Archive for April, 2008

The following is a piece I wrote yesterday morning. The prompt, from Nancy Slonim-Aronie, is: My Father Never Told Me. In free-writing style, I wrote non-stop without the critical judging brain. I didn’t go back and edit either. I decided, for this piece anyhow, it came out as whole as I want it for now.

If you want to try the topic, just pick up a pen and start writing on this topic. You can’t do it wrong! You can’t go in any wrong direction. Just follow any thread or many threads. If you find yourself stuck just keep starting the sentence, “My father never told me….” and go. Over the next three weeks you can see what others have had to say on this topic on the Writing from the Heart website at www.writingfromtheheart.wordpress.com

My Father Never Told Me, Cissy




My father never told me if he drinks coffee or tea when he wakes, if he favors early morning hours or the late of night. Francis Michael White never did say how he got the nickname Whitie. It could have been the name alone or his white bright blond locks. He never said how it felt when he found out that the man he was named for was not his father after all, that the name, white was a lie but not a white one.




I carry that lie too, the name White and the myth that a name makes us belong to anyone. I share my name with him but what we have in common is our status as fatherless children and the genes of sister. I know her but not him, not in the way I know a memory I can call up and lean on.




White is the name on my birth certificate, the tan paper with the orange seal that my Aunt Worry and I went into to Boston to get when I was in my twenties. It says he is my father but I have no memory of a Dad or a Daddy, of a man holding me on his shoulders so I can see if only briefly his view.






I know I was a child. There are pictures and I have proof. I don’t recall being on anyone’s lap, getting a running start and jumping while someone steadies them for my landing. I don’t remember flailing arms or legs left dangling as though the adults in my life were never bigger than me.




My daughter screams when her father arrives home, leaps from a chair or the floor and goes into his arms, runs around his legs and yells “Daddy!” He acts as though they have been apart for months or years. He screams back her name. It is loud, their love, palpable and glorious.




I don’t remember the felt sense of a father’s love. I don’t recall my father pulling a long wisp of hair out of my eye or saying, “hop in the car, we’re going for a ride.” I don’t remember learning to change a tire or him telling boyfriends, “be careful with my girl.”




He wasn’t the kind of father who hung around the borders of my life. He didn’t plant trees to give me shade, edge borders to make the path clear but he was a seed and I am evidence.




Blossoming now, a perennial wildflower covering new ground, I am less angry. My father never told me why he didn’t stay for my first birthday or return for my fortieth. I have stopped waiting for him to return and rescue me from my own scorched earth or strangling overgrowth. I am grateful at least for the gardener, my mother, though only a teen who did remain to feed and fertilize.




What I got from my father, I hear, is poor vision. But I see my daughter riding her father’s back through the common and she is as comfortable there as she is in my lap each morning. My father never told me why he left and stayed away. I would have told him he was missed. But I can’t know, from what I know of him, if I missed out on anything other than the myth.




Anyhow, it’s a rainy stretch. The earth gets moist from the gift of sky. Plants can grow even in lousy soil and without proper tending. They need only to be dropped on dirt or planted.


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Our family had a perfect day in Boston this week. It was as perfect as a movie montage scene. Ice cream melting down cones, getting sprayed by water at the play ground, eating out and taking the boat to and from Boston and of course people watching and the Swan Boats.

But what lingers and is unsettling grabs my writing mind. Writing is a slice of life but not a whole picture. Photo albums rarely capture illness and sadness. Journal entries are not often needed when one is calm and at peace. So, after a perfect family day in Boston, this scene lingers with me and captures a part of me.

It was still a perfect day. Ideal. Wonderful. Best ever birthday for my man. And yet, this hangs around my the borders of my being too.

Sharing the Same Umbrella




“I swear to God I’ll end you if you move from the table one more time.”




“Just put a piece of paper under it,” he said, it being the wobbly metal table.




“I can’t get out of my chair,” the boy says, he skinny legs sticking both sticking out from one side as he leans up. He is eight. Maybe he is nine.




“You can do the DVD, the Game boy, the VCR and the computer but you can’t figure out how to get yourself out of a chair?” his father says, his voice raising.




The mother is red-faced, sweating on this hot day.





The younger boy, maybe four, says, “I love Mommy.”





The older son is also red-faced from crying.





We are all sharing one blue umbrella, sitting outside at the Salty Dog, in Fanuel Hall. We are celebrating my husband’s birthday.





“This is supposed to be a relaxing day and if you can’t get it together, I swear to God we’ll leave here,” she says to her oldest, “we’ll go home and I’ll take out your little brother.”





“I just want to change my seat,” he says.





“I’ll switch seats,” his younger brother says.





“No,” the father says, “I can see you are trying to be helpful but no.” The father stands, and I think maybe he will change seats with his son. Instead, he lifts his son’s chair up and then shoves it back down and closer to the table.”



”I just want to move,” the boy says.



”Don’t move,” his father says.





“I swear I’m gonna kill him. He’s driving me crazy,” the man says to his wife.





She switches seats with her younger son to share the wobbly table. She leans over to her older son and says, “You are making a scene Do you know what a scene is?”





“I don’t care,” he says.





“You’ll care when we get home she says. You’ll care when something gets taken away.”





She goes on, “Do you see anyone else in here acting like you?”





And I want to jump in, “Do you? Do you?” to each parent and I want to say, “It is not him who is making the scene.” We are so close I could reach their cups and drink from them, so close we are sharing the same umbrella to get shade, so close we can hear every word.





“It’s hot,” my daughter says, but even as she says it she’s staring at the boy as I have been doing since we’ve been seated.





I am, until she speaks, not her a mama bear but a deer in the headlights. If they are like this in public I fear how they are at home. If they are like this when supposedly enjoying themselves I am imagining them unhappy.





S and I exchange glances and he takes action, pulling out paper and a pen and saying, “Let’s make a picture book of our day so far.”





They draw the boat we came in on. They draw the buildings around us. “And don’t forget Daddy opening his presents,” I say.





“Did you notice the paper?” I ask S, “The wrapping paper K picked up?”





“No,” S says.





“It was of Ariel,” I say, “because K knows how much you love her.”





I smile, “I know how you feel about red-heads.”





“You might have to worry,” he says if we were mermaids.





K is busy drawing. We are laughing.





Near us are two acrobats in tight red pants and black t-shirts, men They are getting the crowd’s attention, juggling balls and then swords. One of the men puts what is the size of a steak-size pillow on his head.





“Don’t try this at home,” he says, “Try it at school where they have nurses.”





He puts the pillow on his head and then his partner approaches. They are head to head for a moment, bulls locking horns, and then the partner elevates so that he is doing a headstand on his partners head. I see his legs up in the air, his light ballet shoes in soft contrast to all of his sharp muscles. His hands and the hands of his partner intertwined until he lets go. I can see his head wobbling a bit, his neck muscles alone holding him in a delicate balance. He is all limbs and spine and upside down.





This boy, at the next table is not being beaten or burned or slapped. But the words are cutting and the anger is making me hot and uncomfortable and he is also unsupported as he dangles in mid air sitting at a shaky table.





His father does eventually trade seats with him and softens. “Who wants to try my crab cakes” he asks. “Who likes these better?” he says than some restaurant they go to often, maybe Jake’s or something. No one likes them better than at that place.





“New rule,” he says, “We only get them there from now on.”





“What does Mom make the best?” the father asks.



”Ice cream,” the little boy says.





What does Dad make the best?”





Fear I want to say. Loathing.





But I say nothing and who am I to judge. I don’t know their lives, the details and history, the moments that led up to this lunch, the morning they had or the years that will come.





The mother implies the son was just hungry. The father says something about never leaving the house until they are all well fed. The boys are slow to recover though the father is trying. I failed to cover my daughter’s ear, to act quickly, move her seat or ask for another table. I didn’t know how to help the boy either and I wanted to.





The only thing I did is say to my daughter, without lowering my voice, “It’s scary to hear parents talk like that to their kids, isn’t it?”





She nodded her head yes but her fingers up to my lips to silence me as though she was afraid the father would hear me as though she were protecting me.





Later, I say, “Lunch would have been better without those people talking to their son that way, huh?”





“Yes,” she says adding, “He said he’d kill him. He (the boy) didn’t even understand what his father wanted.”





“We all get angry and lose our patience,” I say, “But that was unacceptable behavior,” S adds. We want her to understand we are never going to turn on her like that, that we understand the power dynamics, how much smaller she is, how dependent. We don’t want to go on forever and elaborate but also don’t want to fail to reassure her either.





Parents can, in frustration and exhaustion and anger tip over. I, if I had more than one child, might have crossed my tipping point. Will my daughter someday say, “I would have wanted a sibling,” and not known that for me, to make sure I had reserve enough to count on my own patience could not parent more than one.





Smug as I might like to be, it serves no purpose and is a trap. Smug won’t help K, that boy or even me. Instead, I will take the warning, the reminder, and think, “Don’t get that high strung, on empty, at blow up. Don’t ever treat a child as an enemy. Don’t forget the size and power imbalance.” I read somewhere once, maybe it was in Parenting from the Inside Out, that any time a child’s fight or flight response is activated by a parent’s behavior and not by an actual threat, the child is being treated unfairly, the parent is abusing his or her power. Any time the flight or fight response is activated in absence of real danger…. That concept has stayed with me.





Later at night at home I see a taped show. It’s Oprah talking to the host of a program I have never seen called, “What would you do?” There is a series of set-ups where people in parks are being threatened. The cameras are to see if anyone stop to offer help or intervene. In another, a woman, of Middle Eastern descent is refusing to be served in a restaurant. Most people did nothing. Most were neutral. Rarely did someone step in, speak up and rally on behalf of the person being threatened in a public setting.





Oprah quotes Ellie Wiesel who has said it isn’t hatred that kills but indifference. Smug?




What good would smug do? I did nothing. Nothing. Until writing. Until now.  

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Exercise-Induced Argh

In the scheme of all things significant this is a small irritant. But it is mine. I have exercise-induced asthma. All of those times I used to work out, get tired and still be trying to catch my breath the next day made me feel lazy. Who knew the airways were constricted? I did not. Since I have known I take two magic puffs pre-work and when I have colds and my asthma is well-managed.


Well, for some reason, those two puffs aren’t enough now that I work out more regularly and with weights. I’m taking WAY TOO MANY PUFFS and the asthma is ahead of me making me tired and crabby. You know you are tired when you have a dream you are meeting up with a friend and she says, “Let’s just sleep for two days,” and I say, “Great, we’ll all wear our pj’s.” The friend and I really did meet today but we were dressed and even managed to make it outside to watch our daughters use bikes and scooters.


Anyhow, it is annoying not to take in a big full breath. I do not like being tired. It seems unfair to get asthma from working out a lot as opposed to say, I don’t know, breathing in chemicals on purpose.


Aha, though. It might be the chemicals at the gym used before and after each time on the weights. So, maybe I’ll be more aware of allergens. Can I just say, and i know it’s not a big gripe, wah wah. I am trying to focus on health not beauty, on strength and not skinny and this asthma is messing with my plan.


And I am SO resistant to the steroid preventative medicine even though it might be just what I need because of that steroid word and my asthma is annoying and irritating but not disabling. Do I need such a potent drug. So, for a week, I’ll take allergy med cine, read about natural remedies for asthma and then make some decisions.


But I’ve been retiring early all week and on an a motor of low energy. The good news about any setback in health and fitness is it does BRING awareness of how wonderful it is when health is not even a question or a thought. How lucky am I most of the time not to contend with ANY health issues. There are those fighting for life, battling chronic and painful and debilitating illnesses all of the time. I am rarely as grateful for good health as when I’m not feeling my usual self.  There is appreciation and gratitude and awareness of all the days I gulped good health and didn’t even say, “That was tasty. Thank You.”


Today, I’m tired and grateful that most of the time I have plenty of energy and good health. And, I am aware of those in my life and not in my life who struggle with serious health issues.

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No More Diets

O.k., I have to admit, I spent so many of my teen years exercising and the last two decades caring or trying not to care about my weight that I find myself about as ill-informed about nutrition, exercise and health as I am about anything. I actually know more about attachment theory, trauma recovery, sea glass collections and financial planning as I do about what to ingest and how often to move mass which houses me.


I have a friend who has told me about Body for Life for years. Exercise ONLY 20 minutes in some special way. I didn’t believe it. It had worked for her. I still didn’t believe it. I know someone who has lost more than 100 pounds on that plan. Still, strange, it just seemed strange.


I have another friend and she has sworn up and down about a series of workouts called The Firm. A little cardio fat blast, a little muscle building and she swears a new body shape transforms. She makes it sound so fast that you could change your body from the time you put on fresh underwear today til the very time you do the same in a few weeks.


Skeptical. Whatever. I was done with exercise tapes. It’s not that I don’t have the weights. I have weights to walk with, weights for watching t.v., weights in 5 and 7 and 10 and 15 and 20 lbs. pairs. O.k., some of them aren’t mine but they are in my house and my husband shares well. Still, I wasn’t going to actually use them often.


Get this… apparently, exercise is not optional for good health. Even skinny people with no body fat and not a sign of a roll or pudge are seen at my gym. I want to ask them, “Why are you here? If I were you I would not be here.” I do not believe, not really, that people actually enjoy exercise. O.k., I believe they believe it when they say it and there are certainly things I despise less than others. But even in yoga I’m practically panting, when not totally in the present moment, to get to the five minute corpse pose at the end of class where the teacher talks in soothing tones.


But, here I am today, wiping sweat off of my forehead, doing cardio which the book I’m reading can’t be bothered going into. The book, Get Stronger, Feel Younger by Wayne Westcott (who runs this program at the Y) is talking endlessly about weight lifting. Really, he makes it sound like magic, as though with two work-outs a week, you can be firm, tone and have a higher metabolism and a lower body fat percentage in just ten weeks. He’s pretty convincing. I’m on day one of week three and I’ll keep you posted. My focus is on building muscle and eating while awake. No more before-bed dips into the peanut butter jar, no second serving of a snarfed down meal while at the keyboard. When I found it time-saving to eat breakfast while showering one morning I knew I hit bottom and that more than multi-tasking was at work.


I’m done with diets. The book I’m reading makes diets seem like an evil fat-producing system that actually slows the metabolism so that when one returns to normal eating they gain weight. I still don’t know the science behind Body for Life and Get Stronger, Feel Younger. I’m willing to try new things, to focus on fitness and form instead of counting calories and pounds. I’m skeptical though. I just am. Call me a little unenthusiastic because I’m just not willing to wage war with my body, to have the dinner plate be a battle ground and to feel bad about half of what I put in my mouth. I only want to wonder, “Is this nutritious?” and lose the, “I’m being so good (or bad)” and just maybe have eating be about eating.  Wouldn’t that be a long overdue relief.


My daughter asked if our cat was fat yesterday morning. She’s put on some weight. The cat I mean. But this emphasis on weight and not health is not good for anyone, not a grown woman and certainly not a little girl. I’m gonna be all about the fitness, the form and maybe the Firm workouts. I’m going to that place I’ve heard of where people are grateful for the mobility, the flexibility, the feet that carry our bodies and the arms that hug and hold. I am strong, the type of woman you ask to help move furniture, who can carry four grocery bags in and still manage the keys. I am blessed. Big and strong and mobile. No more complaining about lumps, flab or fat.






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Weighty Issues & Raising a Girl



I worked out on my recumbent bicycle while lifting weights and watching my DVR’d Biggest Loser show. My daughter who is five and lighter than the weight in my right hand looked at the TV and then me. “Can you go on The Biggest Loser?” she asked.



“No honey,” I said, hands too full to pull the arrow from my heart, “I’m ONLY twenty-five or thirty pounds overweight and you have to be seventy-five to one hundred pounds overweight,” (not that I checked). Besides, I’d have to be away from home for about five months and you can’t sleep if I’ve been away from you for five hours or is it five minutes? This I did not say.



This is the question I get the morning after a day I oversaw scootering, biking and hop scotching for several hours. This after the day I dug out the sunscreen and brought drinks and Popsicles on the porch for my daughter and her friend? Did she not remember the trip to the garden shop to select seeds followed by the planting of tomatoes and peppers and pea pods? This, the night after I ran to Whole Foods to get my husband chewable B complex in case his poor sleep is from running legs. I even gave him a two-nights-in-a-row back rub. Do I get a Good Housekeeping seal of approval or even reward myself with a raise? No.  



But then I get a daughter who says as I am trying to steal one lousy hour for myself to watch my taped Oprah about being present, tell me, “I miss you. I know we were actually together all day but I just don’t feel like we were together. Can I stay with you now? Can YOU take me to bed?” I want to say, “I’m trying to learn to be in the present. Come back later. I’ll be more present after I’ve been alone.”



Yes, it was me who told this very child how speaking up and expressing your needs and feelings are positive attributes but I meant in the outside world and not when talking to me.



Maybe I went overboard on the share your thoughts and feelings. After all, she saw fit to use me as a mattress first and a jungle gym second before I even finished my coffee. But when I rose for the day, she stopped me to ask, “Why are your legs lumpy?” Or did she said, “Why are your legs bumpy?” Lumpy? Bumpy? It doesn’t matter. We both knew what she was talking about.



“That’s cellulite,” I said. Had she not seen me in shorts, at the beach, in a towel during the past five years? This isn’t new cellulite I can assure you. In fact, it’s the same cellulite my friend me from her dressing room as we tried clothes on at a super sale.



Perhaps, in her pre-school way, my daughter is trying to keep me motivated. I did join the Y’s Mad Dash Makeover two weeks ago. I signed a contract saying I’ll do two to three weight workouts and three to four cardio workouts for ten weeks. Also, I swore I’d eat sensibly. So far that “sensible eating” clause is killing me and has me looking for loopholes and the fine print.



I blame myself for talking about exercise and tone and more than any human needs to know about muscle mass. It’s just that I guess I wasn’t paying attention for the decade or two when everyone else learned that a woman over 35 loses a half pound of muscle every year. That alone wouldn’t be so bad but when I found out I have a fat percentage that would make a sausage jealous and a lamb considered high toned I got scared. Being graded O and I don’t mean blood type is humbling. I’m sandwiched between above average and obese in the Overfat or Overweight camp. I might just buy more jeans if it only meant lumpy legs but it also means I’m at a higher risk for cancer. Losing weight without adding muscle isn’t enough.



“Is it o.k. to call people fat if they are on TV. and they can’t hear you?” my daughter asks, another Biggest Loser inspired question? I try to explain fat isn’t a word that makes people feel good. I say large and overweight are better word choices.



This must be confusing to my daughter as she was thirteen pounds at ten months. I spent the first two years of our life together trying to fatten her up, feeding her on demand and practically pouring margarine and omega fatty acids in her yogurt and sippy cups. She now eats me under the table she still has 0% body fat. She does not know the Daddy who is a success story, a man who has lost 60 lbs. and with sensible eating, course corrections and regular work-outs, has kept it off.



“Do you only get cellulite when you’re old?” she asks me hoping I will reassure her. So now I’m lumpy and old and trying to play Montessori mother. Have I not taught her to be sensitive? That I’m sensitive? Isn’t this the girl that cried when I got her a Red delicious apple when she had meant and really wanted though not said she preferred a red Gala apple? I mean actual tears were shed over the apple incident and we’re not even into pre-puberty or PMS.



“I had cellulite even as a child.”



“At my age?” she asks and looks as though I’ve told her she has to get a splinter removed while at the dentist getting cavities filled and vaccination shots to boot.


“At 8 or 9,” I say, wondering if I should explain that I had garlic and butter pasta for two years and weighed more by my first birthday than she may ever weigh, that I was so fat that when I fell out of a moving car as a kid everyone remembers how I “bounced” and wasn’t injured at all.  Does she need to know I was going to Diet Workshop with my Nana when I was twelve and used most of my math skills calculated calories consumed vs. calories burned or how much time I wasted worrying about how I looked?


There are groups of tough questions she might someday ask about and I can only consider this recent series a warm-up – for me.


I’m grateful she still gallops into a run and then jump into my arms for tight hugs. I’m happy she crawls up my back and stands on the chair looking over my shoulder as I type (this will be less endearing when she can read all I write).


This morning, she presented me with a gift as though I had not been in the room with her while she made it. She put earrings she made into a little gift bag and presented them to me with a smile wider than the horizon sunset out my window tonight.


My heart is full, my throat lumpy and my love firm.


P.S. I am a vegetarian and it’s awful the way good “veal” comes from animals being penned for life so as not to build any muscle.  


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It’s getting warm and I’m panting at the ocean like a stray dog under a raw steak. The sea glass yet to be discovered awaits. It’s been tossed around a winter ocean and soon to land on the sand. My hands, plucking, picking, sifting through sand and touching rocks regularly, without worrying about the cold or the wind or how long my daughter can bear with the boredom of a winter shore.

In summer she delights at the glistening sea, the sand castle building and allowing her ankles to be bathed. In winter, beach trips are a rare delight.

I smell sea glass today and can’t wait. I’ve had my hands all over glass for weeks, making wild designs, some of which work and others which were effective experiments.

Gardening and sea-glass collecting. There is something delicious about seasonal delights.

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