Sunday, May 31, 2009

Bra Heaven

I didn’t mean to lose 18 pounds. I meant to lose five. All I wanted was to get out of the large Kelly green tie-dyed cotton shift that I’d bought to wear over bathing suits because it was big, stretchy, shapeless (and the only thing that fit me), and back into my own clothes.

But I joined Weight Watchers with two friends who started losing pounds hand over fist, and, as usual, I didn’t want to feel left out.

It only took a few weeks before I could fit into all my old clothes, and then in a few more weeks those clothes became too big so I had to dig out older clothes that, yes, fit, but were so old they were shamefully outdated. One of my Weight Watcher friends gave me some now-too-big-for-her clothes (which was irksome but I took them anyway) and between those and dropping a bit of coin at The Gap, I got through the winter on my tight budget.

When spring arrived and sweaters were shed I had to face the honest truth. My bras had to go.

There’s a lingerie shop in town that’s not cheap, but it’s the only place I’ll go for bras. The women who work there are breast wizards and one of them has spent so much time assessing and adjusting me over the years that I feel like we should be dating. I walked in last week and (borrowing a phrase from a friend) said, “I lost 18 pounds and my breasts really took a hit.”

“Off with your shirt,” she commanded, and sent me back to the fitting room. She looked me hither and yon. Then, “Let’s start with a 34C.”

She was already out on in the racks when I called after her. “Don’t bother,” I said. “I’m not a 34 and I’m not a C.” My old bras were 36Bs. They were just a touch roomy.

She brought back four bras, all 34Cs and each one fit as if it were custom made. This made no sense to me. My breasts had gotten smaller, not bigger. How could I have gone from a B-cup to a C?

My tennis mates explained it all the next day during our Talk About Our Undergarments Break (usually taking place between Warm Up and our first Fun Tennis Game With A Stupid Name). “When you go down a number-size, you increase a cup-size.”

They all knew this. Does everybody? I’ve been wearing bras for almost 37 years and this information is brand new to me.

I’m out of work right now and I know that spending $80 on two bras is probably not the most prudent decision to make. But I swear to God, what I really feel like is that I'm the $80 beneficiary of an $8000 boob job.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Meet My Pound of Fat

I feel it most when I’m lying in bed on my side. Or when a man in the grocery store smiles at me. That’s when I notice the part of me that’s missing.

Like most transformations, losing weight changes everything and changes nothing. I’m always hungry. I’ve always been hungry.

People who haven’t seen me in a while want to know what I eat, what kind of exercise I do. I’m always happy to relay my daily food intake in excruciating detail. But The Pound of Fat is my real secret weapon.

The first time Davida the Weight Watchers Leader passed one of these around the room I sat in silent awe. It was the size of my nine-year-old’s sneaker. Not the size of my computer mouse. Not the size of my coffee cup. I’m talking about a size-four Nike Dunk high top. I never imagined A Pound of Fat would take up so much space.

I lost 18 of these bad boys this year.

I look at The Pound of Fat and can no longer say to myself, “So what if I gain a pound or two. What’s a pound? It’s nothing, right?”

We’re all a little dazed when The Pound of Fat makes its way up and down the rows. We’re all thinking the same thing: Hmph. That sure is something.

Monday, May 25, 2009

No Death Grip Day

We didn’t have a tennis clinic today, it being Memorial Day and all. Last Monday we played outside for the first time and, since it was my first day back from my butt sprain, I showed up with more than my usual share of performance anxiety.

Playing outside is nothing at all like playing inside – it’s almost a different game. First of all, there’s an intimacy that’s completely missing when you’re outdoors. You are no longer contained within netted walls and a bubbled ceiling – the space around you seems to go on forever. And there are so many things happening around you – unfamiliar players showing up on adjacent courts, town workers mowing and weedwacking – it takes way more energy to concentrate solely on your game and the people you’re playing with.

Also to contend with are the elements and variables. There’s sun and wind, two impediments that are in mercifully short supply indoors. There are bugs. There’s the train noise. There’s debris on the courts. I have to literally lift up my sunglasses for Gina to see my eyes rolling when she hits that crazy ass return of hers that no one can ever get to. It didn’t take long for me to remind myself that I’m happiest as an indoor girl.

Early on, Laura the Tennis Pro declared it was No Death Grip Day. We were all reminded that when we’re readying ourselves for our returns, our ground strokes, even our serves, our racquet grips should be light – as if we’re holding a baby bird. Not as if (in our usual fashion) we’re dragging our four-year-olds down the supermarket aisle in a mad rush to meet the school bus.

I assumed this added obligation would just about do me in. As if keeping our balls away from our neighbors on the next court isn’t enough to worry about, now I have to treat my racquet with kid gloves?

You already know the moral of this story. I lightened my grip and started hitting my best returns ever. Ever. Deep, fast, hard. It felt as if someone else was hitting for me. Someone who understood how much power there is in a gentle touch. Someone who did not feel like they have to prove something with every swing. Someone patient and easygoing, with an inherent trust that balls and racquet strings will always meet, just as they’re meant to. And an inherent understanding that the world can actually turn on it’s axis all on its own, and maybe, just maybe, her job is not to hold on so tight after all, but instead to let go.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Here’s How My Kids Learn Religion

One day during the winter, our neighborhood was a post-snowstorm disaster. Meaning, snow happened, people shoveled, more snow happened, plows came and spewed street snow and slush back up onto sidewalks and driveway aprons, and then more snow happened. Finally, it got really cold and everything froze. As my fourteen-year-old son and I drove down our block on our way to secure rations, we saw a neighbor trying to get her little sedan out of the driveway. Her very tall college-aged son was behind the car pushing, but the wheels squealed and the car rocked and she went nowhere.

I stopped a few yards away and asked my son if he wanted to go help them. He jumped out and ran to the back of her car, and his weight, added to the college kid’s, was just enough to move the car up and over the frozen slush heap. She drove out onto the street, pulled up next to my car and yelled through open windows, “Thank you so much for the push. I’m trying to get my son to his girlfriend’s house and we’re so late!”

Then off she went.

My own son climbed back into the car and said, “That felt great.” He didn’t mean the pushing part; he meant the helping part,

“That’s called a mitzvah,” I told him, proud to relay some small bit of Jewish tradition.

“Pushing a car out of a driveway?” he said.

“No, being of service to someone. Doing a good deed. In Jewish law, you are commanded to help others when the opportunity arises,” I explained. Then, because I had his attention, and because I had just learned all this recently and hadn’t had time to forget it yet, I went on, “I think there are different levels of mitzvot [plural]. I’m not positive, but I think the highest level of mitzvah you can perform is to introduce someone to the person they will ultimately marry.”

He thought about that for a second and then asked, “What level of mitzvah is pushing someone’s car out from the snow?”

“I’m not sure,” I said, “but the mitzvah level of that act might be raised if that kid ends up marrying the girlfriend he’s going to visit.”

“Is that all Jews care about?” he asked, “Getting married?”

If I were a different mother, I might have used the opportunity to ask why he’d think that’s all Jews care about. And if I were a different Jew, I might have launched into a few of the beliefs – both spiritual and practical – that define what it means to be Jewish. But the sum total of my Jewish education comes from attending two dozen or so bar mitzvah services, the Holocaust discussions in my mostly-Jewish book group, and the various Yiddish phrases I’ve been taught by my (usually Catholic) friends.

So I just said, “That, and food.”

Sometimes I regret raising my children without any formal religious training. But as we drove to the grocery store, I noticed my son’s nose pressed up against the passenger side window. “Are you looking for more stuck cars?” I asked.

“Yup,” he said, in a voice that was quiet and small.

I often notice that same smallness in my own voice. It happens right after I feel like my heart has grown.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Blog Envy

I have another tennis tale that starts out with blog envy. My friend David will often send me emails about what he would write about that day if he had a blog. (He’s a good writer and he’s perpetually peeved – two traits that make for good blogging – but for some reason he’s satisfied with simply sending his rants directly to me.)

He wrote to me the other day about how he screwed up his shoelaces because when he pulled the dark load out of the washer and transferred it to the dryer, only one shoelace made the transition. The other remained in the washer and was re-washed with the whites (in bleach) and is now all blotchy and ruined.

There are so very many questions this story begs, but I got stuck on the obvious one: Who washes shoelaces? Ok, maybe some do, but who washes black shoelaces?

David explained to me that it wasn’t so much that the shoelaces were dirty, as they required freshening.

This statement alone could confound me into the next decade if not for the fact that I’ve played tennis this year with some of the tidiest women I’ve ever met. On Fridays, there is a near mutiny over who gets the hoppers*. And then I feel as though I’m surrounded by a group of horses at the starting gate, all waiting for permission to run and pick up the courtsworth of tennis balls we’ve just bashed around.

As for me, I am able to watch a dishtowel drop from my counter and then step over the crunckled heap of it littering my kitchen floor indefinitely. I don’t feel compelled in the least to pick it up. I’d like to think it’s because I’m a feminist, but I’m afraid it’s just because I’m a slob.

My best tennis performance ever was the day that I mistakenly understood Laura the Tennis Pro to proclaim that the winners of the next game would not have to pick up balls at the end of the clinic. I played my ass off. Then I discovered she’d said something else entirely and she was genuinely confused about why I was jumping up and down about winning a tennis drill. More confused still about why I was lollygagging around while my clinic-mates were busy collecting up our mess.

My mom used to call me Messy Jessie. Well, maybe she didn’t, but she should have. I have no business playing tennis with the neatniks on Tidy Friday. And I should probably eschew shoelaces altogether.

*a hopper is the basket that you use to collect the tennis balls.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Teenager Whisperer (or Writing Authentic Dialogue: Lesson One)

One of the most challenging elements of writing story is mastering dialogue. A good writer can perform magic with dialogue – having the characters say one thing when they mean another – creating all kinds of nuance and intrigue and subtle revelations about how a character is really feeling.

If you can find yourself a teenager, he can provide you with some solid training in this area. I don’t like to brag, but I’ve become reasonably good at decoding some of what the teenager actually means.

First let me say: most of what comes out of his mouth is pretty straightforward. But some words – some formerly familiar words – don’t seem to actually mean what you expect. Often, it’s all in the context.

For example, take the word “Yes.” Certainly “Yes” can mean “Yes” when the question is something like, “Would you like a hot dog for dinner?” But “Yes” means something entirely different when the question is, “Did you hear what I just said?” In that context, “Yes” actually means, “With all due respect, Mom, would you please shut up and leave me alone.”

Do you see the subtle differences there?

And in the matter of “No,” there are actually many terms that you can use to spice up your dialogue that are viable substitutes.

Here are some unorthodox synonyms for “No.

“I’ll think about it.”
“In a bit.”
“I will, just later.”
“Sure, in just a sec.”

The more complete translation is: “No. Not now, not ever. But I don’t want to come out and say no right now though because then a discussion will likely follow.”

You can deftly use some of the selections above when your dialogue includes questions like:

“Shall I sign you up for the field trip?”
“Will you please empty the dishwasher?”
“Have you done your homework?”
“Can we talk about summer plans?”

The whole concept is very simple really; it reminds me of a favorite old joke:

Did you hear the one about the Freudian slip? A man is sitting across the table from his wife, and he means to say, “Honey, can you pass the salt?” But what comes out of his mouth instead is, “You bitch, you ruined my freaking life!”

Friday, May 8, 2009

Death Grip

I spent all last weekend on crutches because I sprained my butt. My actual diagnosis is Trochanteric Bursitis, which doesn’t even mean Sprained Butt. It means Inflamed Hip Joint. But Sprained Butt makes me feel less like an old lady than anything with Bursitis or Hip Joint in the title. So that’s how I’m referring to it.

When people ask how I sprained my butt, I tell them I was running for a ball on the tennis court – a ball that a woman my age has no business trying to get – and I DID get it, and won the point, and then, later (much later) I couldn’t walk or sit or stand or sleep for the pain I was in. All that is completely true. But I don’t really think that’s why I have a sprained butt. I think it has more to do with Swine Flu.

I swore I would not write about Swine Flu, but I have to.

I was trying to ride the wave of the media frenzy early the week before and I was doing ok. I was using all my cognitive therapy skills and taking extra care not to read too much Swine Flu news. I thought I’d attained some equilibrium.

When I went to tennis a week ago Monday, my clinic mates were making Swine Flu jokes. I was polite but firm. “Please don’t talk about Swine Flu,” I’d said. “This is my one 90-minute slice of the day that I’m able to forget about it completely.”

The week went on and more information flooded my inbox. On Thursday, I made the mistake of clicking a link that ultimately took me to some kind of FEMA handbook for Pandemic Preparedness and from there everything went downhill fast.

There are about five different theories I subscribe to that explain the intricate connection between our bodies and our minds. It’s too complicated to go into any one of them here, but I do know this: every single time I have ended up having to take prescription strength anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxers, pain killers, or found myself on crutches or bedridden, there’s been some sort of psychological trauma preceding it.

One such trauma was “turning 40.” Even thunderstorms can do it. It doesn’t take much.

Eileen once asked Laura the Tennis Pro if it was true that her forehand groundstroke should be loose and easy, rather than the death grip she usually employs. Laura said not only should your grip be relaxed, it should be SO RELAXED that when you follow through, your racquet should be able to glide right out of one hand and into the other.

Seriously? No death grip necessary?

I don’t think I’ve ever been relaxed when I’ve hit a ball. In fact, if I’m waiting for a ball to come, the way I tell if I’m ready is to feel every muscle in my body go on red alert. So, running for that butt-spraining ball was only half the cause of my agony. The rest was the death grip I manage to put my body in over Swine Flu. Or Y2K. Or SARS. Or Anthrax. Or Three-Mile Island.

Or, the dental work I had the day before. Which, in retrospect, and from the vantage point of bursitis, seems like a walk in the park.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Tidy Friday

There’s a phenomenon that occurs during my Friday tennis clinic that I’m fairly certain will lose something in the translation, but I’m going to try anyway.

Laura the Tennis Pro says our Friday Group has a lot of "comfort issues," and I guess that’s true. We certainly have issues. Nobody wears any color. We all show up in black. Shelley always has to serve first. Ann can’t process too much information at one time. I curse too much.

Chief among our issues is obsessive tidiness.

Shelley leads the pack with her insatiable need to pick up tennis balls. She runs around scooping them up and tucking them into her pockets like a squirrel harvesting nuts. She’s always kicking the balls from the net to the back of the court, or herding the balls at the back of the court into a neat little group. She’s far from prissy, but she requires a clean court.

Once Shelley starts in, everyone else follows along. No one wants to appear sloppy or inconsiderate.

One day Shelley and I were playing against Ann and Eileen and, as usual, Eileen was at the baseline returning every ball that we hit to her, no matter how much of the court she had to run across. Ann wasn’t able to get anything at the net and Eileen was probably back and forth eight times before we finally won the point. Eileen had her hands on her knees and was catching her breath when she blurted out to Ann, “I’m doing all the work back here! It’s like being with my husband!”

It was a funny joke at Ann’s expense, and we all laughed hard, including Ann.

Soon after, it was time to pick up the balls.

Ann had to leave early that day. She had a conference call scheduled at 10:30 and had to be in her car by then. So she started gathering up her things, putting on her coat.

Eileen had the basket half-filled with balls when she yelled across the court to Ann in her most lilting wifely voice, “Don’t worry, Honey. You sit and watch the game. I’ll finish cleaning up.”

I know it sounds like husband-bashing, and maybe on the surface, it a little bit was. But in a deeper place, there’s a truth about that statement that’s so lovely and pure. That no matter how hard we are ripping the ball at each other, or how mercilessly we’re making each other run, at the end of the day, we are really here to take care of each other.

Which is why, issues notwithstanding, not a one of us can ever bear missing tennis on Friday. Me most of all.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The New Schwinn is Here.

My husband is legally blind and cannot drive a car. His main mode of transportation is his feet. Second, bike.

There’s a box on our porch right now (it’s crowding my wicker) and inside is his new Schwinn bike. He’s told me it’s black. That it has a banana seat. Judging by the size and shape of the box, it looks like we’ll have to assemble it, which, depending on the accuracy of the instructions and the relative state of our marriage, will either go really well or really badly.

Right now he rides a black Earth Cruiser with a black metal basket. This is how he gets to his 6:00 a.m. yoga class four days a week, 52 weeks a year. He takes off at 5:30 in the morning for the 15 minute, sometimes 10-degree, often pre-dawn ride and is back in the house, sweaty and centered, before eight.

A few weeks ago he said to me: I wish I had a blog. I would write every day about my bike ride. About how the light is beginning to change now. And about the people I always see.

His yoga class is south of us, and each morning he rides down the driveway and turns right. But he recently started teaching a yoga class at a different studio and on those days he rides down the driveway and turns left.

“It’s a whole different world in that direction,” he says. "Different people walking different dogs. Different runners. Different trash cans being rolled out to different curbs.”

He notices when a tree branch has come down, or when the shadows shift. How each day brings a whole world of uniqueness to the exact same bike ride.

When we’re done assembling the Schwinn, he’ll be riding to yoga much lower to the ground. His ride will change once again.

No matter that we’ve been together for 'round about thirty years, it is never lost on me that it is my blind husband who reminds me to look at how beautiful the sky is. To look and really see.