my hands after seeing my sister’s hand immobilized by a stroke. I learned to be satisfied with my God-given endowments when they nursed four babies and when several women very close to me, including my daughter, suffered devastating mastectomies. I learned to love my legs when I saw a friend with multiple sclerosis rely every day on her walker. I learned to appreciate my body when I began to realize, that despite its squeaks and creaks, its sags or bags, it has been my personal, living, breathing miracle and has faithfully served me all these years.

By the way, I wore that dress in the bigger size with such dazzlingly sexy shoes that no one could accuse me of looking the least bit matronly!

~Phyllis McKinley

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