Sunday, September 8, 2013

I'll never hang on him in public, but I'll write things like this.

I've never been terribly trusting of the nature of relationships whose virtues have to be extolled from rooftops. Like all of us, I'm at least somewhat a product of the environment in which I was raised, and in my family, couples historically just aren't syrupy-sweet and hanging on one another. The message I received growing up was that "real" relationships shouldn't have to be broadcast, and, right or wrong, I guess I've carried that over into my marriage.

But today, protocol be damned, I'm feeling the need to do a little broadcasting.

Kevin and I have been married a little over seven years. Both of us were married before and brought kids to the relationship, and each of us would be the first to tell you the ride hasn't been easy. No matter how much a person cares for his or her stepkids, the relationship is different from the one between a parent and his or her own children; your stepkids have been raised by people who aren't you, and the transition to functional, caring steppparent/stepchild relationship can be daunting. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.

I'm happy to report that we seem to be past all that now, and we have a pretty great family. But there have always been, and still are, other bumps: financial issues. Illness. Parents' deaths. Menopause and more than a touch of OCD (me) and efforts to quit smoking (him). But we've hung in there, and I'm pretty sure we still like each other.

And the last couple of days, cheesy as it sounds, I've been realizing just how lucky I am that my initial attraction to this person happened to turn into a relationship that makes me certain that if we're lucky enough to grow old, we'll be growing old together.

Oh, wow, you're thinking. What a boring blog post. But please bear with me, because Kevin deserves for you to read about him.

In March of this year, I announced to him one Friday that we needed to go out that weekend and eat our way through the greater metropolitan area, because I was planning to start Weight Watchers the following Monday. I'll spare you the details, but suffice it to say I was over 200 pounds at 5'5", and I was unhealthy and unhappy. I'd had enough.

As we ate our Chinese and Mexican and pastries that weekend, I proceeded to also tell him that as of Monday, he'd be on his own, food-wise. Now, anyone who knows me is aware that a warning that I'd no longer be cooking likely wouldn't be met with shrieks of dismay, but this was his response: "Whatever you need."

So, for six months, not only have I not participated in any sort of culinary activity for anyone but myself, but I've shopped for no one but myself. To a large degree, with the exception of my kids, I've thought of no one but myself. And he's complained exactly zero times.

This is the point of the post at which my friend Beth would ask, "Why did you feel you HAD to cook for him? Simply because you're a woman doesn't mean you should have been expected to cook." Exactly, and the way it actually worked was that we shared the shopping and cooking, and we also ate out several nights a week. So what I was doing, essentially, was saying, "My end of the bargain is done. Oh, and the whole eating-out thing, which I know you really enjoy? That's over, too, unless you take someone else."

I was presenting to him a real 180, then. And his only balk was worrying that my chicken breasts and green beans and Smart Ones dinners would take up the entire freezer. (And they haven't ... not the whole freezer, anyway.)

Let me step back and point out that this man never said a word about my gigantic weight gain in the first place ... never pointed out that being fat was clearly making me unhappy, and that my raiding the pantry in the middle of the night and eating two packages of Swiss Cake Rolls was somewhat troubling behavior.

Now, am I advocating that spouses berate one another for physical changes? Of course not, and I wouldn't be married to someone who behaved that way. But I didn't even sense concern or disapproval from him as my weight climbed and climbed. It was as if he was saying, "You're a grown, smart woman, and I trust your judgment, so you eat your Swiss Cake Rolls if you want to, and I'll do my thing over here."

Back to March, and every Monday since. Although he's probably sick to death of hearing about pounds lost and miles run or walked, when I get home from each meeting, he not only cheers me on, but finds someone to tell about my progress: his mom. One of the kids. A co-worker. And his comments aren't just of the "you look great" variety. He talks about being proud of my determination and my strength, and he tells me how glad he is that I'm healthy.

He also tells me -- not a small thing -- that the gross loose skin I'm left with is nothing compared to the years I've (hopefully) gained through taking control of my eating. Believe me, many parts of me are not attractive with 50-plus pounds gone. And again, not that I'd be married to someone superficial, but he goes the extra mile by telling me just why the Sharpei-like wrinkles on my neck don't gross him out.

I need to add some context to this love-fest. When I hit the 50-pound mark, some friends surprised me with balloons and a card. Kevin didn't do anything special, and as I was feeling especially hormonal and downright bitchy the next day, I made a nasty remark to him about having not acknowledged what I considered a giant milestone. I even had the audacity to complain to a friend about what I perceived as a lack of support on Kevin's part.

And then I thought about the fact that the guy is trying to quit smoking, so he's going through some struggles of his own. And I thought about all the restaurants he goes to with his kids -- not that he minds that; he loves it -- but that he goes just with his kids and without his wife, who's at home eating a Smart Ones dinner as she tries to work through her neuroses about eating food she can't track exactly.

And I thought about the ongoing support he provides me, in his non-flashy but consistent way. He doesn't bring me flowers, but he hugs me a few times a day, then exclaims about how much smaller I feel to him. "It's working," he'll say. And it's great to have that affirmation.

"For better or for worse," he said back in 2006. And since then, he's tried consistently to find the better in the worse, and the worse is often me. And I'll probably never be cuddly with him him public, so I'm being cuddly with him here. No funny, cute closing; I'm not even going to try. Just this:

Thanks, Kevin. I am grateful. And I hope you know how it means to have you around.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Psst, Samantha: Being that drunk isn't cute or enticing. Oh, and good luck getting a job.

I just finished reading about the University of Iowa student who is now being billed as the “drunkest girl ever.” And although I don’t advocate physical violence in any way, I’d really like to grab this girl by the shoulders and shake her.

If you haven’t read the story, here are the Cliff’s Notes: Her name is Samantha (Twitter handle – wait for it -- @Vodka_Samm), and she was arrested Saturday for behaving in a drunken and disorderly fashion at a University of Iowa football game.

When Samantha, a U of I senior, was taken to jail, her blood-alcohol content was found to be a staggering .341. The legal threshold for intoxication is .08 percent BAC, and the lethal limit falls between 0.40 percent and 0.50 percent.

This young woman is really, truly lucky to be alive this morning. And yet, here’s what she tweeted after her release from jail:

Just went to jail #yolo — Samantha (@Vodka_samm) August 31, 2013

Blew a .341 in jail — Samantha (@Vodka_samm) August 31, 2013

Im going to get .341 tattooed on me because its so epic -- Samantha (@Vodka_samm) August 31, 2013

I just finished raising a couple of kids. God knows, I didn’t handle everything perfectly over the course of all those years, but thankfully, my kids turned out well.

And my kids drank. I presume they both still drink occasionally, but they’re adults with bachelors’ degrees and good jobs and are self-supporting, so my presumption is that they manage to spend the great majority of their time sober.

I can tell you with certainty, though, that when my kids were in college, if either had been in Samantha’s situation, their dad and I would be dealing with certain things this morning. And maybe Samantha’s parents are dealing with those things; I don’t know, and I don’t mean to judge them.

But I mean to judge her. And I mean to judge the alcohol-obsessed culture in which we’re raising our kids.

I know, I know. I’m old. And much of the time, I’m not a lot of fun. I like serious things, and letting my hair down isn’t a particular strength of mine. But believe it or not, I was young once. And I drank too much on several occasions.

Thankfully, though, a taste for alcohol didn’t stay with me, and I honestly can’t remember the last time I drank. My decision not to drink is more a matter of not enjoying alcohol than being morally opposed to it; it has its place, and a glass or two of wine per day even carries some health benefits.

To be clear, I have absolutely no issue with adults who drink recreationally and can handle their alcohol, and who use it in moderation; most of my friends drink, and family members drink, and I love them dearly. I’m not holier-than-thou; I just don’t like to drink.

Beyond the scope of my personal experience, though, my greatest issue with alcohol is the messages that our society sends to our kids regarding its excessive use. Among them: Alcohol will make you more fun. Alcohol will make you less shy. It will make you sexier and more desirable. It will provide you with a life of nonstop frivolity.

Actually, here’s what excessive alcohol use will likely do: It will make you lose your inhibitions. It likely will cause you to make stupid, stupid decisions. It could cause you to lose your driver’s license, the respect of your family and friends, and even your job. It could cause you to kill someone, if you’re behind the wheel drunk. And it could cause you to die.

I think the reason excessive alcohol use among young people irritates me so much is that it’s often bundled with self-esteem issues. Anytime I drank too much in my younger days, it was because I wanted it to ease my feelings of awkwardness. I wanted to feel less serious and less fat. I wanted to be able to sing “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” with my sorority sisters without feeling self-conscious. And I wanted boyfriends to see me as fun, uninhibited, the life of the party.

I was a senior in college when I decided to knock it off. I was at a party in which Everclear was mixed with punch in someone’s bathtub. I drank a ton of it, and I somehow got home (thankfully, I didn’t drive; there’s no way I could have).

I was living at home, and made it up the stairs and stumbled into my bed. Next thing I knew –- or, as I was told, anyway -– my sister, who raised me after our mom died, was shaking me awake, then making me get up and walk. She’s a nurse, and she was considering taking me to the hospital. Luckily, home remedies -– plenty of water, and rest -– did the trick.

There was no social media then. But if there had been, even I, chronic oversharer that I've always been, wouldn’t have tweeted about what was certainly a pretty high BAC. Why? Because I was mortified. In my family, and in the larger environment in which I was raised, being that drunk would have been regarded as pretty gross.

Did I ever drink after that? Sure, and even as an adult. But never that much, and never with the intent of being someone I wasn’t.

And that leads me back to Samantha. She doesn’t seem to be a stupid girl; kudos to her for being almost ready to graduate. But shame on her for this, which she tweeted the day after her arrest:

“Ive gotten so many hate tweets because I was drunk...uh I get good grades sorry for being like every other college student.”

Samantha, yay for the good grades, but boo for trying to excuse your behavior. You’re not like every other college student. You’re one who probably believes the commercials about Cristal and Patron, and one who hopes that throwing back just one more vodka and Red Bull will turn you into a Kardashian.

You could very well be an otherwise smart girl, so why not get yourself under control? If you truly like yourself, show it.

And please don’t be afraid to get help if you need it. If you have a problem, please understand that I’m not making fun of you. I’m making fun of the way you chose to handle an incident that should have embarrassed the hell out of you.

Here’s the most basic thing, Samantha: At the very least, if you don’t see a reason to change your lifestyle, don’t tweet about it.

Why? Because a fun-hater like me may interview you for a job one day, and even with your very own meme and "Sam .341" t-shirt, you won’t get the job.

And someday, that will matter to you. A lot.