I got married, for the first time, at the age of 46. I had no children so when this opportunity came along, I grabbed it. The marriage package included three children. The two oldest were out of the house, the teenager was home. The rest of the menagerie included two goldfish, Boy George the hamster and a dog named Kafka. All I had to do was clean up and decorate. (No small feat.) The coming together of several tribes and clans was an adjustment but soon family life took on a comfortable and comforting routine. That is, until the first engagement announcement. No – it was not about the fiancé, his family or even the money. None of that. It was, to put it bluntly, about me. (Our resident psychologist will tell you that it’s always about me. Thank G-d, I have understanding children!)
Let me explain. To quote a trendy expression: I have weight issues. I have always had weight issues. Big, fat serious issues. Even when I’ve lost the weight – and that’s been many times – I still have had weight issues. Images of delicate twelve-year-old girls in ruffled organza dresses still dance in my head. They looked like Gidget; I looked like Anna Magnani. Hips too big, hair too wild, eyebrows too thick – and that olive skin! An out-of-control weed surrounded by hot house blooms. Childhood as a ‘chubbette’ – thank you to Mr. Eaton’s marketing people – has been irrevocably imprinted.
I have, conservatively speaking, lost the equivalent of a sumo wrestler. I have gone to a 5th Avenue doctor who injected his clients with god-knows-what. (I should have been suspicious when I saw him walk out of his Park Avenue office sporting a full-length mink coat and diamond studded Rolex.) I have tried everything at least once: group meetings, one-on-one. I attended one of the first Weight Watcher’s meetings in New York. I have had the food delivered. (It’s embarrassing when you eat the week’s worth of food in the first 2 days); I have done it on my own, with a friend, with the computer, with the aid of books, with a therapist. One afternoon, for a brief moment in time, I was a perfect size. I was so weak, I still wonder how I could even stand up. But I managed to get into a bikini. I have a picture to prove it.
The reason for this craziness? Who knows. Professionals and quacks alike have weighed in on this subject. But I have my own theory, borrowed from a friend. Here it is: I have no ‘appestat’. She has an ‘appestat’. Let me explain. I and thousands of other unlucky shmoes lack this thinga-majig. We are human garburators with no on-off switch. We do not know when to stop. I eat when I’m happy; I eat when I’m unhappy. I could regale you with horror stories of middle-of-the-night gorging fests but this would be the final frontier for me.
My wardrobe has consisted of three sizes: normal, baby beluga and comfort waist. Don’t even mention the money spent in the quest to adjust my clothes to fit my yo-yo weight. Legends are of mythological proportions. Those who have seen my closet —- does the name Imelda ring a bell? I became a shoe collector because what else do you buy when you are up and down? And yet, I still never have anything to wear. My way of dealing with this madness? Humour, of course.
And so I lived severally — an uneasy balance — until I got married and moved to Ottawa in the coldest winter in recorded meteorological history. Spring of 1994 found me coming out of hibernation 10 pounds heavier than when I went in. And so the ensuing years continued in this vein. Which brings me back to our daughter’s engagement announcement. After the initial craziness and excitement and calls around the world, it was time to meet the family.
Allow me to backtrack with a brief but necessary lesson in the Yiddish language. One unique feature of Yiddish is the words it employs to identify your children’s in-laws who now become part of your family sphere. (No jokes here, thank you.) Your child’s in-laws are called machatunim. Not ‘ch’ as in cheese but ‘ch’ as if you are clearing your throat. The father-in-law is called a mechitn. The mother-in-law is called a machiteiniste – machatootsie when you’re trying to be funny. I return to ‘the meeting’.
There she was, my new machiteiniste – all 5’ 10” of her. Attractive – okay, I can deal with that – and — thin! Lithe, willowy, svelte – choose your synonym. As for me – all 5’ 4” of zaftig curves – I was sent hurtling back in time to ballet class where everybody looked like my new machiteiniste and I looked like the Pillsbury Dough Boy.
There was no way I would be walking down the aisle looking like I did, standing beside her up on the bima. Nothing for it but to go on yet another diet. (In the following week, I announced the engagement to a committee I was serving on. After the usual mazel tovs, one of the men remarked that now, I would be losing weight for the wedding, like all mothers-of-the bride. I guess men pay more attention than we give them credit for.) Off I marched determinedly to Weight Watchers. I had been one of their first customers way back in New York when its founder Jean Niddich was still leading the meetings. It went well. Why not? I was on a mission. And so, twenty-five pounds later, I was ready for my debut. It felt fabulous. For one brief moment in time … I have the pictures to prove it.
In the next two years – well, you know what happened. It all came back. (My fellow committee member had also said that we gain back all the weight. Damn him!) Our next child announced her engagement. For the second time, off we trooped to meet our new machitunim. And wouldn’t you know it! There she was, the latest machiteiniste. Not as tall, but also good looking and — are you ready? Thin! (Was there a curse working against me? What had I done in a past life?)
This time, I was determined to lose the weight solo. I had been doing this my whole life. Didn’t I hear everybody’s voice in my head? “You have a beautiful face. If only you lost the weight.” Didn’t I know every calorie for every food on the face of the earth? So in the next four months, after the usual fits and starts, I managed to take off not exactly the twenty-five pounds but it was a good showing. I have the pictures to prove it.
In the next two years – you guessed it – again the weight piled on. But this time it was with a vengeance. And once again – you guessed right again – the third announced his engagement. By this time, we were pros at this meeting-the-other-side business. If you’ve been paying attention, you know what’s next. Yes! Good looking and — drum roll please — thin! My husband and I locked eyes. I knew, as every wife knows, exactly what he was thinking and he me. (Our family rule is ‘Wait until we’re in the car’.) Silent but bursting at the seams, we wrapped up the always slightly awkward coming-together-of-the-families and waved goodbye. Trying to pretend all was normal, we got into the car, closed the doors and waited a split second. Seat belts done up. We turned to each other and burst out laughing. All I could manage to splurt out was: “What are the chances? All three of them?”
NB: All our children’s machatunim are delightful. We’ve had no problems, our gatherings are fun and always delightful. pft pft pft. May it always be so.