Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Baby steps


I haven't had time to talk to my parents for two weeks, but I made sure to call them on Easter. When I asked my mom how my father was doing, she gave me a dissertation on his medication list and his latest symptoms.

But when I asked how she was doing, she only said two words: "I'm fat."

I sighed into the phone and wondered for not the first time if my mother would ever accept herself the way she is.

"I'm going to that reunion this weekend," Mom explained, "and I wish I looked better."

"Everyone will be too happy to see you," I said, "to notice if you've gained a few pounds."

"I wish I believed that," Mom said.

Then I decided to try a different approach.

"Do you think Sandy is fat?" I asked, referring to a good friend of hers who has a very average body for a woman in her late sixties—Sandy's body blossoms at her breasts and hips and thighs but nips in just enough to make her look womanly at her waist and calves. Sure, Sandy could lose twenty or thirty pounds, but she still looks attractive and relatively fit for a sextagenarian.

"No, I don't think Sandy's fat," my mother answered, clearly not seeing where I was going with this line of questioning.

"Mom," I said, "Do you know that Sandy has the same body you do?"

"She does?" Mom said, clearly skeptical.

"Yes, she does. Almost exactly the same. And when you see Sandy, you don't see the little bit of padding around her hips. You just see her smile. Because every time Sandy walks in the room, the first thing she does is smile and say how happy she is to see you. And that's what you're like. You're too positive and happy for anyone to have time to examine your body. The people you see this weekend won't notice any tiny little flaw. They'll notice your enthusiasm for life."

I've had this conversation with my mother before without any luck, so I fully expected her to balk, to say that she didn't agree, to talk about needing a dress that would hide her arms. This is a woman we lovingly call "Contrary Penny" because she so likes to disagree with almost everything I say.

So I can't tell you how surprised I was when she said this: "I'm so glad you said that, Molly. Now I feel so much better."

And out of nowhere, there is progress. At long last.

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