Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The sins of the fathers

My kid started playing football this season. He's 8.

He wanted to play last year, but I was concerned about him getting hurt, or getting yelled at by overzealous coaches. We have stuck with baseball for the past 3 years, so I was oblivious to the huge differences between little league baseball and pee wee football.

Namely, making weight.

Unfortunately, my kids were saddled with 2 fat parents. Now, there's lots of speculation in the medical community about whether obesity is genetic (i.e. thyroid problem) or environmental (i.e. one too many trips to Stevie B's with your fat parents). Most think it's a little from Column A, and a little from Column B (with three you get eggroll.)

All this to say . . . I had never encountered a weigh-in at the baseball field. Actually, his size was sort of celebrated, since he loves playing catcher and has NO fear of the baseball.

Come to think of it, his size has ALWAYS been celebrated. The day he was born, the nurses cooed and squealed over him at the hospital.

All 10 pounds of him.

From the moment he was big enough to sit upright in a shopping cart and peacefully eat Cheerios while I shopped, grown men have approached me in Target and Walmart on a nearly weekly basis to comment, "You're gonna let that boy play football, aren't you?" followed by a hair tussle and questions about his weight, his height, how tall he might end up ("how big's his daddy?"), whether or not I would consider aiming him toward the Univ. of GA (I've always had my heart set on Ga Tech) and admiring glances at the size of his feet and how much older he looks than he is.

When he was a toddler, we would frequent a chinese buffet (what a shock) where the waitresses would literally whisk him away from me and take him INTO the kitchen to "visit" the cooks and staff there, because they were so enamored of his size, and his blue eyes, and his fair skin and his white blonde hair. "He is VERY lucky! YOU are very lucky!" they would tell me in broken English. Apparently, large boys are just about the best thing you can ever have, where they come from.

No one ever said, "Wow. He's too big," or "Uh oh, that's going to be a problem." Until now.

It was quite the blow to have the football coach lead my littlest giant to a dusty equipment shed and have him step on a rusty old scale and announce, "He's 20 pounds over the weight limit for this team."

What?! What do you mean? Aren't football players SUPPOSED to be big?

There he stood, red and breathless from 2 hours of sweaty practice, being told that he's too big to play. And there I stood, feeling like I had led my kid to this moment, one bite at a time.

Yeah, that turned out to be a pretty rough night all the way around. When you see your frailties and weaknesses visited upon your children, it's impossible not to feel guilty. I played the blame game most of that evening and into the wee hours of the night.

I was fat when I had him. I've raised him to be fat like me. It's my fault.

His dad is fat and wasn't active enough with him. It's his fault.

Our parents allowed us to get fat when we were kids. This is THEIR fault.

Which means if parents are to blame, it's back to being MY fault again.

But in the midst of all the self-abuse, I had such an overwhelming sense of pride for him. He had slogged through the hottest, sweatiest, hardest 2 hours of his life for 3 days before we were told the news, and when we WERE told the news, he said "I want to play."

Just like that. He didn't give up. He wanted to play.

I was adamant that there was NO WAY that my kid was going to drop 20 lbs in time to play football this year, and I was ready to turn in his football equipment until I learned it was possible for him to "play up" to the 9 year old team. Their weight limits were slightly higher.

But he was still 10 lbs. over.

Last week, he slogged through furnace-like temperatures, and walked laps when the others ran, holding his side but never quitting. He dragged himself through the drills, carrying the equivalent of a 20 lb bowling ball while the others sprinted past him, with seeming effortlessness while he struggled.

It's the hardest thing I've ever endured in my life. It was like he was paying penance out on that field for all of my sins.

"The sins of the father will be visited upon the children . . ."

It was all I could do not to break down and cry right there, in front of the parents and the other kids and my fiance and my ex who were all encouraging him to hang in there as he doggedly struggled to do the coach's bidding, over and over and over.

I felt like such a failure, despite the fact that I've now lost over 100 pounds. It's been a source of great pride for me AND my kids. They have been there the whole time for me, waiting at the hospital through my surgery, and worrying about me during my recovery, and watching me through mostly good days and a few really bad days as I struggled to keep food down or regain my strength. Now, it just seems self-indulgent to even celebrate that now, now that I see my kid trying to tread water with the same anvil tied around his neck that I managed to free myself of.

I felt helpless. And guilty. Really guilty. I didn't know what I could do to help him, but I couldn't just sit there and watch him struggle, so I got up, and left the stands and went down to the track to show some solidarity. I vowed to walk the track while he practiced. The first night, I was barely able to make two laps. By the end of last week, I finished 4 laps, and he had finished 5 days of grueling, humiliating, sweaty practice in 90 degree weather.

Not surprisingly, by the end of last week, he was also ready to quit. He was sore, and tired, and his resolve was giving way to the unrelenting temptation to stop moving, that same inertia that held me captive when I was at my heaviest.

Through the weekend, I tried my very best to encourage him to hang in there.

We all did.

I told him how proud I was of him. I told him that I would be right there with him, walking that track and enduring the heat and cheering him on. He managed to suck up his courage and get back out there yesterday to endure another 2 hours of heat and humiliation and hard work.

He's still determined, despite the soreness. He's also lost 4 pounds, which makes me so proud of him and so sad that he has to deal with this at such a young age.

I thought about an episode of "Deadliest Catch" I saw recently, where a greenhorn that had been the sole survivor of a sinking fishing ship was describing what it was like to watch everyone around him freeze to death in the icy water. How seductive the urge to just stop moving was for him, how hard he had to fight to keep moving until he could be saved, and how easy it would have been to just . . . . stop, and allow death to take him, like it had the others.

Not to be overly dramatic, but obesity is like that, too. The heavier you get, the stronger the urge is to just stop moving, to just sit very still and allow yourself to be taken. I kept thinking about that guy when I looked at my son. It was like watching him drowning in the water below me while I was safely on deck.

I have to keep encouraging him to move, to keep trying, to hang in there. I can't let him stop. I have to keep him moving, despite the fact that the sea around him is riddled with the bloated corpses of those in our family that allowed themselves to be taken way too soon by the seduction of the inertia.

I'm not going to let that happen to him. I just won't. I'm still thankful every day that I managed to escape from that, but now it's time to save my kids.
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