Awareness. (Or, Pot, Meet Kettle)

31-365: Name calling

I remember the first time I walked into my bariatric surgery support group, well before I had decided to have the surgery. Mr. Stuck and I were there on a ‘fact-finding mission’ and weren’t sure what to expect. We had previously gone to a seminar or two, where you sit among other prospective WLS patients in a chilly hospital meeting room stocked with bottles of tepid water and an overhead projector and listen to doctors and post-ops for an hour. While those seminars do provide a lot of information, it’s almost too much at that point – you don’t even know what questions to ask. But the support group is different in that they want you to engage with the other members and hear their stories.

I confess that one of my first impressions was of a post-op lady who seemed to want to monopolize the dialogue. Everything was about her. Right off the bat, that annoyed me, and as I sat and watched her talk, I found I was paying more attention to what she looked like than what she said. I remember thinking that her clothing was too tight; she looked like a sausage with a belt on. I wondered why she would choose to wear something so unflattering, especially after (I assumed) a significant weight loss. Although I knew nothing about her, I allowed my mind to wander a bit, and I decided that maybe she just didn’t know how to find clothing that was better suited to her shape, or maybe she didn’t have a realistic view of herself when she looked in the mirror. (How very judgmental of me.)

Fast forward to here and now and find me smack-dab in that same situation. I have lost a significant amount of weight, but I still have more to go. I pass a mirror and stop to look at the slimmer me, and I see the newly flat-as-a-pancake bustline, flabby midsection, and saggy arms. I turn to the side and see my droopy butt and poochy belly. And I see that same sausage shape that I noticed that first night at the support group.

ACK!

So I apologize for thinking those things about that lady (who, by the way, has not attended the group in a very long time), because I am standing squarely in her shoes, and I had no business judging her in the first place.

For one, when you lose a lot of weight, your shape is very different. It’s different from what it was when you were obese, obviously, but it’s also different from the shape you may remember having before you were obese. In my case, I always had a tree-trunk shape, with no real waist definition or curves. That’s still my shape. But now I also have to contend with the excess skin and loose flesh that is left after the pounds come off. I’m left with what looks like a post-partum belly. That makes it tougher to find clothes that fit correctly, because if the waist fits, the butt is too big; if the butt fits, the waist is uncomfortably snug. I find myself wanting to hide under baggy clothes once again, just to conceal the muffin top. More sit-ups!

Something else that didn’t occur to me before it happened to me (isn’t that so often the case, anyway?) is that after surgery, things are different on the inside. A bypass actually re-routes your stomach and intestines, while a sleeve removes the major portion of your stomach. These are big changes that cause other organs and tissue to move around and readjust, too, and it is common to feel little reminders of the rearrangement from time to time. Does this contribute to my different shape? Sure. The muscles that hold everything in that area have been stretched like the skin has been stretched, and it all takes time for these things to find their new happy places.

I should be happy and grateful that my new shape is smaller and healthier than it was, instead of complaining that it isn’t what I want it to be. I should be thankful that I no longer have to wear ‘plus-sized’ clothes and I can fit in a restaurant booth and a seatbelt. I should celebrate that I have so many more choices and opportunities as a normal-sized person. Don’t get me wrong – I am thankful and glad for all of those things.

Wrapping your head around your changing shape is hard. Changing the way you see yourself (and others, too) is even harder. I know I don’t have a realistic view of myself when I look in the mirror, and I am still learning how to dress my altered shape, but I keep telling myself these things take time.

Meanwhile, and rightly so, I’m calling myself out for judging a stranger in the same manner that I have been judged (and have judged myself) — for something as minor as appearance. Every time I have to stuff my marshmallowy torso into my best-fitting pants, I remember that.

Kettle, it’s nice to meet you. Sincerely, Pot.

(Lucky for me, Mr. Stuck says he loves pancakes and sausage. 😉 )

 

 

photo credits Rina Pitucci  and trixie

A Patchwork of Memories.

quilt
Memory quilt

5/21 Daily Post: Bittersweet Memories.
You receive a gift that is bittersweet and makes you nostalgic. What is it?

The monumental task of clearing out my parents’ home after their deaths was made even more difficult by the tragic circumstances under which we’d lost them.  Nothing was normal about it, and every little normal thing in the house just reinforced that.  What to do with the contents of a house that grew from small to huge as the family itself grew large?  Where do you start, in a house where most of their 55-year marriage was nurtured and against which all of our childhoods were staged?  We did our best to evenly distribute the “things,” the mementoes of youth, the heirlooms, the books, the spoons.

When it came to their bedroom, it was another matter.  Here was the heart of the house.  Here is where the window stayed open, even on the coldest nights; here is where the ‘workin’ things’ that resided in my Pa’s pockets would tumble onto the nightstand: washers; marbles; screws and nuts of various sizes; a bit of string or wire; a fuse; a flashlight bulb; a butterscotch candy; a hose clamp; a wire nut; some coins (he always jingled the coins in his pocket); and maybe a broken piece of something he intended to repair.  Here were Mother’s ubiquitous safety pins and headscarves and the jewelry she seldom wore.

My parents’ bedroom was normally off-limits when I was a child; without express permission from one or the other, I had no business in there.  I am glad that my parents taught us to respect their privacy; we kids always knew that while we were loved and important to them, they put one another first.  A happy marriage makes for a happy family.

It was difficult to dismantle that room, probably more so than any other part of the house.  Aside from the closets and dressers filled with clothing they no longer wore, there were memories stashed everywhere — everywhere: Birthday cards.  Letters.  Dad’s WWII memorabilia.  Photographs.  Reminders of the early days of their marriage and family, when money was tight and they scraped to get by.  Gifts that we kids had proudly made for them; baby clothes; items that they had kept from when their own parents passed away.  Each drawer, box, and bag spilled more memories.

When we got to the clothing, we knew that most of it would be donated to charity; however, there were a few things we wanted to keep that were meaningful to us.  Those of us who could wear Mother’s lovely wool coat or her favorite blouse were able to choose those things.  There were plenty of Dad’s heavy, plaid flannel shirts to go around.  The clothing with tears or stains that was not going to be given away we set aside for the rag bag.

One of our cousins, who was very close to our family and our parents, is a very talented seamstress.  With great love for our family, she offered us a priceless gift: she would make each of us a quilt from our parents’ and sister’s clothing.  If we would select the items and cut the squares, she would help us lay out the pattern and she would do the piecework, with custom embroidery.  We would select the fabrics for the backing and the binding; a friend of hers would do the quilting.

IMG_20130521_210717_361
windmill pattern

Each quilt (she made SIX of them!) was crafted with loving care.  We chose our preferred fabrics and colors and cut the pieces.  She helped us lay them out, and she pieced them together.  There were scraps of Dad’s work jeans; mom’s aprons; the daisy-printed sheets we all remembered; my sister’s blouses; a red handkerchief here; and a tee-shirt there; all affectionately combined to make a quilt that would warm our bones and our hearts.

The relationships we had with our family reflected in the items we selected to use.  Each quilt is an original; none looks like any other.  Each quilt mirrors its owner and honors its subjects.  Each is embroidered with a brief note of provenance: my cousin’s name, the date, why it was made, and for whom.  She made us promise to use the quilts, not box them up and leave them in a closet.

I have kept my promise.  Mine is no longer stiff and new; it is soft and shows wear on some of the seams.  Some of the squares were made with fabric that was thin to begin with, and those have now worn through, showing the backing behind.  I sometimes look at each square and sigh as I remember Dad in his flannel shirt or Mom in her headscarf; I finger the fabrics deliberately as my mind wanders down that path.

This gift was truly the most heartfelt and bittersweet of anything I have ever been given.  At once it represents sorrow and joy; fun and work; and family and love.