Friday, May 3, 2013

"My Tummy Sits On My Thighs Like A Lumpy Toddler With No Soul"

"My stomach sits on my thighs like a lumpy toddler with no soul."  

I first wrote that sentence in an email to a friend the year I landed my first teaching job, roughly 18 months after my mother died. 

My lower tummy-inflation was novel and gave fresh meaning to the term ‘frontal lobe’.  I’d turn quickly and snap short women in the head with this appendage I’d never before had to navigate.

I won't say I was exactly ‘thin’ in the many months prior to my mother's passing. But I was very “busy” then and had little time to think about anything cookie or ice-cream related. In fact, during several intense funerary-arranging days, I subsisted largely on probate forms, attorney fees and coffee, which didn’t improve during the six months it took to settle the estate.

I conceded I was down fifteen pounds by the time I sold her house to a Mafioso-style family who, one day, simply took occupancy of it, painted the interior, stripped the roof of its shingles, began re-roofing, and cut down several trees … before there was a purchase and sales agreement. In fact, to acquire access to the inside of the house, they had jimmied the back-porch door.

“Boy these are motivated buyers!" I reassured anyone willing to listen, then off I went to lick a Rolaid wrapper, full of the electrolytes stressed women need.

These are the occasions for which chewable vitamin necklaces and Gatorade are made.

I would not earn my paunch-based frontal-lobe until well after the year 2000, after completing a graduate program in education, then acquiring my teaching license.

After three months working at an alternative behavioral site, teaching post-adjudicated children, I was forced to confront what looked like stillborn ballistic gel that implanted itself under my navel. I say "forced to confront" ...  because there it was, squeezed beneath my keyboard where I was building worksheets, stressing both quad muscles until they started to twitch.

You know how cows twitch their tails to keep mosquitoes away?  My thighs were trying to ‘twitch off’ my gut.

In nary a single education class had anyone warned me that schools inflate teacher-waist lines. Although it’s not the schools as systems that do this. It is the parents of the students who go there.

They love to love us pretty much each day, endowing us with endless gastronomical graft.

 Teachers become sadly adept at lying to ourselves. “Why, LOOK at all the work Mrs. Hoffnagel went to, to prepare these treats for us. This could very well be the day I learn I have been accepted to NASA’s training program and I might never eat another warm, home-made fudge frosted cupcake again. It would be rude not to have nine.“

As it turned out, my school didn’t have parents because, sadly, neither did our student body.

What this site did have was vocational training. The one responsible for my soul-less frontal lobe was, of course, Culinary Arts. Specifically, their infamous Phat Fridays.  Each week, our students collaborated to manifest some of the most original cookie designs ever.  These children were visionaries: Macadamia and Mocha Drizzle.  Oatmeal Scotchies with Glazed Kilt.  Sugar Cookies With Nothing Else.

 I was in my early 40s and thought I could still eat whatever I wanted, but my metabolism had other plans.  So after enjoying Phat Fridays to bolster the self-esteems of our society’s most fragile youth, there in my lap by Thanksgiving Day rested an unmistakable wobble-paunch, which had grown and evolved, not unlike organic curriculum.

In all its resplendence, there it sat: a wad that looked like a still-shot of a rolling ocean wave.  

In short order I embarked upon the more stringent Atkins diet (it is much more user-friendly today). If you are following my blog, which most of you aren’t, you would know that I have a very rapid-weight loss experience on Atkins for reasons I have been advised not to re-write publicly.

Weight comes, and weight goes. 

And in the last 8 months since my husband’s diagnosis with a plasma-cell disorder called multiple myeloma, I decided to respond to this health challenge with exercise, diet, a clear head.  Limited alcohol, no diving into entire cakes.  I used jogs, skiing, elliptical machines to release endorphins so I could rationally research treatments and clinical trials best suited to his needs.  

My weight was wonderful! 

But I ended up dragging stress-symptoms -- albeit fat-free -- to my physician.  She is enormously talented and a non-hysteric: things I admire as, when it comes to health-crises, I have lots of neither.  In fact, having done exhaustive research on my own symptoms, I was reassured to learn I likely had systemic lupus aggravated by multiple sclerosis with a touch of brain tumor, all confounding an underlying and undiagnosed diabetic pre-coma.

The thing about hypochondria is that, when all other diagnoses fail you, at least you’ve got that.

My doctor ruled all of those things out and came back at me with a diagnosis of Stress. I left with a new diet and exercise regimen and a list of vitamins, largely to reduce my blood pressure but to additionally quiet my busy thoughts. I had to return in a couple of weeks for a re-check of my blood pressure.

Between my first visit where I presented my doctor with stress symptoms and my blood pressure re-check, my doctor’s digital-scale informed me I had gained 8 pounds.

“Eight pounds in 13 days?" gawked the digital scale technician. "Maybe we should check your kidneys."  They checked my ankles to make sure they weren’t swollen, listened to my heart to see if it was beating.

“What are you checking for?  Congestive heart failure?  End-organ failure from undiagnosed diabetes? AM I EVEN ALIVE?” none of which boded well for my high blood pressure.

Meanwhile, my rational doctor simply asked, "Have you changed ... your EATING habits?"

"Well ... if by that you mean ... being forced to engage in three wine and vodka intensive ‘special memories’ then, yes. I threw one bridal shower then threw myself two follow-up pity parties. The post-festivus stomach acid didn’t exactly allow me to stick to my salad with chicken diet plan."

"What kinds of things would you say you've eaten that were different -- besides wine and vodka -- in 13 days?"

"Umm... a little bread. The kind they wrap around double cheese burgers.  A vat of home-made macaroni and cheese.  One loaf of breakfast toast, a box of Italian cookies."

"What about exercise?"

"Exer - who?"

"I see. Let’s give you this NEW prescription to get your anxiety AND blood pressure down, and get you back on a treadmill and out of cookie and wine boxes.”

"Elliptical and bottles."


"Elliptical, not a tread mill. And I don't drink wine out of boxes."

"Well you don't drink wine 'Any More' -- your prescriptions will be at CVS in an hour.  You could take a nice WALK there."

"It's four MILES from here!"


Now that my tummy toddler is back, I have to say it is a comfort!  It reminds me of 13 glorious years of full-time teaching which I very much miss, in my rare spare moments. 

With my new blood pressure reducing medication, I feel very calm about my enjoyment of the occasional rice cracker and gallon of rocky road.

My fitting for the Mother of the Groom dress comes up on May 11th, but if I pop a blood pressure pill, within an hour I can calmly note to myself that the color ‘teal’  rhymes with ‘conceal’ and ‘keeps it real.’

By the time all of my children are married and have kids of their own, this long-loved lap-land will be amply ready to accommodate several beautiful grandbabies, so I am wasting not another nanosecond worrying about my resplendent ocean wave.  A thing of beauty is a joy forever.  Pass the Oreos, please.