Sunday, June 21, 2015

Let's Hear It for Forced Holidays

I hate Father's Day. Mother's Day too, for that matter. And while we're at it, Valentine's and the seldom noticed Grandparent's Day (and Best Friends Day etc.).

These made up celebrations of love and thanks are just that, contrived as a way to tweak the heartstrings and pull a few dollars from our wallets for cards, meals, and gifts.

The reality is not everyone has these people in their life to celebrate, or people in those roles who are worth celebrating.

Not every father or mother receives a gift, card or even a phone call. Sometimes it's because the child doesn't feel the emotions that drive that gesture. Sometimes it's because the child isn't alive any more.

Mother's Day this year was probably the hardest holiday for me since Ethan died.

It was partially because I was at my third Mother's Day without him and I expected it would be easier, but in reality, it wasn't. Two years earlier, he had been slated to join the family at church and for dinner, but instead he chose to begin using drugs again at about that time. There was some vague talk of girls showing up at his apartment. I doubt they ever arrived and that was just the excuse he needed to start using again. Last year everyone warned me it would be tough, so I guess I braced myself. Even though he'd only been dead five months, it wasn't quite so bad. This year was awful.

So now it's the flip side of that coin, Father's Day when I mourn for my son and the men who could have played that role in his life. Not on their behalf, but his. I also mourn the father he wanted to be and the children he never had.

The man I chose for my first husband and father of my children turned out be a lousy provider, an unbearable partner, and a deadbeat dad. He paid very little child support, and completely disappeared from the lives of his children when I remarried. When Ethan reached the age that he wanted to reconnect, I didn't worry about the money and did my best to ease that effort. But his calls to his "father" didn't result in time or visits, just heartbreak. Even as a young man he continued to try and met the same emotionless response.

The man didn't even show up for his son's funeral and has probably never been to his grave. He never knew the wonderful young man who died and I doubt he has the good sense to mourn his loss. He's never seen his youngest granddaughter and probably never will, as his daughter has wrote him out of her life as well.

There were others who could have stepped into the role, men who had known my son all his life and who he might have been comfortable turning to: my childless brother, my father, my grandpa.

My grandpa lost my grandma, and much of his drive, and then died at the time when Ethan began really needing a man around. He would have been such a good person to turn to, because somehow he and my grandmother were both able to reach across a lot of generational gaps with advice that was sometimes tough but because of who they were still loving.

At the same time, I sometimes wonder if men don't choose to remain childless out of a fear that they will turn into their fathers and don't wish to inflict that on another child. My brother didn't try to be a role model. My father spent a lot of time with Ethan as an adult, but in many ways it was the same quality as the time he spent with me (belittling, judgmental and lacking in love, kindness or support).

My husband came along too late in Ethan's life and they were never really able to connect across the storms known as puberty that were already shaking my son's identity.

Instead Ethan chose as a male role model the father of a close friend who would turn a blind eye to their youthful exploits and allow him to hang out as much as he wanted. That freedom made him leave home at 16 -- a difficult age in North Carolina where children are considered legally adults in many aspects and he felt entitled to make his own decisions. When he came home a few months later to finish high school, I'd already lost him completely to the addiction that eventually consumed his life.

So I have a personal grievance against Father's Day. Painful memories of Mother's Day. Enough lonely Valentine's Days to sour me on the date, and think Grandparent's Day is a total effort to get bucks without any merit. (Best Friend's Day, well, make me choose one why don't you?).

At the same time, if you're blessed to want to celebrate any of these holidays, chances are you really don't need to.

If those relationships (fathers, mothers, sweethearts, friends or grandparents) are worthy of celebration, then there are regular calls, visits and shared meals, and there's no need for the commercial gimmicks that drive the "holiday."

Personally, if they all disappeared from the calendar, I wouldn't mind. Any relationship that deserves the notice of the day isn't made stronger by having it, or made any more special by the dollars spent commemorating it. And every commercial, card and comment only drives pain into the hearts of those who, for whatever reason, don't have it: the fathers and mothers without children, the children without parents, the brokenhearted without those they love.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

It's not too late for reinvention

The other day I looked In the mirror and saw Holly Hunter.

Well almost.

Years ago when Holly Hunter played a tough as nails but faith challenged, hard-living detective on "Saving Grace," I fell in live with her physique. I loved her wild blonde hair not terribly unlike my own and I longed to have her ripped yet skinny arms and legs, her slender torso where ribs and vertebra were prominent.

She defined the somehow scrawny but fit woman I would like to be.

I read that her appearance was often what resulted when more mature women went for more muscle and weight loss. Some combination of diet, workout and getting older creates that sculpted pared down appearance. I liked it, but I never dreamed I would have it.

Yet I looked in the mirror the other day and there she was. I was so excited I had to tell my husband. "Look I have Holly Hunter's arms!" He feigned understanding so of course I had to explain the whole background.

If I could have dreamed a new body, that's the body I would have dreamed.

The fact that I dug it out of the cocoon of more than a year of comfort eating made it doubly surprising.

Before my 23-year-old son died, I was at my most fit point. When I got the call informing me that he'd been found dead, I was logging five miles on the exercise bike that I'm not sure I ever rode again. Instead I allowed myself to find comfort in food, or alcohol. I couldn't make myself do solitary exercising like walking for miles. Even though I still made it to the dance studio for Zumba and Piyo, I slowly added the pounds back on. I wasn't overweight, but my favorite clothes were getting too tight.

Earlier this year I had to decide whether to invest in bigger clothes or get back in shape. I had purchase Piyo from Beachbody last summer when my class was canceled, but I'd never committed to it like I did the live class. Still, the free coach who came along with it was the person I contacted when I decided I needed something more. Thanks to social media, she was well acquainted with my lifestyle and recommended 21 Day Fix Extreme.

I told her the workouts looked pretty "kick ass" and she told me she thought that despite my status as a three-time grandmother I could handle it.

I didn't expect a transformation, but that's what I got.

I stuck with the program, which did kick ass, for three weeks despite falling asleep on the sofa an hour early and having to miss my weekly Zumba fix because my sore legs couldn't handle extra exercise. I gave up cream in my coffee, wine to help me sleep, and bread. I persevered even though I couldn't really see a difference and neither the scale nor the tape measure were arguing with me.

Then I finished, but in three weeks I'd learned a new way of eating. I'd thought for a long time that I was not eating the right amounts of foods and probably chronically undereating. I decided to keep following the eating plan, even though I gave the exercises a rest.

The pounds seemingly melted away, burned by the muscle my coach had assured me I was building during the workouts. My favorite clothes fit, then got too big. I finally had to buy new clothes anyway, but several sizes smaller than what I'd been wearing. I've gone back to enjoying a few favorites on the weekends -- wine and a burger, perhaps some dessert -- but I know that I've changed forever the way I eat. It's been four months now and I have no desire to return to the person I was a year ago, or even six months ago.

I don't keep the same exercise routine, but I've done the entire "Fix" twice and I'm working on a third time, looking for muscle not weight loss now. And I'm able to combine it with dog walking, playing in the pool, or my weekly Zumba fix without keeling over from exhaustion.

I've become so passionate about the program and what it did for me that I've signed up as a Beachbody coach myself. I'm also considering training to teach the program that first got me into Beachbody, Piyo, which I still love, but mostly as a live class that I cannot find locally.

Although the program can involve making money if you're really good at it, it's not about that to me. It's about looking around me at friends who don't feel good or don't like the way they look and realizing that it really can be as simple as a short commitment that changes the way you live. You can do it when you're 20, 30, 40, or even in your 50s. (That's as far as my own experience can take me.) I wish I'd done it sooner. I wish I'd known what to do.

I want other people to find the person they'd like to see in the mirror. Whether it's Holly Hunter, or someone else entirely.

And most of all I want them to see that the face smiling back at them is their own.