Thursday, October 19, 2006

Breathing deep and treading water

So . . . hmm.

Last night, I took the kids to Johnny's NY Pizza to meet up with my uncle (my mother's brother) for dinner. He wanted all of us kids to gather there to talk with him about my parents, their (delapidated) house, their (dwindling) finances, etc.

We all gathered there, me and my kids, my sister and her family, one brother, his kids, and my uncle brought my mom. It's not often that we all gather together, and I can't remember the last time all 6 of my mom's grandkids were in one spot at the same time.

When the food starts to arrive (calzones, spaghetti, and pizza for most, Greek salad and some kind of low carb chicken wrap thingy for me, not bad), the conversation turns to me, and not in a good way.

"You know, you can cure that diabetes with deep breathing and lots of drinking water," Uncle announces to me and the rest of the table. He goes on in this vein, making me feel like, evidently, I have failed to care for myself properly, and with a few obvious changes that I should know, I could be restored to perfect health.

This, embarassingly enough, spins into a discussion about weight management there at the table, which feels strangely familiar to me. For whatever reason, my family has always felt free to discuss me in this way whenever we have gatherings; I can't ever remember it being any different. Being a fat girl in an normally-weighted family is no fun, trust me.

Sometimes the discussions start out on a good note ("Hey! You've lost weight!"), and sometimes they start with a confidential whisper ("Rita, you have to try this new diet that my best friend's mother's hairstylist found.) It's a strange thing to be dissected that way by people that are supposed to love you, but I figured that was just my penance for being a fat girl in a thin family.

He said some other stuff between bites of pizza that I wasn't really listening to, because I was thinking about when he would come to visit us when I was a little girl; he would produce a portable minibar out of the trunk of his Cadillac, and he would have a (nearly) permanent glass of some concoction or other in his hand for the entire visit. I always looked forward to his visits; he lived in Florida in a beautiful house with an indoor pool, played golf, had lots of money, and was always the life of the party. Very Rat Pack. Very charismatic. It dawned on me that even though I admired him, I never felt very good around him.

He was still lecturing when I started thinking closely about my mother's siblings. While he wasn't diabetic or heavy, he was an alcoholic. Ditto for one of my mother's sisters. Two of her brothers were diabetics (one also alcoholic), both ended up on dialysis, losing this or that limb as things progressed. Their offspring (my siblings and first cousins) are comprised of a fairly high percentage of regularly-weighted alcoholics and addicts (my oldest brother included in that count.) In the entire family, there really is only one other cousin that is heavy like me, and like me, he becomes the center and focus of most of the family's clucking and fingerpointing. He just had a quad bypass last month, and everyone down to a person seemed to openly blame him for his poor health, but never mentioned his brother, who has been a longtime addict and alcoholic. Interesting.

It didn't dawn on me then, but it was crystal clear to me last night, sitting in that pizza joint, picking at salad, and listening to a sermon: no one really ever discusses the rampant alcoholism, drug addiction and diabetes in my mother's family, but discussing weight is fair game.

I also realized that maybe my dad wasn't the only one in my family deep in denial. Taking a closer look, it might be the whole damn bunch.

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