My Story

            The concluding song in the musical Hamilton asks the question, who will tell my story. It got me to thinking about my own story. Certainly, my grown children know me, at last the mother-me that raised them. But do they truly know the adult me that I am now?

            In recent years our oldest son has been including tidbits of praise for who we are and what we have done over our lives. He praises us for being active, for traveling and doing things even as we age. His words touch me where it brings tears and feelings of joy.

            But I wasn’t just a mother. I was a wife, a teacher, an administrator, a writer, a friend and a person who kept busy doing a variety of things. I belong to three writers’ groups and two book clubs. I hike with a friend two days a week. I love movies and the theater. I love how technology has opened my world.

            I am a sucker for sad animal videos. If I had given a dollar to every charity that featured beaten and starved animals in their ads, I’d be broke.

            Books call my name. I will never have the time to read every book in my pile, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting more.

            While I am not into fashion, I love to shop for clothes especially after losing eighty pounds. Certain textures and styles speak my name. Colors and patterns as well. If after buying and wearing something it doesn’t make me feel good, then I put it in a giveaway bag.

            I won’t wear torn or stained clothing. That’s because of my younger years when all I had were old clothes an aunt had given my mom.

            I love spending time with friends. Going for a walk or eating out makes me very happy. While I am more of a listener than a talker, hearing someone else’s story keeps me connected to their lives. That means a lot to me.

            When I do get to spend time with my kids, I don’t have to do fancy things. I am content being in their presence. I love sharing a meal with them, strolling through a fair or even a big-box store, taking dogs for a walk, watching their favorite shows or sports teams. Seeing the responsible adults that they have become fills me with joy.

            As a teacher I worked hard. I’d visit my classroom on weekends to change bulletin boards, grade writing journals, correct spelling workbooks and rewrap books whose covers had torn. Before the year began, I’d hit every sale and buy all the supplies my students would need for the year. Even when money was tight, I’d spend mine to make sure my students didn’t have to go without.

            In my early years of teaching, I had to wear conservatively-styled dresses. I was a large woman and found it difficult to find anything in a store, so I made my own. I also sewed my kids’ shorts and a suit for my husband.

            I overcame my years growing up in a dysfunctional and overly critical family. I fought against the stereotypes that women couldn’t study college-level math. I persisted when others gave up.

            Understanding the learning never ended, I returned to college over and over, all in the hopes of increasing my ability to better serve the needs of my students.

            Recently a friend told me that she chooses to focus on the positive things that had happened to her. That simple comment made me reexamine how I remembered my early years. Perhaps instead of focusing on how I was mistreated and misunderstood by my parents, I should recall family trips to a cabin by a lake, playing badminton in the backyard,  eating my mom’s apple dumplings and building tents in the family room with my brother.

            It’s easy to talk about the beatings and foul words directed my way, harder to search for the happy days that I’d conveniently pushed into the back.

            This is my story. This is how I want to be remembered. I just hope that someone will be kind enough to share it after I am gone.

Wished-for Treasure

            My family didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up. We always had a clean place to live, even if it wasn’t in the best of neighborhoods. We always had a car, although never a new one. My mom was a frugal cook, so there was food on the table and while you might feel a bit hungry, you never starved.

            When we got our first television when I was twelve, I was exposed to commercials for the first time. That’s when I became aware of all that I was missing. There were dolls and soldiers, board games and sports equipment. Sweets of all kinds and varieties of cold cereals that made my mouth water just dreaming about that first bite.

            We watched about an hour of television a day, but it was enough for me to notice what people wore and didn’t wear. They didn’t dress like me in hand-me-down threadbare clothes. They didn’t wear conservative clothes that covered a body from head to foot.

            When a commercial came on for a Barbie doll, I salivated. Oh, how I wanted one! The girl across the street who sometimes played with me had one. It was so beautiful! So fashionable! So desirable!

            One time when we were going to the local five-and-dime, I brought my saved allowance. The store sold Barbie dolls! But they were too expensive. There was a cheap replica which I could afford, so I bought that one. I understood that it was a fake, but it looked enough like a Barbie that I could use the patterns for the real thing to make clothes for this one.

            Every afternoon I carried my sewing supplies out to the backyard where there was a shady place along the back fence. I made my doll skirts, blouses, pants and dresses. When I had what could have been considered an ensemble, I worked up the courage to carry it across the street to the girl’s house.

            I was pretty proud of what I had done. She destroyed me when she laughed at my cheap plastic replica.

            When Christmas rolled around a few months later, all I asked for was a real Barbie. I didn’t get one. But my younger sister did. My parents explained, as I wiped away the tears of disappointment that streamed down my cheeks, that I was too old for a doll.

            I didn’t dream of owning anything else again for a long time.

            A television program came on with a doctor in the lead role. It was a good show, one that was popular with not just my parents, but with my peers.

            One time when we went shopping, a “doctor” blouse hung on a rack. Oh, how I wanted one! School had started by now and many of my peers had them. I knew that I had almost enough saved up to buy one for myself. My mom wouldn’t buy it then even though I promised to pay her back when we returned home. Instead she made me wait until the next trip to the store.

            I don’t recall how much time passed between trips, but when we did return to the store, the blouses had been marked down. I was so happy! I finally got my “doctor” blouse.

            Imagine how proud I was to wear it to school! I pictured my peers recognizing that I was finally wearing something that was popular. But, oh, that did not happen. You see, styles had changed. The other girls had moved on to whatever the newest fad was. That’s when I discovered that things on a clearance rack were there for a reason.

            Around that same time my dad learned of a bargain store a good hour’s drive from home. I had little expectations of finding anything there of interest. I was right. There were car and bike tires, car parts, miscellaneous household goods and clothing that a worker would wear, such as overalls and jumpsuits.

            We returned several weeks later. I remember that it had snowed but the roads were clear. Mounds of snow were piled along the sides of roads and along the perimeter of the store’s parking lot. Once again I knew there would be nothing there that I would want.

            Imagine my surprise when just inside the doors of the store was a circular rack holding a variety of white and black “leather” coats. When I touched the sleeve of one, it felt so soft that I found myself salivating at the thought of wearing it.

            When I showed them to my mom, she informed me that they were not made of real leather. They were fakes. I didn’t care. I still wanted one.

            She told me that I’d only get it dirty, that I’d ruin it by spilling something on it and it was be a complete and total waste of money.

            I didn’t care. I still wanted one.

            My mom refused to buy it for me even when I begged. I promised to work jobs around the house to earn enough money to reimburse her if she bought it right then. She refused.

            I cried all the way home.

            I had never had a new coat or one that mirrored what other girls wore. I had seen girls wearing similar coats, so in my mind I pictured myself walking the halls of my high school wearing that jacket, feeling proud as all eyes smiled with appreciation.

            No matter how much I begged or tried to finagle a way to pay for it, my parents refused to take me back to the store.

            Dreams of that coat haunted me. It was all that I cold think of, all I wanted. My hopes for popularity depended upon having that coat. I sensed its power deep inside.

            The next time we went to the store, the coats were still on the same circular rack, but there were none left in my size. I walked about the store with tear-filled eyes.

            Christmas arrived a few weeks later. My gifts were needed, but boring: underwear, socks, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a new comb and other necessities. Nothing frivolous. Nothing fun.

            After all gifts had been unwrapped, my family gathered around the television to watch a Christmas show. I don’t recall what it was because I was heartbroken.

            We ate dinner. Don’t ask me what it was.

            It was time for bed. I changed into my pajamas, brushed my teeth and came out to tell my parents goodnight.

            My parents demanded hugs, which by then I felt too old for. I hated being wrapped in my mother’s arms, but it was even worse being hugged by my dad. He had a way of giving me the creeps.

            This time, when I approached my dad, he pulled a large present out from behind his chair. He said he’d found it in his closet.

            I sat on the floor, wishing upon wish that it was that which I most wanted. I wanted to rip the paper to shreds, but that would have been a sin. Every bow, every piece of ribbon and paper had to be saved for the next Christmas.

            I carefully slid my fingers under the ribbon until it came undone. I rolled the ribbon up into a ball, an expected action that had to happen before moving on. I used a pair of scissors to cut the tape on the paper. When it fell off the plain white box, I folded the paper along its creases.

            The box was taped shut. Once again the scissors broke the tape.

            I slowly removed the lid. Pulled aside the tissue paper.

            It was there! The coat of my dreams was inside that box. I didn’t believe my eyes at first, thinking it was a mirage.

            When reality hit, I pulled the coat out of the box and put it on. It fit over my fat body! I could button it all the way from top to bottom. The sleeves were the right length. It was as soft as I remembered. I was speechless.

            I wore that coat until bedtime. When it was time to take it off, I hung it in my half of the closet.

            Every day I wore that coat, even if we never left the house. I stood taller, held my shoulders squarer and my head higher. I knew that when school began, people would see me for the first time. Instead of being the fat girl who wore hand-me-downs and homemade clothes, I’d be the girl in the white leather (fake leather) coat.

            When school began in January, I wore that coat even though it was well below zero and too cold for a thin jacket. I didn’t care even though I was shivering when the school bus finally arrived.

            I smiled as I climbed the three steps into the bus. I nodded to the students already on board. No one returned my smile.

            At school when I walked the halls, I was still smiling. Not a single student or teacher acknowledged my new coat. As each class ended with no change in my status, I seemed to shrink a little bit more.

            By the time I boarded the bus to go home, my new-found confidence was shattered.

            To make things worse, sometime during the course of the day I had encountered something that left a mark on the sleeve of my coat. My mom was right: I wouldn’t be able to keep it clean.

            I had learned important lessons: don’t ask for things, don’t dream of having things, don’t think that owning something would improve my social status.

My Enduring Phobias

            I have always hated spiders. Going way back into my earliest memories, I cannot recall a time when I was ever intrigued by spiders or wanted to observe them or even yearned to know anything about them. To put it simply, they terrify me.

            A scientist might be able to explain all the beneficiary things spiders do to enrich our earth, which is good, but it would not change my mind.

            Spiders, unlike dogs, creep about. They make no sound as the crawl across my ceiling or up my walls. Sometimes when I am sitting on the couch one appears and crawls across my book or, even worse, up my arm. Or maybe on my neck.

            They have the ability to drop on you without any kind of fanfare. One minute there is no spider, next thing you know, there it is.

            My reaction is swift and certain. I sit up in horror as I attempt to brush it away. I might leap (as best as this aging body can do) while brushing away the offensive creature. If it’s anywhere near my husband’s shoes, I will use deadly force by slapping or squishing. Only with his shoe: never mine.

            Some kids are intrigued by spiders and like to make temporary pets out of them. This gives me the willies. I get the same feeling when I visit an animal sanctuary and see spiders of various sizes and shapes in aquarium environments. I want to look yet can’t get away fast enough.

            I have had negative encounters with spiders.

            There was a time when I was a young teen and was taking a bath. I was just about finished when I felt something land between my shoulders. I screamed so loudly that both my parents stormed into the room, assuming that some terrible thing had occurred. I was embarrassed to have them in the room while I was completely naked, but I put that aside in order to be rescued.

            They didn’t save me. They made fun of me.

            Thankfully my dad left while I dried off, but my mother lingered. Perhaps that was a good thing because she discovered a small, round, red spot on my back. And when the tub was drained, a spider remained. My dad was summoned to witness that I had not imagined it, then terminate it.

            There was no lasting damage and I didn’t become ill, but the event solidified my fear of spiders. This was proof that they were out to get me. I knew that this was not the last attack, but rather the first of many to come.

            Many years later, after I was married, I was taking a shower to get ready for work. Suddenly an intense pain began in the little toe of my left foot. I looked down and spotted a brown spider sitting there. It was probably seeking refuge from the water, much like a swimmer finding higher ground during a deluge. I panicked, to say the least.

            There was nothing I could use to smash it, so I shook my foot until the spider fell off. I turned off the water and got out as quickly as I could. I would have gone for my husband’s shoe, but then I realized that it was, in fact, a brown spider. By this time I’d heard of recluse spiders whose bite could make a person quite ill. Thinking that this might just be a recluse, I wrapped myself in a towel, went into the kitchen and retrieved a glass jar.

            The spider was still in the shower when I returned, so I trapped it. I screwed on the lid and was going to leave it on my husband’s dresser as evidence in case he came home and found me dead. But then I remembered that there would be no air in that jar. Granted I would have smashed the spider if it hadn’t bitten me, but now I wanted to preserve it just in case.

            I carried the jar into the garage and using a hammer and nail punctured several holes in the lid. I kept the spider trapped all day, sitting on the dresser.

            Because I began feeling ill almost immediately, I called in for a sub (I was a teacher) and stayed home. My toe did become a bit inflamed and I thought I saw a red streak going up my leg. I spent the good part of the day with my leg hanging down, trying to prevent poison from getting to my heart.

            This was before the Internet so I had no way to research what type of spider it was nor any side effects of its bite. I acted on impulse, not on fact.

            By the time my husband returned home from work, I was feeling fine and embarrassed. It turned out that it was a common brown spider, it was not poisonous and I had wasted a day of sick leave for nothing.

The next major encounter with a spider was when my husband decided we would head south to the Grand Canyon. I was excited about the trip as I had never been there. After finding a camping spot and setting up the tent, we went to the Visitor’s Center.

            As we followed the path to the entrance, I trailed my hand along the top of a brick wall. Thankfully my hand was on the top and not gracing the side and that my eyes caught something in time for me to withdraw my hand. Nestled in a depression in the wall was a large tarantula. Imagine if I had touched its hairy legs! Imagine if I had brushed its abdomen! The horrors!

            I felt ill just thinking of all the things that might have happened. My young son, however, was intrigued. He wanted to pick it up and let it sit in the palm of his hand. My husband seemed to agree that it would be a great thing to do, but I refused. Even after another visitor did just that. He let the spider sit on his arm and offered it to my son. I shivered as I shook my head. I grabbed my son’s arm and pulled him away, enticing him with the air-conditioned center.

            My first teaching job was at a city-run preschool. Every session I took my classes to the local nature center. I was brave enough to touch the snakes (in order to reassure my students that it was okay to do so) but never the tarantulas. I tried, I really did, but just the thought of doing so made me ill.

            Over the next several years no major spider encounters happened. Yes, one would appear in the bathroom where it would be smashed to death. Yes, one would walk on my arm while I sat on the couch. Yes, sometimes one would have gotten inside my car and have to be dealt with before I could continue driving. But no bites.

            Then my daughter’s family bought a house in Utah that had a serious spider problem. These were not tiny brown spiders or even medium-size spiders. They were gargantuan. They had long legs and thick, round bodies. And they were everywhere.

            You’d spot them walking down the hall or front room. They’d be above your head on the ceilings or coming down a wall. They clustered in windows inside and out. They seemed to be wherever I was.

            One time I was downstairs brushing my teeth, getting ready for the morning. I heard a loud thump behind me, turned around, and discovered that one of them was now sitting on the edge of the tub. The sound I’d heard was it dropping from the ceiling. Put that thought in your mind: a spider so heavy that when it landed it made a thumping noise.

            Add to that the sheer size of the spiders. You couldn’t smash it with a piece of toilet paper or a tissue. It would have needed something the size of a shoe with plenty of applied pressure.

            I had my own shoe handy, but there was no way I’d have spider guts on the bottom of my own shoe. I seem to recall going into the hallway and finding a magazine that had seen better days. I’m pretty sure that I used the magazine to smash that spider so it could never drop down and terrify me again.

            On another visit I was getting ready for bed when a spider came from the ceiling and landed in my open suitcase. I felt nauseous as a shiver shook my body. At first I couldn’t move, couldn’t think. When some degree of rationality returned, I began flinging my clothes, one article at a time, out of the suitcase. As each piece of clothing fell to the floor, I stared to see if the spider emerged.

            I threw socks, t-shirts, pants and underwear, not caring what it was. The spider had to be gone and the only way that was going to happen was if I lifted it out inside my clothes. I got down to the layer on the bottom. I picked up the last pair of panties, shook them, and out fell the spider.

            Relieved that it was gone, I was able to breathe easier. However, it was there, in the hallway, inches from my room. I had to act. Had to do something so that it could never return. The only thing I could find was that same magazine from before. I dropped it on top of the spider then stomped over and over until I was sure it was dead. I didn’t look.

            After my clothes were back in the suitcase, I zipped it up and kept it that way.

            But now I couldn’t sleep. My bed was a foot away from where the spider had dropped from the ceiling. Knowing that the house was infested, I couldn’t sleep. At least with the lights off. So I kept them on. But every time I closed my eyes I imagined spiders dropping. Even though it was warm, I pulled the sheet up over my head, encasing me in cotton. That’s how I got through the night.

            It’s not just spiders that scare me. I am terrified of heights. Back when I was in college in Los Angeles my parents insisted the I fly home every other week. This was back when it cost $14 round trip.

            I hated it. Take offs were terrible, but landings were worse. One time I was waiting to board and so nervous that my entire body was trembling. A man sitting next to me noticed and began talking to me. He told me to keep in mind that the pilots wanted to take off and land as safely as I wanted them to. Just as I wanted to go home, so did they.

            Those calming words spoken over fifty years ago still resound with me today. Because of one kind man I have flown to many different states and countries.

            But I won’t climb ladders. When we first bought our house, my husband needed help cleaning the gutters. He knew I was afraid of heights, so he asked me to just climb high enough to be able to hand him tools. I did it even though it scared me.

            When our kids were young, we bought a blow-up boat. One camping trip we were near the Truckee River. It was peaceful looking, so he decided we would float down the river. As long as the river was smooth, I was happy. When it began getting choppy, I got scared. I rode down the first set of rapids, but from then on, I insisted on getting out just before the rapids began.

            I’d walk back to the truck, drive to the end, pick them up, return to the starting point. While my fear kept me from enjoying the ride, there was a plus: they didn’t have to carry the boat.

            Recently we were on a vacation trip in Colorado. The only excursion option was a raft ride down a class three river. Just thinking about it scared me.

            I can swim. In fact, I am a lap swimmer. So why does the thought of floating in rapids scare me? Because it’s the unknown.

            That’s the way it is with most phobias. We fear the unknown.

            Movies have taught us to be scared of sounds in the night. To be wary of strangers. To not go into the unknown. Bad things happen to characters who break those taboos. They die or come perilously close to death.

            We’ve seen people slide off roofs, fall out of planes, drown in lakes. Boats explode, snakes escape their tanks, lions eat the unaware. Fires consume houses, gasoline bursts into flame and water turns into floods that sweep people away.

            There are infinite possibilities for things to fear. It’s no wonder that we develop long-lasting phobias.

            While I do fly and I did learn to swim, I am still terrified of spiders. I did conquer the river in Colorado and would have gone a second time if the opportunity had arisen. I don’t like ladders of any height, but if my husband needed me, I’d do it for him.

            My phobias will always be there. It’s whether or not I allow them to control my life that makes the difference. And I am determined to live the fullest life possible.

Dreaming of a Different Life

            Do you know what’s like to be trapped in a body that you dislike?  I do.  I had been “fat” my entire life.  My outer body was covered with pudgy layers of rolling fat, while my inner body yearned to be thin, luscious, and downright sexy.

            When I was in fourth grade I attended a Catholic elementary school in Dayton, Ohio.  We were poor, and so I wore hand-me-down uniforms and carried the dog-eared books belonging to a previous student.  Before the school year began, my mother drove me into town for the annual used uniform giveaway.  I hated this ritual.  Because of my weight, we dug through the small pile of plus-size jumpers, most of which had seen better days.  No longer navy blue except where food stains darkened the fabric, these uniforms marked me as “poor” and fat. 

            Fourth grade was a year of becoming aware.  This was the year when my older brother explained that there was no Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, or Santa Claus.  This was also when I discovered that others saw me as a fat little girl.

            Sitting in church one morning, a girl next to me reached over and poked me in the thigh.  Her hand “bounced” high in the air, over and over, mimicking playing on a trampoline.  She pulled her skirt down tight over her six-inch wide thigh, measured with both hands, and then held her hands over my much larger thigh.  The difference was startling enough to cause a riot of giggles up and down the pew.

            Not too long after that, one day I had no choice but to go into the girls’ bathroom, something I tried really hard to avoid.  A group of popular sixth graders were lounging against one wall.  En masse, their eyes scanned my plump body as a look of pure disgust erupted on their sophisticated faces.  I quickly locked myself into the nearest stall so as to hide my tears. 

            “Fat people stink.  Don’t you agree?”

            “It’s because they leak urine,” Mary Beth Saunders said.

            “It runs down their legs when they walk,” Sue Anne Watson added.  “It leaves streaks that won’t wash off.”

            “I hate fat people.  They’re disgusting,” Wanda Belter said.

            “If I was fat, I’d hide in my closet and not eat anything until I got skinny,” Mary Beth said.

            “I’d kill myself,” said Sue Anne.

            “Not me,” added Wanda.  “I’d ask my mother to tape my mouth shut and then I’d stay home until I looked better.”

            Eventually they took their comments outside.  Only then did I emerge from my stall sanctuary.  When I got home that night, for what was not the first nor last time I took a long look at myself.  I really, truly was fat.  There was no denying it. Rolls of fat enveloped my abdomen and my thighs quivered with the tiniest of movement.  When I looked down, I couldn’t see my toes, let alone touch them.And because of the horrific things those girls had said, I even thought I saw urine streaks.

Repulsed by what I finally admitted to myself, I fell into my bed and cried for hours.

            I began dieting at the age of ten and have never quit. 

I convinced myself that trapped inside my obese body was a voluptuous woman yearning to be set free.  That woman wanted to be active and energetic.  That woman made me feel guilty about the cookies and candy that I so loved.

I think she got tired of the struggle and simply gave up for many, many yeaas.

            Because I wore rags and hand-me-downs, I dreamt of being able to go into a store and buy tons of new clothes. When I began working and earning enough to take myself shopping, I felt something stir inside me that has never gone away.

I am a shopaholic.  There is nothing that charges my battery like a mall.  It’s as if a competition is on to find the best bargains, and without fail, I rise to the occasion. 

As I stroll in and out of stores I admire the svelte garments displayed on ultra-slim mannequins.  Sometimes I touch the fabric, pretending that I am seriously considering taking one home. 

Back in my fat days, just as I imagined myself wearing the outfit, reality slammed my forehead and crimson colored my neck and cheeks. At that point I would dash away, off to the fat ladies’ department where I belonged.

            One time I went shopping with a bunch of relatives.  My husband’s sister was getting married, and everyone was in search of a dress to wear.  I trailed along as we went into masses of stores. I watched as they pawed through racks and racks of clothes. I drooled as they spoke about how well the colors of the different fabrics blended together.

            They all found things to try on.  They all believed that they had found the perfect outfit. 

But not me. I never carried a garment into a dressing room.  Why?  We never got close to the fat ladies’ clothes.

            For years I shopped alone.  Without prying eyes I could go into Catherine’s or Lane Bryant or the Women’s section of JCPenneys and not die of embarrassment. 

Except on the rare occasions when I visited a truly great friend who understands what it’s like, because she is also “fat.”  When we were together we forgot about size. We saw the beautiful person underneath. 

When we went shopping, we would try on clothes, and purchase our finds, sharing our good luck.

            There were days when I convinced myself that I looked pretty darn good.  I would be wearing an attractive outfit that hid the lumps under layers of fabric.  I would head off to work feeling happy and proud.  No one noticed.  No one sent even a tiny compliment my way.  It was as if I were invisible.

Most overweight people will tell you that being is not unusual. 

A slim person can walk past an obese person without once glancing her way.  In fact, there can even be accidental contact, one shoulder brushing another, with no apologies offered.  It’s almost as if the skinny individual had touched a ghost.

I have heard thin people say that the obese choose to be that way. That if they simply stopped binging on eating cupcakes and chocolate. They’d lose weight.

What critics don’t process if that genetics and physiology play a part in how easily a person gains and sheds unwanted pounds.  An overweight child is extremely likely to remain overweight into adulthood. 

If you are born into a family of obese individuals, the odds are that you will also be obese.  My paternal grandmother stood a little over five feet tall, but hit the scales at well over two hundred pounds.  I was built just like her.  Added to the familial tendency to put on the pounds was my mother’s belief that a fat baby was a healthy baby. Because she fed me until I had fat wrinkles on my arms and legs, I was doomed from the start.      My mother fed the cellulite, which plumped me up like a marshmallow. I spent years trying to reverse the damage.

Over and over I embarked on one weight-loss program after another. Two years ago I developed a serious health issue that required surgery. Because of being obese, the surgeon wouldn’t operate. That was my motivation.

Over a period of a month, the doctor’s deadline, I lost twenty-nine pounds, plus a few that keep recycling off and then back on again.  After that my motivation skyrocketed. If I could do that, then why not more?

It took ma almost a year, but I lost just under eighty pounds and dropped four sizes in pants and three sizes in tops.   

If I could go back in time and change just one thing, one thing that could forever alter the events in my life, I would have been a skinny child. In my mind, skinny children were happy children. Skinny children had friends. Skinny children were invited to birthday parties and given cards on Valentine’s Day. Skinny children did somersaults and laughed and played.

I would have been one of them. Because I was athletic even when obese, as a skinny kid I would have been chosen first when dividing up teams. I would have attended every birthday party and been invited to sleepovers.

As a teenager I would have goon to school dances with a different handsome beau on my arm.  Cheerleading would have been my passion, and as a dancer I would have reigned supreme. 

Whenever I went shopping, it would have been with friends, giggling as we strolled through the mall.  Fun would have been my middle name.

I would have been hired as a flight attendant, the career of my dreams.  Or maybe the receptionist in the front office. Or the statistician in a major think-tank.

Think how different my life would have been!  Zipping here, there, everywhere, always surrounded by friends.

There are some things that I would never change, no matter what I looked like.  I have a husband who loves me, my children are my pride and joy, and I loved my job.  I have been blesses with grandchildren and significant others in my children’s lives.

I have had a good life.

I wish that society did not disdain the obese.  Unless you have worn that body, you do not know what “trapped” truly means.

How We Are Defined

            In early childhood we begin accumulating those factors that define us. For example, a cranky baby’s stories will be told and retold for years, often as a reminder to the growing child that he was challenging, to say the least.

            A child who climbs up on the roof will be known as a daredevil, while that one who huddles in a corner of the living room and reads will be called a bookworm.

            The teens who listen obsessively to loud music might later grow up to be musicians, all because of being defined by their passion. At the same time an overly dramatic child will be called a drama queen and encouraged to participate in the high school’s theater program.

            We are who others see us as.

            The new employee, after being introduced to the crew, might pick up a nickname based on a superficial trait. For example, if the person is tall and willowy, she might be called a giant, while the short, squat individual will be shorty. No matter how hard that person tries to rid herself of the nickname, it won’t change. She’s been defined by a physical characteristic, something that’s impossible to change.

            In later years, as our interests expand, we might change our preferred music styles or learn to cook a new cuisine, but we’ll be forever known as the cupcake queen or the rock-and-roller.

            Other things define us as well. Our hair color influences how people see us. Blondes are often perceived as dumb while red heads are thought to be fiery. Clothing styles might earn us a label of being punk rockers or snobby. Depending upon how new our clothes are, people might define us as being raggedy or fashionable.

            Even the color of our skin and our gender influences how people see us. We’ve become aware of how restrictive dark skin is in terms of negative labels. Almost every day there’s a story in the news in which a dark-skinned person is killed or injured, harassed by store owners or the police, or caught doing nothing more than barbequing while black.

            Some people try to lighten their skin in order to appear “white”, hoping to change how they are defined. They might also use hair straighteners and heavy lacquers to dampen tight curls.

            Some of our features cannot be changed. As Asian person, as well as someone with Down’s Syndrome, cannot change the shape of their eyes. This defining characteristic is currently causing acts of hate and discrimination. Walking down the street can lead to death.

            Another way we are defined is by our weight. If as a child a person was overweight, that child will be taunted and tormented throughout the rest of her school days. Perhaps that’s better then being invisible, but not by much.

            When an obese person walks through a store, people will often stop and gawk, but only after the person has moved away. In crowded situations, such as on an airplane, people cringe and look down, hoping to discourage the overweight individual from sitting next to them.

            Employers reject the obese without giving them the opportunity to perform on the job. Why? Because of a perceived bias, thinking that the obese are slovenly and lazy.

            At the same time an extremely thin person is seen as energic and lively. Picture an athlete, perhaps one who jumps over hurdles. You see someone with long, thin legs. Basketball players fall into the same category, but not necessarily football players. Linesmen are huge, often with bellies that are barely contained by the uniform. Because of being athletes, however, weight does not define them.

            Only the average person walking down the street.

            What all these characteristics have in common is that they are visual representatives of who the individual is. Nothing indicates personality, perseverance, skill or social skills.

            We are defined by how others perceive us and there’s very little we can do to change that. We might lose weight, but those earlier images of us carrying excess pounds are glued to us and cannot be shed. We might style our hair and wear better clothes, but we’re still thought of as poor slobs. We might work on being more amiable, but cannot shake off the perception to being difficult.

            Our earliest definitions stick with us.

            What a shame.

Taking Responsibility

            When I was teaching, I often listened as parents blamed teachers, aide staff and other children for their own kids’ failures. It annoyed the heck out of me. By making excuses, it removed all responsibility from themselves and from their kids for any wrongdoing. Those kids would grow up never assuming that anything that happened to them bore any weight on their actions.

            I often wondered what it would take to open their eyes, for them to see that it was the child who failed to do the assignment or to turn it in when it was due. Would it happen when the child grew up and got her first job? Or would the parent storm in and blame the boss and coworkers?

            There are situations in which it is clearly someone else’s fault. Picture the scene on the playground when the bully shoves a child from behind, who then crashes into the student in front of him. If the bully hadn’t pushed, then the domino effect wouldn’t have happened.

            There are workers who don’t carry equal weight. They only do half the job then blame someone else for not finishing it. No, it was her fault for not meeting the deadline.

            What if there was a time machine in which you could send those people back to whatever the inciting incident was. Picture them watching themselves, as if through a looking glass, as they spend too much time wandering the halls searching for someone to talk with. Would they realize that they didn’t complete the job because they were wasting time?

            Most of us learn early on that we are responsible for our own successes and failures. It might be when we are handed our first award for a job well done or when we are sent to the corner to think about our behaviors. One award might quickly lead to another. One punishment might quell future negative behaviors.

            When we figure in socioeconomic status, we might have to recalculate who is responsible for any successes we have.

            The child who grows up having everything, living in the best neighborhood in the biggest house and attending a posh boarding school might never have to fight her way to the top. Because she’s always had everything, she doesn’t understand the personal sacrifice it takes most people to simply get by.

            Will the privileged child continue to be privileged as an adult? We hear of situations in which the parents buy the child a fancy house and car and place them at a position in the family business. What happens when that child takes responsibility for their own finances? Will he blow his money on lavish parties or set some aside for the future? Will she fly about the country with little regard as to who’s going to pay? Or will these two assume responsibility for their own actions and become contributing members of society?

            Picture now the child who grows up in abject poverty having parents who never graduated from high school. The family is often homeless because the parents don’t earn enough to maintain a steady residence. Clothes are hand-me-downs and food comes from pantries. Sometimes the electricity and water are on: sometimes not. They often go to school dirty and smelling, so are teased and tormented.

            As a small child, there is not much he can do about the situation except excel at school. Through academic excellence the child learns what opportunities await. While she can’t do anything about where the family lives, she can do her homework every night.

            When it’s time for her to get a job, she’ll have to begin at the lowest level and work her way up. When the boss sees how hard she’s working, she might get a raise. One raise might lead to another. Completing tasks might lead to harder tasks being assigned, building skills.

            The difference in situations is not just due to socioeconomic levels: it’s also dependent upon internal motivation.

            A child who’s been given everything might not feel it necessary to put effort into anything. Why bother if it’s all being given to you? She knows her place in the family and what the future holds.

            On the other hand, a child growing up with nothing might strive to be a person who has something. He won’t just complete school assignments, but go the extra mile. He’ll complete all the extra credit problems, turn in additional essays, answer the bonus questions. He sees the goal post and wants to not just walk under it, but leap over it.

            This child understands that his success depends upon his efforts. A poor grade is often the result of poor work, assuming there are no learning difficulties that make a particular subject challenging.

            Waling about the neighborhood you can almost predict from which houses responsible people emerge.

            A well-tended yard requires work. A swept driveway requires work. A clean car takes effort. A maintained house also takes effort. If you walked up to the large front window and looked inside, you’d probably see things put away, vacuumed carpets and swept floors. Imagine the kitchen in such a house: no dirty dishes piled up in the sink, a sparkling stove top and clean shelves in the refrigerator.

            The residents care: not just about themselves but about how they present themselves to the world. They take responsibility for whatever successes they achieve and don’t throw blame at others when something they do is not up to their standards.

            Imagine a world in which blame does not exist. A world in which all people assume responsibility for their successes and achievements.

            Wouldn’t that be a wonderful place?

Addicted to Dieting

            My obsession with losing weight began in my middle-school years when I realized, thanks to the cruel taunting of my classmates, that I was the fattest kid. Not just among the girls, but the fattest student in the entire school.

            The Internet did not back then and since we lived out in the country, far from a library, my ability to access information about nutrition was limited. Occasionally, when I had saved enough money and was allowed to accompany my mom to the store, I’d buy a teen magazine geared that, if my hopes were met, offered tips to losing and maintaining.

            I learned that fresh fruits and vegetables were the basics of weight loss combined with exercise. I was an active kid, so all I had to do was stay outside longer riding my bike or roller skating in the garage or hiking in the woods behind our house. In the summers it was often too hot and humid to spend much time outdoors, so that’s when I’d ride or skate in circles in the garage. In wintertime I was back to circling the garage as well as sledding from one neighbor’s yard to the next. None of that activity helped.

During the summer months our garden produced tomatoes, green beans and carrots. Strawberries, blackberries and rhubarb were the only fruits. In off seasons we only ate canned and processed fruits and vegetables, which much later on I discovered were soaked in a thick, sweet syrup.

I knew enough to eat the fresh over the processed, but there were rules about cleaning your plate. We were also not permitted to refuse a particular item, so maintaining a diet was next to impossible.

Add to my problems the issue of my mom’s cooking: it was laden with sauces, gravies and carbs. Lots of bread and pasta. What meat we did have was tough unless she cooked it for hours. Chicken was only oven-roasted in a thick layer of oil. We never ate fish except for the few times when my dad went fishing and returned with catfish which my mom baked. One healthy meal out of hundreds! Oh…but she ruined any enjoyment of the fish: she was worried that we’d swallow bones, so she made sure that we chewed the fish until it was a tasteless much.

I did what I could, when I could. It must have helped as my weight remained more or less the same.

At the end of ninth grade we drove from Ohio to California, eating out every single meal. Like most kids I preferred burgers and fries topped off with the occasional milkshake, when permitted. By the time we reached what would be our home in the Sacramento area, my clothes were tight.

It was too hot to do anything except eat ice cream. And popsicles. My dad was often away, so my mom turned to quick meals, slopping together anything and everything, none of which was healthy.

Before school began we moved to the SF Bay Area. By now I was hard-pressed to squeeze my body into the clothes I’d brought on the journey. My mom had no choice but to take me shopping, an embarrassment to be sure. There was no mall at that time: only one main street with stores that catered to slim people. The only one that had clothes my size was a Montgomery Wards clearance shop.

My choices were limited to tent-style dresses. Girls weren’t permitted to wear pants to school, so I was stuck with what now would be called mu-mus. Bright patterns of flowing fabric that hid my flab, but marked me as the fat kid.

I returned to obsessing over food, but once again, had little choice or say in what I ate. Back in Ohio I ate school lunches that were awful. No matter as at least one nun made sure our trays were empty before we could go outside and play. I wasn’t interested in playing as I had no friends, it was cool in the cafeteria, and so I’d outlast the nuns.

In California there were no school lunches. Instead I was handed a lunch bag with a bologna sandwich inside, slathered in mayonnaise. Every single day. No fresh fruit, but sometimes a cookie.

No one at school watched what I ate, so I often threw half my lunch away, praying each time that my brother wouldn’t see.

We lived on top of a hill, so taking the dog for a walk became my primary source of exercise. We’d go around and around the block until the poor thing was so exhausted I’d have to carry her.

Health class was mandatory. I learned more about nutrition than I’d ever known before. The problem was that the more I learned, the more I understood that almost nothing we ate was healthy. I tried sharing my findings with my mother, but it only made her angry. I could either eat what she prepared or starve. But I couldn’t choose to starve because I was physically punished each time I refused to eat a meal.

I was able to stay active, however, thanks to PE and being on the school’s bowling team. I maintained my weight, not what I wanted, but at least I didn’t get fatter.

When I went away to college, for the first time, I had complete control over what I stuffed in my face. As I strolled past the buffet line, my eyes feasted on the range of possibilities. I understood that most of the options wouldn’t help me lose weight, but the sheer joy of being able to take what I wanted removed all thoughts of dieting from my brain.

The one thing that saved me from putting on the pounds was the anxiety I experienced every day. I was still a lonely kid, much to my great sadness. That alone should have been enough to keep my weight down. Add to that the pressure to get the highest marks in all my classes in order to keep my state-funded scholarship, and there were times I truly couldn’t eat.

For the first time in my life I lost weight! I never got skinny, but I certainly was no longer obese. I marveled at how good I looked, which inspired me to monitor what went into my mouth. I became more selective, choosing those things that I knew were longer in calories. I even switched to nonfat milk, which nauseated me.

Thus began a years-long journey of yo-yo dieting. At school I’d lose weight: at home I’d gain. I’d lose ten pounds, then put on fifteen. Lose ten more, but add twelve. Until the summer when I got a job on campus and so didn’t have to return home.

That truly changed my life. I was no longer under my mother’s supervision for almost the entire school year, so could eat what I wanted, when I wanted. I was able to lose weight and keep it off. By the time I graduated from college, I looked great. Not skinny, but also not fat.

With no job and no place to live, I returned home. Nothing about my mother’s cooking had changed. Everything was fried, covered in bread crumbs, drowning in a sauce or gravy and paired with pasta. My weight began to rise.

Thankfully I found a job that allowed me to pack my own lunch. I still had bologna sandwiches, which was not a good option, but often had an apple. I balanced the not-so-good with the good. I lost a little.

I saved enough to buy my first car then get my first apartment.  This was a liberating change in my life. I chose what to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I had freedom to come and go as I pleased. And I took up skiing, an activity that I’d never done before. I wasn’t great at it, but it was hard work. I lost a little bit more.

I got married and now had to cook for two. I was a lousy cook. The one cookbook that saved me used some form of soup in every recipe. I also had one that mixed fruits, cheeses and marshmallows in Jell-O. These were not the healthiest meals, so I gained weight.

We bought a house and soon I was pregnant. The next fifty years were a continuous struggle with weight. I’d diet, lose, then gain. I’d try a different diet, lose, then gain more. I ballooned. There’s no nicer word for it. It was as if someone had attached an air hose and filled me with air.

I drank prepared mixes that were guaranteed to lead to weight loss. I’d lose some, then put on more.

I joined the local gym and worked out at least five days a week. I bought frozen foods that I could microwave at work, thinking that would help me lose weight. They did, but then I regained whatever I’d lost.

Dieting was, by now, an addiction. Every moment that I was awake was consumed with thoughts of food. We now had three kids and I was the primary cook. They were picky eaters and my range of options was narrow. I turned into my mother, plating meals covered in sauces and paired with pastas.

I’d go to the gym only to come home and eat a handful of cookies that were supposed to go in the kids’ lunches. I didn’t know how to cook fresh vegetables, so they came from cans. I’d add slabs of butter or cover them with cheese sauces.

I got fatter and fatter even though dieting was always on my mind. I needed larger sizes of clothes, tops and bottoms. At one point I was wearing size 3X tops and size 22 pants. I was embarrassed, but not enough to cease control.

It was when the photo taken at my school came out that it began to dawn on me that I was obese. For years I had been avoiding family photos, so the idea was in my brain; it had yet to move to the forefront.

Even when doctors asked if I knew I was fat, that didn’t shock me long enough to make positive change. I rationalized it away. I had big bones. I was healthy. I could swim and exercise at the gym. I played soccer and coached a team and even refereed, which meant running up and down the field.

About four years ago I decided to stop the yo-yoing. I had been attending Weight Watchers meetings for a few years by then, but the calculating points confused me so badly that I didn’t track what I ate. I pretended to keep the info in my head. Pretended that I knew what I was consuming and making better choices.

I did lose thirty pounds. My knee went bad. After surgery I put the weight back on. I lost twenty. Then had surgery on the other knee and my weight went back up. I lost ten, then broke something and because I couldn’t exercise, put it all back on.

If I had charted my weight over that period of time, it would have looked like a roller coaster. Up, then down. Climb back up, then drop down. Over and over.

I am proud to say that I no longer fall into the obese category. I lost almost 80 pounds and have kept it off for over three years.

However, I am still addicted to dieting. I think about food constantly. I want to stuff something in my mouth even when I’m not hungry. I yearn for cookies and cakes and pies. I want the pasta drowning in sauce. I’m love a big, juicy hamburger with a side of fries. I love hot dogs and pizza.

I make mistakes. Instead of passing through the kitchen, I stop and scavenge. I try to choose low-calorie options, but that sugar cookie looks awfully good. I have plenty of fresh fruits in the house, but I’d rather have a brownie.

If someone offered me a thick milkshake I’d refuse, but dream of its taste. If plums were on the table, I’d take one, but still drool over the red velvet cake that everyone else was eating.

I’ve never understood why some can eat whatever they want and stay thin while the smell of a piece of See’s candy can add five pounds.

I now understand that dieting, or as Weight Watchers calls it, making lifestyle choices will be with me the rest of my life. For the first time I like how I look. It’s more than that: I’m proud of how I look.

In order to stay the way I am right now, my addiction to dieting is something I’ll be carting with me as surely as I put on a backpack when away from home.

I feel sorry for all those young kids who don’t have healthy choices at home. Their lives will be like mine, a never-ending battle with weight and desire.

Through the Window

            When I was quite small there was a solar eclipse. My mother was so terrified that my brother and I would be blinded, that she closed all curtains and forbade us from peeking through a window. It was if we were blind because the world outside had been removed.

            Since then, I have seized the opportunity to look through every single window that comes into my realm of existence.

            About forty-five years ago we treated ourselves to a trip to Hawaii, thinking that if we didn’t go right then, we’d never make it. Our room was on the twenty-sixth floor. My husband loved sitting on the balcony, enjoying the ocean breeze and listening to the sounds below. I tried to join him, but I couldn’t even get near. My fingers could graze the window frame, but neither of my feet could step out there.

            I missed whatever sights he enjoyed, but with the door open, I could hear the sounds and if I looked out far enough, I could catch a glimpse of the ocean.

            The window was open, but I couldn’t see any more than when my mother closed all the curtains.

            On our first trip to New York City our daughter-in-law recommended an eclectic hotel not too far off Broadway. It was an artist’s paradise from the moment you stepped through the creaky screen door.

            Every hallway featured a work by a different artist. So did the rooms. Ours was a replica speakeasy, complete with a scantily clothed mannequin embedded in the bathroom door. There was a bar that was not connected to water and a tiny twin-sized cradled bed. And one window.

            It was so hot and humid that we had to open the window. Our view was of a brick wall, but if we stuck our heads out as far as we could, we could see the traffic rushing past.

            While we were lucky enough to have a window, it offered little joy. Instead it gave us steam rising up from the Chinese restaurant below and the never-ending cacophony of horns blaring, even well into the night.

            Compare that to our window in Queenstown, New Zealand. We were treated with an unobstructed view of a large lake, snow-topped mountains and rolling green hills.  

            If you approach a window at night, you see yourself. It’s a spooky version, however, due to the poor lighting.  Eyes are hollow pits, cheeks have an eerie glow and the entire body seems to be floating in dark space. You appear as a ghost, one that would scare the bejeezus out of unsuspecting visitors.

            That doesn’t stop me from looking however. I might, if I’m lucky, see the glowing lights of a city in the distance, catch the slow-moving Ferris wheel, or see the reflected boat lights at sea.

            There is a saying about looking into the windows of a soul. It means that if you stare into the eyes of a person long enough, you can see the hidden emotions, attitudes and thoughts. I am not sure if I believe that to be so, but I am uncomfortable when anyone stares that intently at me and I don’t like staring at others as well.

            If the expression is true, that we can indeed see inside, then shouldn’t we? What if a good look reveals a sinister motive, and so rather than investing in the person’s business, we walk away? It would save us money and heartache. Possibly legal fees. Does that justify getting that close to someone?

            Let’s assume you’ve met the person of your dreams. You’re obviously attracted, but what if the person is troubled inside? Imagine staring into those eyes and what you see makes you realize that a relationship with this person would damage yourself. You would walk away before investing time, energy and emotions that would only be wasted.

            Windows are also for looking in. Every year at Christmas time Macy’s in San Francisco allows the local SPCA to place needy cats and dogs in the windows. Crowds hover outside, jostling for the best place to get a good view. Granted many come just to look, but adoptions soar or the event wouldn’t take place year after year.

            Picture yourself in front of a window with cute, fluffy puppies. Their eyes are huge and forlorn, calling out to you to come inside and hold them. Or the playful kittens batting toys about, climbing and jumping and occasionally looking out at the lookers-in.

            In a different scenario you’re invited to someone’s place for dinner, but when you arrive and knock on the door, no one answers. What do you do? Look in the nearest window. If the curtains are drawn, you see nothing, but if the light is just right, you can see the entire front room and into the kitchen. It’s like a sneaky glimpse into a friend’s life, almost like opening drawers in bedrooms and bathrooms while pretending to use the facilities.

            Looking inside a store window reveals the products they sell. If the display is intriguing, you’ll go inside. If not, you move on to the next store, going from window to window until something catches your interest.

            Whether you are peering out or in, windows offer something that solid walls cannot: pieces of a whole. And those pieces can scare you away or draw you closer, depending upon what you see.

            We need to stop and look, however, for if we don’t, then our world is confined to our narrow existence. We never see anything new, never experience anything different, never move beyond what is known.

            Windows open us to learning through our sense and our emotions. They are the gateways through which we become enlightened, through which our universe is expanded.

            Pull back the curtains and look. What you see might change your world.

Facing Obstacles

            When I look back, I realize that many obstacles were placed in my way that I either had to overcome or ignore. Beginning with my early years, I knew that I was not my mother’s favorite and had little respect from my father. I could discount those feelings as being caused by “middle-child syndrome”, but that would be falsifying what actually happened.

            My older brother was not the jock or the mechanic that my father wanted. My mother, however, held my brother in high esteem. It often felt that in her eyes, he could do no wrong. He also had little responsibilities around the house, for she wanted his focus to be on academics.

            On the surface, that was very noble of her. She only had an eighth-grade education, so insisting that my brother graduate from high school and go on to college was admirable.

            However, she held no such regard for me. My primary function in the family was to clean. Not just my half of the room, but my brother’s room, the kitchen, front room and even wiping dust off of indoor plants. Only after those jobs were finished could I study.

            Her expectations for me were to marry as a teenager. Going to college was not encouraged or expected. When I expressed a desire to get a degree, she didn’t actively discourage me, but she also didn’t encourage me.

            Neither did my high school counselor. By the time I was looking to graduate from high school, I already had several obstacles in my way: low self-esteem, low expectations, low placement within the family, and low belief from adults as to what my future held. I fought and clawed my way through all those years of self-doubt and familial stress.

            I graduated from high school and then college with honors. Hah!

            Getting a good-paying job was equally difficult. Back in the late 1960’s women’s opportunities were just beginning to open up. Most women became teachers, nurses or secretaries. Or they got married and had children. Or they worked in elder care or as low-paid office clerks.

            I had no office skills. My typing speed was incredibly slow and I made frequent mistakes. I could file but not operate an adding machine with any accuracy. I did not know stenography and had no interest in learning. I was not pretty enough to catch a boss’s attention.

            I applied for any job that required few, if any, skills. No one would hire me because they all believed that I would leave as soon as a job opened in which college degrees were valued. They were right, but first I had to find that job.

            I tested with a temporary agency, but my skills were so low they refused to accept me into the pool.

            When the phone company announced openings, I made an appointment to take the test. My mother insisted on applying as well. I knew that I stood no chance of getting hired: who would hire someone who could only apply if their mother tagged along?

            I needed a job so that I could buy a car and rent an apartment. Living at home was stifling and restrictive. At college I had freedom to become my own person: at home I was back to being the middle child.

            Eventually I got a good-paying job with the federal government. I hated the job, but it gave me needed experience and allowed me to save money, but a car and move out! Yeah! Plus it was where I met my husband.

            After years of being told how ugly I was (by my brother and father), finding a husband seemed impossible. But when I looked at the man who would later propose, I knew he was the person I had hoped to find.

            Another obstacle overcome.

            I had never wanted a government job. I knew from the time I was quite small that becoming a teacher was my goal. Teachers were kind to me. They never called me names or made fun of me. Not all teachers saw potential in me, but at least they never ridiculed me in public. Because of this, I imagined myself in front of a classroom.

            Another obstacle: there was a glut of teachers and not enough jobs. Add in the cost of continuing education and it seemed impossible that I would ever get to teach.

            When my first child was preschool age, I searched for early childhood education that we could afford. We didn’t qualify for Head start or the county’s programs because, theoretically, we made too much money. I eventually found a preschool program through Parks and Rec that was aimed at parents. While my son was in class, I attended classes in parenting. I needed the class as much as my son needed being with others his age.

            From there I enrolled in classes at the community college, thinking that being a preschool teacher was where I should be. After completing a ton of credits, I got hired by the Rec Department to teach preschool. Yeah! Another obstacle mastered.

            It was not for me. I discovered that dancing and singing in front of tiny kids made me uncomfortable. I hated the art projects and monitoring behavior on the enclosed playground. I hated snotty noses, wet pants, and holding hands with kids who’d just smeared mucus about their faces with their fingers.

            Even though I was teaching, I quickly realized this was not my ideal job.

            I needed to return to college to get an elementary credential. We had no money for tuition. My sister-in-law offered to pay! Another obstacle met.

            After completing my program, I applied for various positions. A local Catholic school was the first, a position that I loved right away. I taught third grade, a good age for me. They had some academic skills and were already socialized and fairly well behaved.

            However, after three years there I knew I couldn’t stay. The principal stated that she loved having young teachers and had already run off two older ones. A third retired. I wanted that job, teaching seventh grade, but the principal hired a young man from outside.

            I left before I got another job.

            Obstacles arose that I had not foreseen. One public school district claimed that my Catholic school job did not prepare me for their students. If only they had listened! I had students with learning differences, students with poor behavior and disabled students.

            I began substituting in my local district. It was awful. Students mistreat subs. They won’t obey, refuse to sit and talk constantly. They laughed and jeered at my attempts to follow the lesson plans. High schoolers were the worst, but so were eighth graders at the middle school in the wealthier part of town.

            A coaching position opened up and I applied, thinking it would give me greater opportunity to be hired as a teacher. I was thrilled when I became coach, that is until the head coach began delegating her responsibilities to me. She mistreated her players, made them run until they threw up, called them names and when one young lady broke her foot, accused the girl of faking it to avoid practice. When I took my concerns to the Athletic Director, he scoffed. I left.

            In October I was told about a job in a different district, applied and was hired. I loved my sixth graders. They were not the brightest kids at the school, but most of them were excited to learn. I developed lessons to fit their needs, including a “dig” for artifacts, a hike through the neighborhood, reading to first graders and even putting together our own yearbook at the end of the year.

            The district did not rehire me because the original teacher was returning from her one-year job.

            By now I figured out that there was a need for PE teachers so I enrolled in classes at the university. I enjoyed learning about physical fitness, warmup activities and taking PE classes to fulfill requirements. I hated the training and conditioning class because I had to learn the names and functions of every bone, muscle and tendon. I’m not good at science, so I had to work extra hard. It was a huge obstacle, but I succeeded anyway.

            I still didn’t get hired, but I kept getting sent to Special Education classes. This was not how I saw myself as a teacher, but the need was great. Back to school I went.

            This time I got hired after my first interview. The one problem: I was warned that there was a difficult parent that wanted to meet me prior to the first day of school. That parent created one obstacle after another. Nothing I did pleased her even though her daughter was happy and learning. Eventually I ended up in an arbitration and then a hearing. It was awful.

            The end agreement was that I would never teach the girl again. One obstacle removed.

            Two years later an awful child was put in my class. He was so violent that an aide was hired to shadow him at all times and step in between when the kid came after me. The school psychologist also shadowed him, but none of that helped.

            The rest of the class and I spent a lot of time outdoors, regardless of weather. The boy was so violent that everyone feared that either myself or my students would get hurt. Later I learned that he got kicked out of his previous placement when he threw a desk at his teacher and broke her foot.

            The parent put up one obstacle after another. She’d want to know how his day went, but if I was honest, she got mad. If I wrote mediocre comments, she got mad. If I wrote the truth, she’d get even angrier. Again I ended up in a hearing. Again I would never have to teach the boy again.

            The district was good to me. When an opening arose at the high school, I was encouraged to apply. I was hired without an interview. I taught there for eighteen years.

            Along the way, however, the state kept changing the rules. I had to keep earning certificates in various specialties or I would lose my job. At one point I returned to college, this time completing a BA in English. To finish, I had to pass three grueling tests. I conquered that obstacle as well.

            There were familial issues along the way. A few years into our marriage my mom tried to get me to leave my husband, claiming that he wasn’t a good father to our son. My mom was controlling and at times abusive toward me. Nothing had changed from my childhood except my age.

            Add to that recurring weight issues, knee problems, and health complications, all obstacles that jumped up, getting in my way.

            The difference was that now I had confidence in myself. I knew I was smart, I knew I was capable, I knew I was loved.

            The obstacles were stubborn, however, refusing to go away. It took determination and years for me to accomplish what I had wanted to accomplish.

            I had learned that, yes, obstacles would keep popping up, but that I had the tools to get past them. So when the pandemic happened in 2020, I considered it just another thing that I could handle.

            Some people give up when an obstacle arises. Some people fight back. While I never gave up, there were times when I doubted myself due to the voices in my head.

            The one thing I learned was that life is filled with obstacles, and that if we face them, if we meet them head-on, we can succeed.

Shopping for a Phone

            At first I was proud of not having a cell phone. It was like a badge of honor. Both my husband and I felt that if someone wanted to call us, they’d use our landline. It worked just fine and there was an answering machine attached to it.

            Then I went away to a writer’s conference. It was a long, five-hour drive south. Portions of the road were desolate: nothing out there for miles. Potions took me past cities and growing housing developments. I was only slightly worried about what I would do if something happened to my car.

            The next conference took me north into the redwoods along California’s coast. For the most part I was on a freeway that passed through cities where help could be found if needed. The last stretch was a winding, twisting narrow road toward the coast. It anything had happened there, I would have been dependent upon whoever took pity on me. It was a sobering thought.

            During the 2010 Census my husband got hired and had to spend hours in the field. He needed to be able to make and receive calls. We went to a provider and he bought a cheap phone (less than $20). It did the job so well that we went back and got one for me.

            While I seldom used that phone, it was, after all, for emergency use only, I soon discovered the joys of being able to call my husband whenever I was away.

            About two years ago we switched providers. A commercial appeared on television that said I could add a cell phone for $10 a month! I was overjoyed.

            I researched the various phones that the provider sold and settled on an iPhone SE. It was all I’d need.

            We went to the store, I held the phone and knew it would do. But…it was sold out. I panicked. I knew that if I didn’t get a phone then, I might never get one. So I chose the phone closest in price. It was not an iPhone.

            From the time I got it home I hated it. It was slow and awkward to use. It took forever to come on, it was hard to take pictures with it and it was slow when making phone calls. Texting was sheer torture. So I seldom turned it on.

            A few months ago I researched how to trade it in for an iPhone with our provider. It wouldn’t be all that hard and I’d get something in trade. But when I suggested to my husband that I wanted to do this, he said there was nothing wrong with my phone. (He had never tried to use it!)

            So I kept the thing in my purse but didn’t use it.

            Recently my daughter had an opportunity to check out my phone. She confirmed all of my complaints. It was slow and awkward. It jiggled when you took photos. It was hard to punch the right circle to make it do what you wanted it to do.

            She also told me that I could get an older iPhone for a little over $100.

            I was in agreement and after hearing my daughter’s complaints, my husband finally understood.

            While on vacation my daughter arranged for me to try out a phone that her Bishop was selling. I loved it! I am used to an iPad, so there was no learning curve as there had been with my current cell phone.

            There was one problem, however: you could only hear the person on the other end if the phone was on speaker. I hate speaker phone, so this was a huge problem.

            Thus began an online search.

            I discovered a trusted vendor sold phones that carried a 90-day warranty. My daughter and I perused the offerings. I’d find one, then it would be sold. She’d find one, then it too would be gone.

            This morning we finally found what I wanted! An iPhone 6s Plus is now on the way! I can hardly wait to for it to arrive.

            Way back when I panicked and bought my current phone, I should have taken the time to look at what iPhones they did have in stock. If I had, perhaps I would have been using my phone like other people do, as an extension of my arm instead of something stuck in my purse.

            It goes to show that panic buying is not the best choice.

            This is an apt metaphor for life.

            Anytime a person makes decisions on the fly, there’s a good possibility that she might later regret not taking the time to analyze, to be rational and careful.

Regret is a powerful emotion. Often times such decisions cannot be undone. They can cause irreparable harm, destroy relationships, cause a lost job or friendship.

It’s better to take time and make the right decision from the beginning.

I wish I had.