44. I Just Stepped Off

44. I Just Stepped Off

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Shaping the New You

I Just Stepped Off

You will never find time for anything. If you want time, you must make it.
 ~Charles Buxton

“Mommies have a lot of water,” my four-year-old announced, wobbling the ample excess of my thighs back and forth.

Sighing, I let the observation stand. I had told him that the human body is composed largely of water, so how could I correct him? Besides, I don’t like to call my excess by its proper name. I just don’t use F-words.

I attribute many of my rolls and dimples to this adorable child of mine who hasn’t got an ounce of fat on him. But although childbirth helped land me in this fix, I must be honest and credit motherhood with getting me out of it. Motherhood changed my idea of time, and with it, my idea of how to reach a goal.

Before Evan was born, I was a typically productive member of the workforce. I was a journalist and a pretty good one, chiefly because I could meet a deadline. You want a story by 5 o’clock? No problem. A few calls, an interview, some pounding of the keys and it’s done. The rhythm of my writing days was intense, a non-stop workathon ending at a daily finish line.

Without my even knowing it, this method of goal-setting had infused my entire life. Periodically, I’d resolve to lose a few pounds. I’d start off great, starve myself for hours, but by the end of the day I’d look in the mirror and realize that—surprise!—I hadn’t taken off 20 pounds. Hadn’t met my unacknowledged and utterly ridiculous deadline. In a huff, I’d stuff myself.

Not surprisingly, I found that the rhythm of a mother’s day is not one smooth upward trajectory ending in triumph. Rather, a mother’s day is an assemblage of broken hours punctuated by frantic spurts of activity. You dash off a few e-mails during naptime. Make phone calls while Elmo entertains. Planning your day is a relic of the past and nothing you can aspire to in the near future. Inwardly, for those frustrating first few years, I must admit I sometimes resented the monumental upheaval of parenthood.

But finally the first day of kindergarten—that long-awaited day of liberation!—dawned for us. Down the sidewalk we walked, hand-in-hand to the school, the bright September sun virtually igniting Evan’s blond head as he shouldered his Thomas-the-Tank-Engine backpack.

When we arrived at school, Evan hesitated for a moment at the top of the steps leading down to the playground. In front of him, kids dashed about, whistles screeched, buses roared in, waves of shrieking and shouting deafened us. It was overwhelming. Then, an indelible image—Evan stepped off and, in a moment, he was gone. Not a wave, not even a backward glance. Without warning, the glorious moment turned gut-wrenching. Tears blinded me. “Where is he?” I pleaded with my husband. “Where is he? I can’t see him!”

My husband took a photo of Evan and me disappearing down the sidewalk that day. When we got our photos back, I impatiently tore open the pack, eager to relive that poignant mother-and-son moment.

But when I got to the photo, I felt sick. What I saw had nothing to do with my son, and everything to do with my backside. It seemed to blot out everything else in the photo. Suddenly, I saw myself for what I was: an overweight, middle-aged mom whose size 16s weren’t hiding anything.

This time, my tears were for myself. “How can this possibly be me?” I cried. I tore up the photo, as if it were that easy to destroy a memory.

Even with this heartache, I let another year go by. Half-day kindergarten doesn’t liberate you the way you imagine it will. But with the coming of first grade—full days of school!—I at last had six hours to myself and I worked prodigiously, back to my old habits. A few months into the school year, however, a friend offered me a two-week guest membership to her gym.

At first, I balked. I was so eager just to keep working. But, miraculously, a niggling idea wormed its way to the fore. I thought: What if I apply my newfound knowledge of a mother’s day to the dilemma of weight loss? Nix the all-out attack. Forget the daily progress check. Be content with 15 minutes here, 15 minutes there. Commit myself to the ragged, uneven—but possibly upward—path. Could it all add up?

With the barest amount of hope and curiosity, I agreed to go with my friend, still certain that I wouldn’t be able to maintain a long-term interest in this enterprise. Yet inwardly I suspected this might be my only hope of conquering a battle that I’d been fighting my entire life.

I thought about what I’d do once I entered this alien place called a gym. I’d never set foot in one, had even scorned those deluded gym rats who wasted their time and money improving their bodies while their minds went to mush. Finally, I pulled a swimsuit out of my closet. At least I wouldn’t have to sweat that way.

I began swimming laps three times a week. At first, it was slow going. I dragged myself to the gym. Once there, I swam in fits and starts, bored, easily tired, in a constant argument with myself. The seniors in surrounding lanes lapped me easily. Lifeguards made for the nearest chair, equipment at the ready. Once, a friend knifing through the water in full Speedo regalia shouted over, “Don’t give up!” just when I thought I was doing pretty well.

And yet, four years later, it has added up. I’ve dropped 30 pounds and am three dress sizes smaller, even somewhat muscular. Buying my latest swimsuit, I felt almost dizzy taking size 10s into the dressing room.

The lightness extends to my mood, too. I have a new relationship with food. It’s not the enemy anymore. I’m not the enemy.

I haven’t dramatically changed my diet—no weighing, measuring or counting—but gradually I found myself eager to eat better, to pay attention to the signals of my body. I eat when I’m hungry and stop before I’m full. I’ve embraced thoughts that power me through the cravings: I know what this tastes like and I’m sure I’ll have it again, so I don’t need to have it right now. Or, this one: A salad tackles hunger just as well as a piece of cake does. Yet I enjoy snacks and desserts almost every day, simply choosing one or the other and having only a small amount.

Still, I’d like to swim away a few more pounds.

“Moms have a lot of fat,” my now wiser fifth-grader says. Yes, my sweet boy, they do. But we can lose it, I’ve found. Like you, I just stepped off.

~Nancy B. Kennedy

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