Self-definition

Going back as far as my memory allows, my vision of myself was as the person I was told I was. If my parents said I was dumb, then I was. When my brother said I was fat, I was that as well. If a teacher placed me in the lowest group, then I was that as well.

I got to thinking about how we let others define ourselves. Sometimes looking back is a good thing, and in this instance, I believe that it allowed me to understand why I had such low self-esteem for much of my life.

As a young child I was called a whiner. I deserved that label for I could throw a whine-fest over just about anything. One of the few photos taken at that age shows me with fists clenched at my sides, head downcast and a huge pout.

 When I entered school, the teachers treated me as if I was stupid, although that wasn’t the term they used. I felt stupid even though there was no way for my teachers to know that no one had ever read to me, that there were no books in our house and that I’d never been to a library? I didn’t know colors, shapes, numbers or letters. I didn’t know how to cut, paste or trace lines.

While my classmates worked on reading I sat alone, tears streaming down my face doing what was probably extremely simple for everyone else.

In early elementary grades I was placed in the lowest reading group. Even there I was so far behind that I was still trying to learn letter sounds while they read out of books. I understood why I was there, but was too embarrassed to be seen with them. When the teacher called my group up, I slid down in my desk and hid.

My paperwork was filled with red. My writing was nothing but chicken scratches, strange combinations of letters that sometimes turned out to be words. I had no idea about capitals or punctuation. The sad thing was that my teacher didn’t help me.

I felt stupid and ashamed, so during recesses I found the darkest parts of campus and hid.

Add to that the unkind words coming from my parents and siblings that solidified that feeling of being dumber than everyone else.

Somewhere along that time continuum fat-shaming began. I accepted that definition even though it hurt. Classmates taunted me. My brother humiliated me. My dad insulted me. My mother fed me.

So now not only was I dumb but I was fat to go along with it.

In fourth grade I took things into my own hands and began teaching myself. I asked the teacher for extra work and night after night I went over the lessons. I’d fill in the blanks, erase, then do it again and again until I mastered the work. I forced myself to read even though it made me cry. I began with small words that I could memorize. I made flash cards with old paper so that I could add more and more words to my reading vocabulary.

My grades improved. My confidence grew. But I was still fat and getting fatter.

When we moved, I scored high enough on a placement test that I was no longer in the lowest groups. That giant step helped me to change my perception of myself.  I knew that I wasn’t stupid because I had taught myself to read, write and do math.

As time passed my academic accomplishments increased. I was placed in more difficult classes which I mastered. By the time I was in high school my entire class load was at the college prep level.

But I was still fat.

I joined the freshman basketball team. Now I was seen as an athlete. I was too short to score, but my hands were fast. I could strip a ball away any player that got near. I was feeling quite proud of myself. When the JV season ended I was moved to Varsity. I never got to play. Game after game I sat on the bench. I no longer felt like an athlete.

It was amazing how quickly my definition of myself changed. Athlete one week, not the next.

My dad told me I was ugly and I believed him. He said that no man would ever marry me and so I grew into an adult who felt unlovable. I was told that men would only want one thing of me and once they had that, they’d dump me.

When I began dating in college I felt somewhat better about myself, but nothing changed at home. My self-esteem was so low that when my brother’s friend attempted to rape me, I believed that I was only good for the one thing my dad had said. Men would only wanted sex from me, nothing more.

The man belonged to my brother’s fraternity. He must have told them what he’d done, for after that I had a date every weekend. I didn’t consider myself promiscuous, but others might have.

When my wonderful husband proposed, I was thrilled and flabbergasted. The unlovable person, the fat, stupid person was going to get married. So the next definition of myself was as a lovable wife.

I knew enough about marriage, from watching my mother, that I was the one who had to cook, clean and perform all those womanly duties. I hated them. I wanted to continue to work, read and write.Even so, I fulfilled the definition as best as I could.

Our house was clean enough. The laundry was done. Meals were cooked.

When children were born, I read magazines to learn how to parent.The knowledge I gained there helped me understand what I should be doing. Babies were not my thing, but once I could teach them things, I reveled in the definition of mother.

I had always dreamed of being a teacher despite how my instructors treated me. Sharing knowledge with my kids helped me see that I had the skills to be a teacher. I took classes at the community college to learn how to be a preschool teacher. When I was hired for the first job I applied for, my self-esteem shot up. I was a teacher! And I loved it.

But I saw myself as being something more than a snot-wiper and piss-cleaner.

I applied to a credential program, was interviewed and accepted. I was only able to take night and weekend classes, so it took years to finish my credential program. I was hired for the first t full time position that I applied for, a pleasant surprise.

I was a third-grade teacher at a Catholic elementary school. I offered my students the most educational program that I could do while still teaching the required curriculum. My students and parents loved me. I loved that definition of me.

In time, however, my principal’s idea of who I was changed. At first I was innovative and inspiring. But I kept getting older. She saw herself as a beloved principal, surrounded by young, cute teachers. She actually said that at a faculty meeting!

With that in mind, she chased away the older teachers, starting with Yvonne.After she left the principal hounded Marie until she resigned as well. She turned her focus on me, just as she had done them. I was told that my lessons weren’t good enough. She told me how to improve, then wrote negative evaluations when I did as she had said.

I began to believe that she was right, that I wasn’t a good teacher. I left.

It took me two years of working as a substitute to get another job. During that time period I applied for job after job. With each rejection I felt more and more incompetent. I was told that I didn’t know how to teach students of different cultures. They were right, so I enrolled in workshops, at my expense, to learn.

Next I was told I couldn’t teach in public schools because I didn’t know how to teach students who learned differently. They were right. Once again I sought out information on disabilities.

During those years I believed that I couldn’t teach those students even though I had had students like them in my classes at the Catholic school. But, the administrators who rejected me were right, or so I thought, because they knew better than I who I was and what I could do.

My weight soared. I kept buying clothes at larger sizes, then outgrew them. I pretended to diet, but failed at that. In my mind those failures reinforced the earliest definitions of myself: I was dumb. Too dumb to eat less, too dumb to understand dieting.

I didn’t want to be fat and hid it the best way I knew how. No matter where I was going or what I was doing I dressed to hide my body’s faults. I knew that it didn’t work, but my clothes were stylish and clean.

What was interesting is that my husband continued to see me as the slender woman that he married.

During that same time period I was a soccer coach, referee and player. At church I was a reader and singer. At work I was a great teacher, nominated several times for Teacher of the Year.

All these positive definitions were reassuring, but never completely erased the years and years of being told that I was less-than.

When health forced me to change my behavior, I lost the weight. I had to buy smaller and smaller sized clothing. Even when I needed less fabric to cover me, I still saw an obese woman whenever I dared look in a mirror.

Today I know that I look awesome, that I am intelligent, that I am a good wife, friend, mother and grandmother.

I no longer allow others to define me. That power belongs to me and me alone.

Sometimes I slip and cower in self-doubt when another story gets rejected or something goes wrong in a friendship. Back in the early days I would have carried that like a mantle, weighing down my shoulders. Today I brush it off and move on, a smile on my face.

I had to turn sixty-eight before I seized that power. Better late than never, right?

Perhaps someone who reads my story will take charge right now. They’ll say, I get to define myself, not you or you or you.

 What a marvelous thing that would be.

A Special Pet

            My mother hated cats and didn’t really like dogs. She believed that cats sucked air from babies, killing them and that dogs would bite the face off children. When a parakeet arrived after a vicious storm, she allowed us to keep it. In fact, she called friends and relatives until she found someone willing to give us a cage. That was our first pet.

            Petey was an incredibly smart bird. I taught him to say a few words. When out of the cage, he’d sit on top on the structure until he wanted to go back inside. He played with toys and sat on your shoulder. That is until my dad and brother built a giant Ferris wheel out of the erector set.

Petey liked to sit in one of the buckets as it went around. It was fun to watch him. I’d lay on my stomach next to the contraption and watch the bird go around and around. My brother got bored of something so sublime and turned up the juice.

Within seconds the speed increased. Not just marginally, but significantly. Petey got scared and flew off. From then on we could never get him to sit on our fingers. Petey would still open the door to his cage and sit on top, but never again could a person touch him.

Not too long after that my dad brought home a beagle puppy. His intention was to teach it to hunt rabbits. He had gone out with friends who had dogs and decided that he would like to take up the sport.

My mom was so angry that she refused to talk to my dad. She would not allow the dog in the house, so my dad built a dog house which he placed at the edge of our backyard and chained the dog to the structure.

The poor thing whined and howled all day and night. My mother finally gave in after three straight days of incessant misery and allowed the dog in the house, for only an hour. That hour turned into fulltime. She named that dog Lady Coco and spoiled her rotten.

Mom warmed canned dog food in a special skillet. She felt that the congealed mass that came from the can was unhealthy.

When we moved from Ohio to California the dog rode in the car with us. During the trip Lady Coco laid next to me in the back seat. My hand was constantly on her, stroking her and cooing softly to her. By the time we had a residence, the dog was mine.

In the early years of my parent’s marriage, my dad had several tanks of tropical fish. No one other than him was allowed to care for them. Every night when he got home from work he’d feed the fish and clean at least one tank. He sold them all when we moved.

Not too long after he bought our first California home, he brought home two large fish tanks. Once again, they were his to care for.

For some reason I decided to get into the fish care business as well. I began with goldfish because they were pretty, hardy and cheap. I kept the tanks in my bedroom. I loved the comforting sound of the filters bubbling away. Watching the fish swim about comforted me and lessoned my anxiety.

When I left for college, I gave my fish and tanks to my dad. It saddened me to let them go, but since I was attending a college many miles from home, there was no way I could keep them.

After graduation I was forced to return home since I had no job. I bought new tanks and started over, first with goldfish and then some tropical ones. Once again, they made me happy.

I got a job, saved money, bought a car, then rented an apartment. My tanks came with me. Of course fish died and new ones took their places, but I was still happy.

When I married, my tanks moved to our apartment, and then later, to our house. By now I was working full time. I was exhausted when I came home from work. It became a chore to scrub tanks, so much so that as fish died, I didn’t get new ones. When the last one was gone, I got rid of all the tanks and paraphernalia.

As a couple, our first dog was a Dalmatian puppy that was not show quality. She didn’t have enough spots and her tail had a funny bump. She was an awesome dog. She loved our son and kept an eye on him to make sure he was safe. If we were working in our front yard, she made sure our son didn’t crawl away.

She trained easily, but was jittery around men. We took her camping with us and she loved it. The one problem was that she got car sick. That was a serious problem until the vet sold us some expensive pills.

After her there were a series of pets, including guinea pigs, hamsters, cats and birds. We borrowed a rat and a bunny from an animal sanctuary. I didn’t love having them around. Eventually I returned to being a bird keeper, beginning with a pair of love birds.

One time a friend invited me to visit animal shelters with her as she searched for the perfect dog. One of the last shelters we entered had a mother and two pups. They were incredibly cute.

I fell in love with the brown puppy and requested to adopt it when it was of age. We called him MacTavish, a name much bigger than he was. Mac, or Mackey, was seriously ill when we brought him home, something we quickly discovered when he couldn’t take more than a few steps without falling.

My friend taught us how to make a special gruel that we squirted into his mouth with a syringe. Because of force-feeding, he got stronger and better. When Mac was able, we taught him to walk on a leash. He could catch frisbees, but not in his mouth, but with his front paws.

He’d chased a ball and bring it to you, but not let go. He loved riding in cars so much that if he was ever out front, you’d have to take him for a ride around the neighborhood before he’d get out of the car.

His early days of illness must have killed some brain cells because he was so quirky. He was quick to housebreak but slow to respond to commands. We never knew where to put down his food bowl. He was supposed to eat in the kitchen, but sometimes he just couldn’t. We’d follow him around, bowl in hand, until he found the right spot.

Mac loved our large backyard. There was plenty of room for him to run and play. If any of us went out back, he had to come. His favorite activity was when my husband yelled, “Squirrel,” and then Mac would go sit under different trees while squirrels chirped at him high overhead.

Mac’s other favorite activity was going to the shed at the end of our yard. My husband would say, “To the shed,” and Mac would take off, loping like and antelope.

Mac was kind and gentle, warm and loving. He brought great joy to our lives. I really miss him.

My First Paying Jobs

As a fourteen-year-old, back in the mid-sixties, I was expected to babysit. Considering that we lived out in the country, there were few options for any young person, let alone a girl. It wasn’t what I wanted to do, but when my parents told me to do something, I had no choice.

My parents found me my first job. A family up the street from us had a baby. They needed a babysitter and I was volunteered. It made no difference that I knew nothing about babies: they hired me anyway. After a quick tour of the boy’s room, the parents left. As instructed, I fed him a bottle. Thankfully that went okay. Shortly, thereafter, however, things went wrong.

The stink began accompanied by a series of ominous-sounding gurgles. I understood that I had to change his diaper, so I toted him into his room and placed him on the changing table. When I undid the diaper, urine shot into the air. I covered him up, waited, then pulled the diaper away. More urine! And more. When I figured he was finished, I tackled the bigger issue, the poop.

It was awful. And, like the urine, just as I got him cleaned up and a new diaper in place, he squirted out more. And more and more until I’d used up every diaper.

Those parents never hired me again.

My next job had a much better beginning. The kids were in bed when I arrived. I was allowed to watch the color TV, something we didn’t have at home. The one problem was that the only programs I could find were horror shows. Every little creak of the house and scrape of a branch terrified me. I called home and begged my dad to come rescue me. They never asked me to come back.

I met a mother when out delivering papers who asked me tie sit her three boys. Her regular sitter wasn’t available. I was too inexperienced to understand the coded message. The boys were perfect angels until the parents left. All hell broke loose! They refused to comply with anything I told them to do. They threw food, stripped, then ran around the house. When I finally got them into the bath, they splashed water all over the floor, making huge puddles that later I had to sop up. The boys were still up, well past bedtime, when the parents returned. I refused any future job offers.

My last assignment was with a sweet toddler. She was easy to take care of and did everything I asked. She fell asleep almost as soon as I got her in bed. The parents had given me another job: ironing. They had an entire basket full of clothes that were badly wrinkled. I finished around eleven, the time the parents were supposed to have returned.

I turned on the TV and tried to stay awake, but I was exhausted. I woke up with the father looming over me with a scowl on his face. He drove me home without a word until it was time to pay. Instead of giving me the agreed-upon amount, his shorted me by about five dollars, a huge difference in those days. And he never said thanks, even though I had done everything they asked.

That ended my career as a babysitter.

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.

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.