I’m going to what feels like the Mean Girl of cities in a couple of weeks.
You know the one.
She’s all Chanel and couture and linen and lipstick. They speak fancy French there, not the regular, old, Canadian kind (and even my Canadian French is pretty patchy and rusty).
I lived in Europe with my family as a teen and then in my early and later 20s, on my own. But, somehow, I never got to Paris.
London and York and Cornwall, I love. Hamburg and Heidelberg, too.
But Paris, is a big old question mark for me.
Or, is it actually a REAL PLACE with garbage trucks, and people wearing pajamas in public, and bad cooks?
My parents went to Paris for a holiday when we lived in England, but for some reason, they didn’t take their teenagers with them. Who knows why?
I was too broke when I lived close by to get there, and my friends lived in Germany. So, I just kept flying over Paris, as if she didn’t matter one hoot.
Take that, mean girl!
But now, my German friends are living in Paris, in the ninth arrondissement. I think that means near ALLLLLL the Pain au Chocolat (one of the main reasons I’m even going to Paris), right?
And, I am slightly intimidated.
According to Canadian/US versions of Paris, I am prepared to feel inferior on a number of levels including my weight, my fashion sense (lack thereof), not to mention my (quelle horreur) love of patterned fabric.
French chic? Mais, non. Just call me “flabby, shabby chic”.
I am not sleek or sophisticated. I am much more inclined to the chubby and cheerful.
But, so is Ina Garten and she supposedly loves Paris, right? So did Julia Child and she was tall and awkward.
Vives les Tall and Awkward!
With a side of Still Too Many Shoes for My Suitcase.
Practical Man disliked Paris when he was there so he’s glad to be sitting this one out. Mind you, he dislikes ALL cities so he’s not really a neutral opinion. Instead, I am travelling with my sweet sister-in-law Roadrunner, who speaks Northern Ontario French as her first language at home. She’s never been to Europe. In fact, this is her first trans-Atlantic flight. Although she is fluent in the language, I’ve heard that Parisians can be quite cutting when it comes to The Canadian Form of French. My also fluent father was once asked in Paris where he learned his French and when he told them Canada, they said, “c’est domage (that’s too bad)”.
I do love me some vintage, flea markets, and sparkly lights. Someplace called The City of Lights seems to be a good city for that sort of tra-la-la.
Anyhoo, if you’ve been there, here are the questions I have about going to Paris:
- I expect there to be accordions playing in the background as we stroll around. But, should I be prepared with some Charles Aznavour on my playlist, just in case?
- Is there a “how not to overpack” Pinterest board for people who are not Marie Kondo or wearing exclusively Lululemon?
- If I can’t get rid of my vertigo before I leave and end up getting arrested because I’m wobbling down the streets like I’m intoxicated, will they bring me the French version of Bread and Water (baguette and Perrier) in jail?
- Is black the only colour people wear? What if I look more like “Widowed Nonna from a Godfather movie” than “Audrey Hepburn” in black?
- Where can I rent a Betsy bicycle or a moped so I can ride along the Seine with a baguette sticking out of the basket, humming La Vie en Rose?
- Is it wrong to have a pain au chocolat EVERY morning while I’m there? Wait, don’t answer that.
- Will my brain actually turn into a pretzel if I try to speak German (with our host family), Paris French (let’s face it, that won’t be possible), Canadian French (only slightly more possible), Bad French (definitely possible), and English (please direct me to the nearest pain au chocolat?) in one holiday?
- How many beautiful buildings can you drool on before they kick you out of the country?
- Ditto for Boulangerie, Patisserie and other “erie” windows?
It’s like a first date with someone way out of your league.
Or, as they say in Paris…
[nonchalant and chic expression full of fabulous cheekbones].
Last week, I had my first bath in over a decade.
Why so traumatized, you ask? Because, this, my friends, was not a good bath, with bubbles up to your neck and your favourite Ernie-and-Bert-inspired Rubber Duckie.
No, no, no.
There was no lovely book or glass of wine (although I’m really not coordinated enough for any of that kind of nonsense).
Not even the sort of lovely BAWTH that one of my favourite literary characters, Eloise, likes to take.
This was the kind of bath that your mother tells you to take.
Or rather, MY mother.
Because, I’m in my 40s, dontcha know.
You’re never too old for a little vintage, motherly, health advice.
Or, for a bath.
“With oatmeal”, she said.
“Or baking soda”, she said.
“Maybe some Epsom salts”, she said.
Possibly a cocktail of all of the above.
Yessiree, I am officially a geezer.
No Bath and Body Works jams and jellies for me.
I get to bathe with breakfast cereals and baking products.
I’m like Wilford Brimley, with hair.
This was the kind of bath you take because you have been itchy for nearly a month FOR NO GOOD REASON.
And, all the icky sticky goo and chanting of OM doesn’t make it stop.
OMMMMMMM…I’m so itchy!
And not only that but, this was the kind of BAWTH where you had to decide which third of your body to dunk in the water at a time, on account of, you are possibly eleventeen feet tall and your tub is a shallow, five-foot long, jetted, vintage relic from the late 1980s.
It was a complex dance of toes-ankles-calves for a while and then knees-thighs-abdomen for another while and then chest-shoulders-neck for an encore.
Slip sliding away. It’s not as exciting as it sounds in the song.
Who, among the regular old, pre-every-bathroom-must-be-a-spa-thing-that-we-seem-to-have-going-on-now, bathtub owners, finds this fun?
You must be blessed with some short-ness, is all I can figure. Me and my eleven-teen feet of tall-ness are jealous.
Anyhoo, this was the kind of bath where Practical Man had to set a timer in order to get me to stay in there for 20 minutes, because someone–possibly me–kept yelling, “Can I get out YET?” approximately every 32 seconds.
I am a delight to go through life with, as you can tell.
This was the kind of bath where, when I scrunched down so my shoulders could get a little of the water action–and my toes were creeping ever so elegantly up the wall towards the shower head–I was exactly eye level with the toilet.
As my friend Pippi has said, “Bathing beside the toilet is not my idea of luxury.”
Toilets figure prominently in 5-star resort brochures, I’m sure.
Um, yes and this was more of a long-term-care facility kind of bath.
Nessum Dorma is the key to life, really.
Honestly, just close your eyes and listen. You don’t need to be in a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad bathtub for it to be magic.
But, after a million-zillion torturous hours, when I was finally allowed to get out, I was victorious.
I had a few hives.
Nearly a month of scratching and complaining about invisible sensations and I finally had something to show for my efforts.
I’m a little Type A that way.
Stay with me. The hives mean that maybe, possibly, I’m not imagining the itching–just having some kind of allergic reaction.
To what, I don’t know.
Or maybe…don’t you think…it might be…Nessum Dorma beside the toilet?
The basic treatment for hives is, YOU WILL NEVER GUESS:
Take a bath.
Or as I and Eloise prefer it: BAWTH.
Or baking soda.
Possibly some Epsom salts.
So says The Google.
And my mom.
Can I get out yet?
Practical Man often says I was born in the wrong time–that I should have been a hippy. Maybe he’s right. Case in point:
- I love Volkswagen anything (as long as it’s pre-1980).
- I have a tendency to decorate everything that doesn’t move (and even some things that do) with bohemian prints.
- 95% of the guitar music I play is 60s and 70s folk.
I would have liked being a hippy, I think. Except for the straight hair and no bangs thing.
Let’s just say that I have forehead issues.
So, I can’t truly be a hippie, now can I? First of all, I can’t even spell it. And I’m sure that hippies were more about peace, love and all that good stuff and not so much about the forehead vanity.
I know I should be thinking about pilgrims and injustices perpetrated on aboriginal peoples and green bean casseroles, but at this time of year, I can’t help it. I think about the dump and VW microbuses and a strange and mythical place called the Group W Bench.
It all started 32 Thanksgivings ago, when my dad introduced me to Arlo Guthrie’s iconic Vietnam protest song, “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree“.
I learned to love it–and now, I’m learning to play it on the gi-tar–with feeling.
So far, I’m pretty terrible but, in my defence, I’m a lot older than Arlo was when he first came up with the concept of an 18 minute and 34 second song.
My fingers, not to mention my will, are weak.
What can I say, I’ve been wasting my life, obsessing about my forehead.
But, I can play the chorus:
I’m pretty sure I can’t sustain it for 5 minutes though, let alone 18 minutes +.
The point is, I’ve also been inflicting Alice’s Restaurant on as many people as possible, since I first fell in love with it as a teenager:
- In 1996 (after I was old enough to know better), a friend and I attempted to write the lyrics (all 18 minutes and 34 performance seconds of them) in black magic marker on his bathroom walls.
- I met my friend, Bamboo Guy, partly because we bonded over the fact that he lived in a church, just like Alice and Ray and Potcho The Dog, from the song.
- My dad and I saw it live in 2005 during the Alice’s Restaurant 40th anniversary tour.
And, I’m not alone in my quasi-obsession. My uncle Putt reportedly played and sang Alice’s Restaurant to countless Inuit listeners, while he was working in the Canadian North in the early ’70s. He and my aunt recently gifted me with something I’d never seen before:
The Alice’s Restaurant book!
It doesn’t have “27 8×10 color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was, to be used as evidence against us”, but, it does have groovy sketches.
Soooo very groovy. I wish I could show them all to you!
Yep, as many of our southern neighbours are sitting down this weekend to what we up north call “American Thanksgiving”, I can’t help thinking of Alice and her restaurant and how one young guy took his peaceful protest on the road, way back when.
Protests go so much better with a gi-tar, don’t you think?
Although the Vietnam War and Alice’s Restaurant came about before I was born, I feel as though the past couple of weeks may have felt a little bit similar to what things felt like back then.
People feeling strong feelings.
Neighbours worried about neighbours. Or, angry at neighbours. Or, bewildered by neighbours. Or, disappointed by neighbours.
Something about neighbours.
Kinda tense, as I said.
But, that’s not what this blog post is about.
This blog post is about giving thanks.
That’s why I called the post, “And now, for a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat.”
Thanks–to Arlo (may I call you Arlo?), for showing me that we could believe in something and deliver a message to people in a way that made them smile, while also making them think.
Thanks–to my dad, for sharing Arlo with me and Uncle Putt for giving me his long-treasured book. Thanks–to Practical Man for driving all the way to Stockbridge, Massachussets to visit “the scene of the crime” and for listening to me squeal my way around the countryside that led to The Church. Thanks–to Fairy Godson’s parents, who went to the ACTUAL Alice’s garage sale (accidentally) on Cape Cod and got to talk with ACTUAL Alice and then they brought me back a Christmas ornament from ACTUAL Alice’s garage sale that ACTUAL Alice used to have in her living room on her Christmas tree!
Thanks– to Arlo again, for being a role model in the never-ending sentences and segues that have become his (and, okay, you may have a point here: MY) trademark style.
And, if you’re celebrating this week, I hope you have a “Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat” and I also hope you walk into the shrink wherever you are,
Just walk in and say, “Shrink,
You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant”
and walk out.
If one person, you know just one person does it, they may think she’s really weird and they won’t pay attention.
But if two people do it…in harmony, they may think they’re both Canadians and they won’t pay attention to either of them.
And if three people do it…can you imagine three people walkin’ in, singin’ a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walkin’ out? They may think it’s an organization!
And, can you imagine fifty people a day? I said FIFTY people a day…walkin’ in, singin’ a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walkin’ out?
Friends, they may think it’s a MOVEMENT.
And, that’s what it is.
The Alice’s Restaurant Anti-Massacree Movement and all you gotta do to join is to sing it the next time it comes around on the gi-tar.
I went to Disney World, for the first time, on my 40th birthday.
As you do.
That year, they had a “Come to Disney for Free on your Birthday” promotion.
We were already going to be in Florida and it was the perfect excuse to go. Disney isn’t cheap and as you may remember, Practical Man loves a good deal, yes indeedy.
He’s just not a huge fan of Disney.
Or mouse ears.
“You’re not going to wear those when I’m with you, are you?” I could already hear him asking at the prospect of my dreamed-about Mickey ears.
I knew this would be the question he would ask because he asked it when I came home with rubber boots that had large, purple and pink flowers all over them.
And when I found the perfect artsy-hippy-dippy-trippy shirt.
He also asked it when I made the first large-ish felt flower for one of my hats.
But, 20 or 30 large-ish felt flowers later, he’s kind of getting used to me now. I think he’s realized that he can still maintain his preferred position “under the radar”, even when I’m wearing something attention-grabbing, because people are too busy gawking at a 40-something woman wearing items normally associated with 4 year olds, to pay any attention to him.
I don’t mind the gawking. Adults don’t smile nearly enough so, anything I can do to help in that area is right up my street.
My festooned, childlike street, of course.
(You may recall how much I love a bit of festooning.)
Back to my point, which is that we were going to be in Florida for my birthday, visiting my aunt and uncle.
My first hint that Practical Man didn’t really want to spend a festive 40th birthday day with his dearest at Disney was, well…okay, I married him, so I like to think I know about some of his likes and dislikes.
(I’m always studying, in case we we end up on one of those newlywed games, even now that we are 20 years into our romance.)
Anyhoo, the second clue was that for most of the drive to Florida, Practical Man kept saying to me, “Don’t you think you’d have a better time at Disney with your aunt?”
I tormented him through Pennsylvania and both the Carolinas and Georgia, but knew that, yes, I would have a great time with my aunt Feather at Disney.
She has no problem with Disney, crowds or mouse ears.
And, she encourages things like staying overnight in the Herbie the LoveBug themed Disney hotel (Hurrah!) and eating Mickey Mouse-shaped ice cream bars (Yum!) and not minding when her niece wears Mickey Mouse ears all day long over her sunhat, even though she’s 40.
I am 40ish going on 4. Yep, that’s me.
As if it could get any better, the Magic Kingdom folks gave me a giant button at the gate that said “Happy Birthday Christine!” in two foot letters on it and every time there was a parade or a character going by (which was a lot), they would lean down from their stilts with a giant smile and yell, “Happy Birthday, Christine!” which Practical Man would have hated, but which I love-love-loved.
But, my favourite part was the parade that started, right after the sun went down. All the floats were lit with thousands of coloured lights and it was warm and beautiful with my Aunt Feather and there were fireworks all for me, I’m sure, on my 40th birthday.
The Magic Kingdom really is just a festooned, childlike street, after all.
Have you noticed how “festoon” rhymes with “swoon”?
Last night took me right back there. It was the Santa Claus parade in my hometown and I was invited to join Fairy Godson and his family and friends at the big event downtown.
Even though there were shades of Magic Kingdom in this festival of lights, Florida it was not. I was wearing down-filled everything with an added layer of neoprene on my feet, thank goodness.
My magic kingdom for some down-filled undies.
Even though the weather is finally turning a bit more wintery, just for the record, it’s still a bit too early for Santa.
Practical Man has rules about these kinds of things: no Christmass-y stuff until December 1st.
Or, maybe that’s the earliest date I have cajoled him into. We definitely follow the “out of respect for our veterans and their families, absolutely nothing festive until after Remembrance Day” rule.
Even though it was early, it felt like the festive season at the parade. All the kids lined up to catch their candy canes and stickers and wave at Rudolphs with blinking noses and Elves and that giant marshmallow guy from Ghostbusters.
Who knew that Ghostbusters were festive?
My friend Grover, that’s who.
Fairy godson was taking it all in, with a line of other kids his age. They were, like me, wrapped in down-filled everything, from head to toe.
Sucking on candy canes, naturally.
I was jealous of their ear flaps.
It was 16 degrees Celcius yesterday afternoon, my friends. The climate changed just in time for the parade and our recent rash of Spring-like-weather-in-November had done nothing to harden us for standing out in the festive wind coming straight up Princess Street, off Lake Ontario.
Did I mention I’d like someone to invent down-filled undies?
But, it was still as lovely as that time at Disney.
I had no mickey ears last night but, just look at all the pretty lights!
We waved at baton twirlers and gymnasts (there were a lot) and dancers and pipe bands. We yelled Merry Christmas at passing elves and tigers and snowmen. Float riders reminded us that “Santa would be coming soon” and we jiggled to the assorted Christmas tunes emanating from the passing parade. There was even a ferris wheel float!
I’ve decided I’m a night-time parade kind of a girl.
No matter the season or the location, this kind of joyous, sparkly, celebratory event is right up my street.
My festooned, childlike street, of course.
With a side of down-filled underwear.
It’s early Spring in south-eastern Ontario and oh, wait, what?
This just in: the flowerbed is trying to kill me.
Based on how I feel about The Nature, you might have already guessed that I am not really a gardener type. In fact, I’m rather a grey thumb. That is, when plants get anywhere near me, they turn a sickly sort of grey and hang around, torturing me for a while with their droopy leaves and browned-up flowers and unrequited dreams of a life spent being watered, before finally expiring and leaving me with a plastic container thing-y that I don’t know what to do with.
I can’t just throw it away. Those plastic plant containers take about a zillion trillion years to compost down. Not like my poor, dead plant, which was composting (drama, drama) in the plastic container thing-y, long before it officially died.
Usually, I give the plastic container thing-y to Practical Man and he puts another plant in it.
Yep, he’ll plant a seed from the apple he was eating at lunch. Or, the stem of the celery we have in the fridge.
Not to give back to me, oh no.
He’s not stupid, that one.
He does, however, have a very green thumb. He can grow sticks, that man. Not to mention, bits of kale from the grocery store that I cut off before chopping up some to put in the oven.
Anyway, my point is that I don’t grow stuff. So, I’m not quite sure why there is a flower bed out to get me.
But, there is. Right along the front sidewalk (which no one ever uses because we live in the country and in the country you always enter people’s houses through the open garage door), it lies in wait. It and its companion on the sunny side of the house.
I have to confess that there are no windows overlooking the second flowerbed on the sunny side of the house so that one gets largely ignored because I can pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s not as if I wander around the perimeter of the house and see it all the time.
That side of the house is out in The Nature people. Don’t you read my blog?
So, I can see where the flowerbed on the sunny side of the house would feel put upon and maybe even downright hostile towards me.
But, with four windows facing directly out on it, the front bed gets a fair bit of attention.
It spends most of the day in the sun so it’s a little micro-climate of its own (that sounds like I’m all official and garden-y, doesn’t it?) that doesn’t require much intervention to keep things alive. That is to say, Practical Man no doubt revives it while I’m at work, but, full of perennials, a couple of bushes, and no annuals, I can pretend it’s just magically growing on its own. We mulched it last year with that store-bought stuff that looks seriously artificial and probably leaches chemicals into our water table, but I desperately wanted to make the flowerbed feel loved so that maybe, maybe, it would play nice.
I have viewed others’ gardens, replete with chemical mulchiness and they look lovely. Tidy. Weed-less. Just like I thought ours would look.
So, I don’t quite understand how when the blanket of snow came off and the softly-rounded heads of daffodils, pasque flowers and grape hyacinth started poking out of the ground, mere days ago, this source of Springtime pleasure and much celebration turned so very very quickly to Yes Indeedy, This Flowerbed Is Trying to Kill Me.
More on that in a moment.
In other gardening news, we pulled out two giant clumps of bushes in the lawn last summer and Practical Man has put down repeated layerings of grass seed, only to have the spots – a year later, still look like male-pattern baldness in our lawn. Now, the baldness doesn’t really matter because seeing it would require me to go out in The Nature, to fume over that which some suburbanites would find an atrocity, but I really don’t understand why grass won’t grow very well, even for a green-thumbed Practical Man, when you want it to.
Except if it’s in the flowerbed.
The flowerbed, which has only been “awake” (that’s probably not an official, garden-y term) for a little over two weeks, is full. Full, I tell you, of evil, extremely healthy and prolific G-R-A-S-S. Several, virulent country types, no less.
All that green stuff? GRASS!
All that straw-looking stuff? More GRASS!
And not the male pattern baldness kind either. This is full-head-of-hair-and-lots-coming-out-the-ears grass. Clever, clever grass that sneaks its way up the middle of a single iris stalk, barely out of the ground. If I didn’t hate it so much, I would admire its sneaky tenacity. To remove the grass root means digging up the entire bulb and painstakingly teasing away the grass. Painstaking is not in my vocabulary (unless it’s painstakingly licking every last drop of chocolate off the tinfoil it arrived in) and I can’t deal with more plant murders on my record, so I’m not doing that.
This weekend, while Practical Man installed the mower deck on the tractor in preparation for acres of lawn mowing over our male pattern baldness areas, I decapitated grass shoots in approximately 3% of a square foot in our front flowerbed and tried not to get all fainty (from the bending over and standing up) or spinny (from the turning my head recklessly looking for sneaky grass shoots) or fall down, weeping hysterically, every time my eyes accidentally swayed to the right or left of my “section”.
It was like doing hard time. Like I was on a chain gang, except with grass and fainting and spinning.
Okay fine, there may have been some Feels Like Jagger music to help me cling to my sunny disposition. A girl can only take so much murderous intent from a flowerbed before she has to find her flowerbed anthem–What Doesn’t Kill You (Makes You Stronger)–and sing along with Ms. Kelly C.
It was at some point during this torture with a peppy soundtrack, that I remembered something.
Something wise and scientific and mostly, probably, almost certainly true. I recalled what my former colleague and (this is an official and garden-y designation) Master Gardener friend used to say:
“Perennial gardens are meant to be looked at from a distance.”
That means: keep far, far away from the flowerbed that is trying to kill me.
If you do, I might just get out alive.
My mom gave me a box of pictures recently. She was divesting her house of some of the photo albums that she’s carted around for nearly 50 years.
You know how it is: there comes a time when you’re overwhelmed with the desire to remove evidence of hairstyles and wallpapers past.
Not me, because I’m all vintage-loving and collector-ish, but, you get the idea.
Anyhoo. I was the first child for my parents and I was also the first grandchild for both sets of grandparents. There are a LOT of pictures of me, The Golden-Haired Child (as my uncles named me, I think euphemistically). There are a LOT of pictures of my younger sister, too.
That’s her, poking me, in case you were wondering. I was apparently not adverse to some slight poking.
The two of us were kind of rock stars in the family for a while on account of we were the first grandkids and nieces. Life was good in those black-and-white (or matching hippo dresses) years, let me tell you. We had ALL THE FUN PEOPLE to ourselves for quite a long time before any competition in the cute-ness arena came along.
In addition to the black and white extravaganza in the box, there are also colour photos, of course. And, small squares (2×2?) and 4x6s and 5x7s. There are ones that look like Polaroids and others that look as if they were taken with Grandma Helen’s brownie camera from the 1950s.
There are snaps of Grandma Verna in her glamorous hair and ones of my mother with her mini skirts and impossibly-long legs. My dad, sporting his PhD-length beard and assorted, motley snow creations from those Canadian March Breaks where the grass and mud came up with the snow when you were trying to roll a beautiful, pristine snowy ball to make a snow Bionic Woman.
Then, there are the alarming, giant, 8x10s of me (those came with the package we ordered from the school picture day each year). Some curling slightly at the edges. Others bearing the scars of tape that held them down firmly for decades. The one where I curled my own hair for the first time, in grade 6 (that was a crispy mistake). Some have dates typed on their edges–something automatically done by the camera or the processing at the time.
There are even some that I took during my early teenage, artsy-fartsy photography phase and processed myself, in my dad’s darkroom at his work. Snow on a lamp post. Roses up close. Under exposed roses (dimly lit) up close. Over exposed roses (brightly lit) up close. The sort of thing that, equipped with developer and fixer and a red light in the darkroom, I could wax artistic with in the shadows, like the geeky adolescent I was.
All of it, evidence today of ancient, ancient photographic history–and wallpaper and hairstyles past.
To be clear, these are actual photos in the box. Not the kind you scroll through while sipping your frothy drink-du-jour in a high-priced coffee shop. It’s sort of a big old box of ME. And, not–let’s face it–a big old box of carefully curated me.
Nope, these are not the kind of photos where you can take 257 pictures and delete the ones where your finger was over the lens or your horrific “perm” looked blurry (thank goodness) or you looked like a cross between Shawn Cassidy and Annie Sullivan, in her dark spectacle years.
(You young’uns might have to look those up.)
It’s a ride down memory lane, I tell ya.
Some of them give me pause. Like this one:
I’ve had a thing for swings since I was a teenager. Not the pinch-y bum swings, as my friend Grover calls them. The real-for-true, comfy on the bottom, board swings. Oh yes, I’d put on my Sony Walkman (seriously high tech) and stomp to the nearby park to swing out whatever teenage angst happened to be plaguing me that day. The music was always the same: it was my anthem. Every teenager needs a Somebody-Done-Somebody-Wrong-Song.
Or, specifically, Somebody-Done-ME-Wrong-Song.
Probably my mother (I was a teenager, after all.) Or, Graham McSweetie, who was smart and had melty brown eyes and was, naturally, completely oblivious to my existence.
I’d tell you the name of my Somebody-Done-ME-Wrong-Song, but that’s classified.
Besides, everybody needs their own Somebody-Done-Somebody-Wrong-Song for the swings. Trust me. It doesn’t work unless you have your own.
The song needs to be something that makes your heart swell with indignity and injustice and…well, kind of a YESSSSSSSS that spells vindication in your head. Vindication for all that has been plagued upon you by the oblivious hotty in your French class at the forsaken age of…16.
For me, the Somebody-Done-Somebody-Wrong-Song was also a very important coping mechanism so that I could actually swing out my indignity and injustice and stuff.
Swing without vomiting, that is.
Because, more than 30 seconds of swinging makes me vomit, dontcha know. Sorry for the detail but if you, like me, are plagued with this unfortunate swinging disability, I encourage you to get yourself a Somebody-Done-Somebody-Wrong-Song and try it again.
There’s some kind of magical inner-ear, motion-sickness thingy that the music does for nauseous and dizzy and fainty people like moi.
(I can’t imagine why Graham McSweetie wasn’t falling all over himself to date me.)
Not only that, but I encourage you to forgo the gnashing of teeth and that secret internet Troll behaviour you’ve been exhibiting. There is nothing like swinging high, high, high when you’re filled with indignity and injustice or you’re incredibly shy and you’ve just agreed to live halfway around the world, in a foreign country, for three whole months and you have to live with a strange family and eat strange stuff and speak a strange language where “I love you” sounds a lot like “Go do the washing up” and you are wondering what kind of crazy thing you’ve gotten yourself into and your heart is filled with a combination of excitement and dread.
To get back on point: THIS is the moment for the swing.
Or, in my case, about 4 moments, because that’s all the time I get, even with my Somebody-Done-Somebody-Wrong-Song, before I start to feel as if I might vomit, again.
Which brings me back to the big box of photos. Look at me swinging, wildly and with abandon, not a hint of inner-ear, dizzy-fainty-ness apparent, at the ripe old age of 4. How wonderful is that?
There’s just a Thing About Swings.
And now, you know.
I had a birthday last week and I’ve decided that I need a sign.
Maybe, if I wear a sign, it will prevent the bullying. The “do you really think you need that piece of cake?” that the woman at a friend’s wedding felt it was entirely her right to say to me, while I was (sound the alarms!) eating cake with the rest of the guests.
In fairness to her, I don’t look like someone who exercises most days every week.
In other words: I don’t look like someone who deserves cake. (Cake is to be earned, defended, and rationed, I have learned). So, I figure I need to wear a sign.
I wasn’t an overweight child or teenager. But, since adulthood, I’ve grown chubby. Sometimes, I’m really fat. Morbidly Obese, the medical charts say. Morbid, oh yes indeedy, that’s how I have felt.
Even at my fittest and most cake-less, I have flab under my arms and my chin. I’m tall and I take up considerable space. My belly sticks out and I have a very pronounced bottom. Obvious also, to anyone who has worked with or befriended me for over a decade, I have a difficult relationship with food. Sadly, I think it’s the dominating relationship of my life and it makes my weight oscillate visibly and dramatically. Some years, I’m up by 80-100 pounds. Other years, I’m down by the same amount.
At both ends of that deserving or not deserving cake spectrum, I don’t look like someone who sweats through cardio and weight training and biking and running and metabolic resistance and blah, blah, blah exercises for an hour, most days, every week. Because exercise-surely regular exercise–makes you healthy.
But, I don’t always look healthy. I don’t look like a regular exerciser.
For a Capital P-People-Pleaser like me, that really hurts.
You see, I have been programmed–by family, by society, by myself–to equate (low) weight with worth. And not only that, but I am continuously getting bombarded with the message that (low) weight equals health.
Famous people have commented about the maximum size of a woman’s waist being important for health and that to put a plus-size model on the cover of a magazine, as Sports Illustrated did recently, is to “glorify” obesity and ignore its health consequences. There is, in this commentary on women’s “health”, however, no mention of a minimum size of a woman’s waist or the very life-threatening consequences of anorexia that comes from glorifying women (or y’know, any humans) who weigh far too little. Yet, we have done that without any mention of “health” for decades.
I find this oversight interesting. (And when, I am interested, I feel I deserve cake.)
But, not yet.
First, I keep exercising. I keep losing and gaining dramatic amounts of weight. I want to deserve the piece of cake. I want to be healthy. No, actually, I want to LOOK like someone who others think is healthy. Because, that’s what seems to count when I’m eating the cake at a wedding.
Sometimes, I admit to getting discouraged. I stop the exercise for a while. “Why bother?” I fume, “You don’t get credit for exercising, by yourself, where no one can see you or compliment your race time. What matters is what you weigh.”
I gnash my teeth and I forget How Far I’ve Come.
When I can muffle the nasty voices in my head (and those of rude wedding guests), I am surprised to realize that How Far I’ve Come with exercise is not about what I weigh anymore.
How Far I’ve Come is that in recent years, I have started to motivate myself to exercise with different goals than weight loss or a feeling that I need to earn my cake. I have a chronic fainting syndrome for which I take daily medication and modify my lifestyle (no alcohol, caffeine, late nights or excitement–surely, I deserve cake!) With my extremely low blood pressure and heart rate, I look like a super athlete on paper.
Famous TV doctors would be so pleased.
But, they wouldn’t declare me “healthy” because I have trouble dieting as it tends to make me faint. And modern-day-defined-by-media-sound-bytes health is apparently not about all the risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, it is apparently only about weight. Weight trumps ALL. And, I’m not thin. I’m just naturally zombie-like with blue fingernails and a tendency to swoon. The walking half-dead, as it were.
So, lose weight, I must.
I’m very good at it. I hope you’ll agree that 80+ pounds lost is an impressive achievement. Especially when it’s been accomplished several times. Exercise has made me dramatically thinner sometimes. But, so many pounds lost has also sometimes made me forget How Far I’ve Come.
In the beginning, being a fainter made exercise really scary because when my heart started beating really fast and the pulse pounded in my ears, it felt alarmingly similar to what happens just before I skid, unconscious, across my bedroom carpet on my face and end up with an oozing forehead abrasion the size of a cookie (mmmm: cookies.) But, Practical Man (who cleans up the mess that is me and the carpet in the middle of the night) and I believe that exercising actually increases my tolerance against fainting. We think it helps my cardiac and nervous systems get used to being pushed and they learn not to react quite so dramatically at the slightest assault.
I faint far less frequently than I used to. I am healthier–even when my bum won’t always fit into the XL pants.
But, I continue to ignore How Far I’m Come re exercise when I forget that I have adapted exercise in recent years to help me cope with chronic vertigo (a sensation that the room is spinning very rapidly around me). I have to be very careful how I hold my head or move my eyes. I can’t do most yoga poses. I sleep sitting partially up and elbow Practical Man in the forehead when I roll my eyes the wrong way during a dream and everything spins violently. I can’t let my body escape completely in dance, in the ways that I used to. My balance problems have reached a place that I can’t walk quietly around my neighbourhood with a friend, without sweating profusely and feeling as if I have just disembarked from a boat on rocky seas. But, I’ve learned to exercise despite my fear of triggering an intense spinning episode that can last weeks or even months.
I can do it, even though I have to be careful. In this way, exercise has made me braver, which I think is healthier–whether or not my maximum waist size meets a former super model’s approval.
I’m also minimizing How Far I’ve Come with exercise when I overlook that nowadays, I exercise to reduce the chronic pain I have when I move my left eye. I take medications and vitamins and see specialists to try to solve the mystery of what causes only one of my eyes to hurt with every glance and feel as if it’s boring its way into my brain. The working theories so far have been serious and even life-threatening possibilities. But, I have learned that exercising produces endorphins that give me a few minutes or half an hour of all-natural pain relief. I can look around “recklessly” without it hurting for a while.
Such a blessing that I never knew exercise could give. I thought it was all about making me allowed to eat cake but, no. Exercise makes me happier to live for a while without pain and healthier–even though I still have double chins.
Most of all, I realize How Far I’ve Come because even when my thighs rub together with every kilometre I clock, exercising makes me feel strong. Even without losing a pound or an inch, the deep breathing and physical release is a boost to my mental health. It reminds me that even though I am a fainting, spinning, eyeball aching sicko, I am also brave, strong and capable of valuing myself for more than my size.
Yep, I had a birthday last week and there are so many interesting things to do and contribute and learn in life. I am dealing with–and may be facing more-chronic or serious illness. And, with all my health issues — with all that doesn’t work in my body, with all that I continue to try, I want to appreciate my body for what it lets me do, not what shape it has.
So, keep your pursed lips and disapproving eyes to yourself, rude wedding lady. Ditto to you famous people commenting on things under the dubious label of “health“.
But, staying in that, ahem, healthy head space–where I can believe that I deserve to have my cake and eat it like everyone else–will continue to be difficult.
We live in a world where instead of worrying about how our bodies are FUNCTIONING and CONTRIBUTING and LOVING, we are bombarded with messages that tell us that the only thing that really counts is how our bodies are LOOKING and MEASURING and WEIGHING.
Because if we don’t focus on the LOOKING and MEASURING and WEIGHING – well, then, we’re obviously not healthy.
And since health is something that apparently can be measured simply by glancing at someone, that means that anyone can–ahem–weigh in on our right to cake, or to be on the cover of a magazine.
I say that’s a sign that needs changing.