Monday, June 25, 2012

Waddle Time

            The childhood me was painfully thin. Mom would tear up watching me walk off to school, my legs like two pick-up sticks in my colored tights. When I was in junior high, Mom promised me a new wardrobe if I added to my 85 pounds. She dragged me to a doctor, who prescribed an iron tonic with a not surprisingly rusted flavor. My brother suggested if the potion worked, Mom should buy the doctor a new wardrobe.
            A decade later, newly married and on the Pill, my girth swelled to 105 pounds, giving a snug fit to my previously loose size 4 1/2 engagement ring.
            Penny was even skinnier than I, proudly possessing several extra inches of height. She looked more classy than emaciated, owing to her stylish hairdo, impeccable southern girl makeup, and chic wardrobe. She worked as a secretary, while I manned a desk in acquisitions in the same seminary library in the mid 1970s. We were earning our PhT—Putting Hubby Through.
            Each evening by the time she’d worked eight hours, retrieved her adorable toddler from day care, and fixed supper for her good-looking husband (southern girls don’t cook; they fix meals), she had no appetite. She told me her husband would urge her, “Eat a little! It’s good!” as he appreciatively wolfed down his meal.
            All the other library wives worried as Penny remained skinnier than I. But Penny had a vision for the future.
            “Someday, Roberta,” she told me, a faraway look in her eyes and a smile playing on her thin lips, “years from now, we’ll run into each other somewhere. And we’ll both be so fat that we’ll waddle toward each other…”
            “And bounce off each other when we embrace…” I added hopefully.
            “And we’ll go out for lunch. And we’ll have to sit at a table…”
            “Because we won’t be able to fit in a booth!” I encouraged her.
            We continued to fantasize about our future as plus-size women: Comfortably cushioned laps for grandchildren. Elastic waistbands. Bras that were functional rather than decorative.
            Decades have passed, and I haven’t yet run into Penny. However, now that four pregnancies and menopause have run over me, I am living her dream.
            It’s waddle time.
            My celery stalk figure has morphed into the dreaded apple, complete with visceral fat. Visceral! What does that even mean? It means my abdominal organs are cushioned with blobs of fat, giving me the appearance of late second trimester pregnancy, although my last baby just turned twenty-two. The dictionary rudely suggests “visceral” exudes “coarse, base, earthy, or crude emotions.”
            Well, you would, too, if you had to look in the mirror and see that.
            On the other hand, pear-shaped women carry subcutaneous fat on their hips, derrieres, and thighs. Subcutaneous—do you hear the “cute” in “sub-cute-aneous”? These women are praised in rap songs about “booty.” What’s more, their cute fat poses few health threats, while my visceral fat has me shopping for a plus-size coffin.
            To postpone my demise and guarantee my survivors won’t have to hire extra pallbearers, I’ve begun the Pare-Your-Apple-to-the-Core diet and fitness plan. A medical doctor, whose qualifications include publishing a book and selling it to my local library, promises losing two inches from my waistline will decrease my risk of death from heart attack and stroke, improve my mood, and bring peace to the Middle East.
            What waistline?
            This doctor—whose book jacket photo reveals she is neither an apple nor a pear, but a string bean—discourages weighing portions and counting calories. Instead, she divides proteins, carbs, and fats into Elite, Better, Good, and Wasted Calories. My life is now an all-you-can-eat-Elite-food buffet. Drench those legumes with tofu dressing!
            I’m having a bit of trouble mastering these categories, since my previous experience classifying foods was limited to milk vs. dark chocolate. Whole wheat toast is Elite…unless you put Good jelly on it, and then it’s Better…I think.
            The great thing is, this diet allows me to eat whatever I want one day each week. So, while I used to make poor choices every day, now I only get Wasted on Sundays.
            As I stir vanilla soy milk into my coffee, I nostalgically remember my half and half addiction…just last week. (I’m wearing a patch.) I raise my mug to Penny, who was even skinnier than I.
            If you run into her, let her know her fat friend is looking for her.

            (Thank you, Linda Au, humor writer, for your helpful edits. Penny is a fictitious name for a real woman...a very skinny real woman.)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

What I said at graduation…sort of

          Every year at graduation, the class adviser offers some thoughts on her time with her students. It was my turn this year. This is the transcript that I kinda, sorta followed. To protect their privacy, my students’ names have become initials.
          Pastor Jones, Mr. Wilhelm, school board members, faculty members, honored guests…let’s see, did I leave anyone out? Oh, yeah…Class of 2012, Daughters of the Seventh Millennium.
          It has been an honor to serve as the class adviser and homeroom teacher of these young women for the last four years. It has been an honor…and a headache. They have both disappointed and dazzled me. I have been both proud of them and peeved with them.
          They’ve caused me to lose my temper, but never my talent for alliteration.
          I guess what I’m trying to say is, they have become like daughters to me. They know things about me that my own family doesn’t know. They know my philosophy and worldview. They know I’m pro life, pro Israel, and pro vocabulary. They know that I believe following Jesus is no guarantee that you’ll be inright, outright, upright, downright happy all the time, but without Jesus I couldn’t get out of bed in this morning.
          Why do they know all this? Two words:  captive audience, just like all of you today. We’ve discussed many sensitive topics, and would have discussed more if my classroom had a door.
          These girls and I have shared many experiences and ideas. They got me to read Twilight and The Hunger Games, and I got them to read Tolstoy and drink tea while clenching a sugar cube in their teeth like Russians. We all became fans of Lois Lowry’s trilogy.
          J and E and I went to Bucknell University to hear the author of Infidel and Nomad, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Muslim with a price on her head. We combined that serious event with dinner at a diner where the really cute waiter worked.
          When we went to Camp Susque, I read bedtime stories to my daughters. When we went to Jamaica, my puppet Joey Manzoni stalked them and made rude remarks. At Christmas time, we feverishly decorated our room, and won the decorating contest four years in a row.
          I share a special bond with L because she and I are both founding members of the puppet team. We learned something new together and became internationally known puppeteers when we went to Jamaica. The other girls thought we were crazy…until they started doing the Ten Commandment Boogie.
          M and I share a love of writing and we both participated in National Novel Writing Month. Because she is a writer, M’s brain has formed strange pathways. Many of you know that my students draw pictures on their tests and quizzes for bonus points. When M was in Old Testament Tour 2, she drew pictures of the prophet Elijah battling the vampire Edward Cullen. She always used a red pen to add blood to the picture.
          I’m not worried about M’s love for Koreans, because the largest Presbyterian church in the world is in Seoul, South Korea. In Christ, there is neither American nor Korean. I think Paul said something like that.
          And then there’s E2, who joined our little family later. I am glad she did. She has blessed me with laughter and joy. And last year she hand-lettered all of our formal invitations in her beautiful handwriting. Wherever she is on November 20, I will come and protect her from the haters who participate in Kick a Ginger Day.
          These five girls are in my heart and I think I am in their hearts as well. When they leave, part of them will remain with me, and part of me will go with them. Not in a creepy, science fiction or new age religion kind of way, but in love.
          When the girls chose their class verse four years ago, they chose a verse that celebrated their all girl class. It comes at the end of Proverbs 31, a chapter that describes a talented, intelligent, creative, organized, strong, confident, compassionate women. Verse 10 asks the question, “Who can find a virtuous woman?” and the remainder of the chapter describes her.
          My friend Rosalee Richards got tired of being a lawyer and went to theological seminary and studied Hebrew and became a Hebrew professor. She told me something startling about the Hebrew adjective that KJV translates as virtuous, NASB translates as excellent, and NIV translates as noble. Rosalee told me that when the same Hebrew word is masculine, it translates as warrior.
          I like that. Who can find a warrior woman? One who will struggle to do what is right, to live with purpose, to care about others? One who will put on the armor of God and battle in prayer against the darkness?
          I think my daughters can become warrior women. I’ve been watching you for over 700 days, give or take some excused and unexcused absences, and I see in you the beginnings of warrior women. You are already strong from soccer and zumba.
          You will have to take responsibility for your own spiritual lives. There will be no more required chapels and homeroom devotions and Bible classes. You won’t be surrounded by friends and teachers who believe as you do. Count on being surrounded by people who believe what we studied in Cults and World Religions or who believe nothing.
          The NIV renders our verse, “Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting.” It would be pointless to admonish you not to be charming and beautiful. You can’t help it. Even in scripture, there’s a place for that. If Esther had not been charming and beautiful, she would have never become queen. But Esther had to decide whether to live off her charm and beauty or to become a warrior woman. Because she chose bravely, she saved God’s chosen people. She saved the messianic line. She made it possible for Jesus to come.
          Your choices may never be that monumental, but they will affect your little world negatively or positively. So choose to be the warrior, and if you mess up, don’t be afraid. Just get up tomorrow and choose again. 
          Remember you leave this place surrounded by the love and prayers of your teachers and indwelt by the Spirit of God.