Sunday, September 9, 2012

Becoming Our Mothers

My grandmother is a very large person. For all the years I've known her, she's been big, and to the best of my knowledge (my little-kid memory not being reliable) she has at points gotten bigger. Several years ago she was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. A few years after that, I learned that she had trouble moving. She and my grandfather had a personal trainer come to try to help them, but they did very little exercise and had trouble just getting around the house sometimes. A couple of years ago, she fell very ill, and subsequently she and my grandfather moved into an assisted living facility. She needs more help than he does - these days she's in a wheelchair.

I have a memory of being very young, probably no more than six or seven, and telling my grandma that I loved her because she was so soft. When I was small enough, I could crawl into her lap and she was like a big, warm pillow, and I loved that about her.

But for as long as I can really remember, my mother has been terrified of becoming my grandmother. I remember her mentioning that as a driving force behind her big weight-loss push. She wasn't going to end up sedentary and fat and sick like her mother. She was going to get healthy, she was going to lose weight, and those things were synonymous. I can't say for sure, I'm not in my mom's head, but I sometimes get the distinct impression that she was embarrassed just to be seen with my grandmother out in public, with her walker and her difficulties. She gave her mom the space and time and accommodations she needed, of course, but I have this lingering feeling that it was unwillingly, grudgingly, maybe even with a hint of disgust.

Well, she doesn't seem likely to grow up to be my grandmother. She's a success story - the day she reached her Weight Watcher's goal, she tattooed their symbol on her wrist, and she's sure that she'll never regain. I hope for her sake that she's right.

But I noticed something the last time I saw my grandmother in person. She's not well, certainly. She has diabetes, she has trouble moving. But she's not THAT fat, not like I remembered. She's shorter, but not really appreciably fatter than many of my friends, who may not be the single fittest people in the world but don't have her mobility issues. She isn't the cartoonish, balloonish kind of fat that I think my mother imagines. And though I don't know any of the real details of her sicknesses, I get the feeling that she would have the same issues if she were lighter. I know that the diabetes runs in the family, since my grandmother's father had it.

Meanwhile, I'm looking at my mom. I think about the strict food policing, what's acceptable to eat when, and god forbid you be hungry for something substantial after the time for meals has passed. I think about the justifications, the way she seems to make sure to mention her running to the waiter when she orders; the steamed chicken with steamed vegetables and no sauce she orders when we get Chinese food; the time she called the manufacturer to get the calorie count on a single chocolate Santa Claus before she could eat it; the way my eyes opened when I realized water was better for me than the diet soda I'd been taught to drink, and that the occasional glass of orange juice or full-fat milk could be healthier than diet coke, too.

I'm afraid of becoming my mother. I want to be healthy (even if I balk at the work I still have to do, to really learn about nutrition, learn how to shop, make time to exercise). I'd still be very happy to lose weight even, if it happened as part of getting healthier. But I'm so afraid that if I make it a goal, I'll turn into her. I'll have to keep perfect track of everything, I'll obsess and make poor  choices and ignore my mental health. I've had better role-models for healthy eating, intuitive or planned, but the first model of how to diet I had was my mom, and I'm afraid of slipping back to it.

I wonder how much of any of our fears has to do with weight and health specifically, or whether people in general just never want to be their parents. But either way, this is the issue that I've inherited.

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