growing up chubby

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

well--the mouse has been caught--hopefully there is only one. i will leave the traps down for awhile.
its kind of emblematic of where i am in my head right now. i am feeling a low level of frustration with just about everything right now--except the spark people stuff which is going along smoothly. this is so unlike me--i normally have no problem with motivation and getting into a work groove. i am thinking its a menopause thing. i have a friend who went through something similar a few years ago. maybe i need to spark people some other aspects of my life now--just to get me through this time intact with at least some accomplishments to show for it.
i wonder how many people had this experience growing up. since i wasn't the pretty one, and i was the only chubby (oh the horror of it) girl in my mother's extended family, i became the "helpful" one. my mom's family was in kentucky and a few times each year everyone would travel there and we would all spend a week together in the big rambling old house. we all have incredibly vivid and fond memories of that house--it was big and full of interesting things. my grandparents were very interesting people. basically if we had wanted to dive off the roof and land in the flowerbeds it would have been fine with my grandmother. my grandfather was a college professor/chemist and he had scores of interesting things for us to look at and talk to him about. and he would talk TO and not AT us. he died when i was 11 so i never got to know him extremely well. but i remember having a very serious conversation with him about how pretty trees were. and he listened to me and discussed it at some length with me.
so during these times when my grandmother's house was filled to the brim with people, meals were a big deal. we took all but some breakfasts together, at the huge (and i mean HUGE) round table in the dining room. when the house was sold the table went with it because it would have had to be dismantled to get it out.
since cooking the food fell to the women, we girls were asked (not made to--no one in that family can be MADE to do anything) to lend a hand. i was the oldest of the girls, so i was always asked. and i quickly found that if i acquiesed, suddenly i wasn't the chubby toad in the midst of the slender fairies--i was the helper. i was valued and praised for my contribution. so help i did. and i learned a lot--listening to the conversation of the women as they worked, perfecting the art of table setting and flower arranging. how to make maw-maw's spagetti--a favorite dish that i have never tasted the like of anywhere--how to use a gas stove domestic things like that. i must say i didn't love any of it except the flower arranging. my grandfather was the horticulturist and he allowed me to cut anything in the flower beds except some of his roses, and they had a whole cupboard full of vases and containers that i could choose from. but no matter what i did, someone told me what a good helper i was. it was one of the few times in my growing up that i felt of value. i didn't help out at home--for it was my aunts and grandmother that praised me in kentucky--not my mother. so there was no incentive there. i had chores and i did them, but i didn't want to. no one ever thanked me, and i never felt like my allowance was tied to the doing of them. it was just a grim duty that i tried to get out of if i could.
so not being accepted and petted for how i looked, i got the positive strokes the best way i could figure out. i stopped looking to my own parents for praise and acceptance and went to relatives instead. being shy with strangers (you never know when one of them will unexpectadly become unkind and call you a "fat" name) i stayed within my own small circle of people i felt i could trust.
interestingly--at some point later in life my mother related a conversation she had with my uncle. i knew the adults stayed up late, smoking, drinking beer and playing bridge, and they talked about us kids. i was sure that when the conversation turned to me (which i doubt that it did much) there wasn't a lot said. my short stocky body wasn't a subject for polite conversation. but when i was only in about third grade, and my "helper" gene was still in its very early stages, they had a discussion about the merits of all of us children. my uncle ( a professor of education and a big, glad handing, overly confident type) told the rest of them that if we children were around when he happened to fall off a bridge, he would hope i was there because i would dive in to help him without hesitation. not one of his own kids--not one of the boys who were older, more athletic and who he loved dearly (he was a MANS man). Me.
i wish i would have been told that sooner. its always revelatory to know how other people see us. the women in my family who were all very appearance oriented saw a chubby little girl who had no right to expect to be anything special and who should be content to fetch and carry in exchange for acceptance. my uncle saw someone entirely different. he saw my character and not my looks. all these years later i know he was right. and i am glad i finally can know and accept this about myself.
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