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I Don't Want To Teach Them This

I am angry the first week in January when I visit the gym. Bothered. Here are all these new strangers on the machines, in new workout gear, fresh hangs of holiday flesh bulging in the Spandex unapologetically, and their faces sporting smug looks of cool determination as they monopolize the elliptical machines. MY elliptical machine, third from the right. But they’re here to work out. They are serious about this. Really serious. Really going to hit the ground running in 2011.

I, on the other hand, am a true disciple. Week in and week out, including vague months like May and October, ellipticalling, ellipticalling, ellipticalling. I do not have fancy new workout clothes. I recycle old sorority t-shirts and wear them with a straight face because I think it still possible someone will mistake me for a TCU student. I actually DID recently acquire a new pair of Nike Tempo shorts, which are the little black dress of workout attire, or of any imaginable attire whatsoever if you’re a TCU sorority girl. Nineteen-year-olds are now wearing them with Uggs and J. Crew cardigans and ponytail ribbons, overwhelming their otherwise stylish wardrobes to the point that Tempos have multiplied like baby spiders, scurrying along the sidewalks on University Drive, finding their way inside the glass doors of every dive on Berry Street. They have unionized and are demanding benefits.

The Tempos are my only workout attire indulgence. I’m here to exercise, gosh-durn-it. I’m serious about this. Really serious. And I’m annoyed thinking people might mistake me for a first-week-of-January Poser.  I think we should have designations like they do at Wal-Mart employees — “Valuable Team Member Since 2007” mine would say. And some flair, something gold-dipped, depicting calories burned (150,000 since November 2007!), muscles toned and/or discovered (obliques!) and hotness quotient elevated (34%!). I think it’s only fair, a way to distinguish my effort and loyalty apart from the insidious Skinny Posers, who are without a doubt the most offensive of them all.

I was looking at Madeline the other day on the changing table and the luxurious way she was pushing her tummy into the air with her meaty thighs as if to say, “Look! Look at all my gorgeous soft density! Aren’t I marvelous?” It makes me sad that Drew’s baby fat has all but disappeared and left behind a sharp shoulder-bladed little boy with large liquid eyes and knobby knees. I was nuzzling his cheek yesterday — what’s left of it — and actually bit him a little bit. “Ow! Hurt you!” he whined. I sort of laughed, in the way you might if you just sneezed and accidentally peed a very small amount on somebody’s couch.

I love my children’s cheeks, facial and otherwise. I’m sad for the day they discover they have to keep them off to be acceptable.

When I was little, maybe 9 or 10, I was pudgy. Not a “childhood obesity” statistic by any means, but not at all a waif. I liked food. I loved to eat as much pizza as my dad on Sundays when we went to Papa Pig’s Pizza. Church would endure and endure and endure, and while I liked church, I liked going out for pizza even more in my family’s Econo-sized GMC van with the bench seats. If there could have been a way to gulp pizza down like a warm cheesy liquid, I would have guzzled it in a beer bong and chased it with a bottle of Ranch.

(To this day I occasionally entertain my childhood daydream of living in a house constructed entirely of thin-crust cheese pizza slices, the kind you get at food court pizzerias with the floppy points.)

I was more than just an emotional eater. I was a passionate one. Instead of eating for sadness, I ate for joy. Gordon still marvels at my ability to enter into an eating experience. The most emotionally descriptive term he ever gives a meal is that it’s “interesting.” As in, “This salad you have prepared looks interesting and tastes interesting.” This might mean all right, good, tasty, wonderful, who knows; I don’t think it means “bad”; all I know is Gordon isn’t one to invest food with all kinds of sensual equity. Food is fuel. Like Tempos are shorts. Just do it.

I do know this: I will have to watch the way I talk about going to the gym in front of my Things as they get older. I catch myself complaining to Gordon about feeling “SO FAT” and how I’ve “GOT” to work out, tipping my hand as to just how much I care about my appearance and just how skewed my body image might actually be. I don’t want Madeline thinking the primary reason I work out is to stay thin so I will be attractive – it is — I want her thinking it’s to be healthy and to take care of myself. I wonder how long I can keep up that charade; keep her in the dark of my immense vanity. I wonder if I can inoculate her to it. Even more importantly, I wonder if I can actually change my attitude.

But for now, I want her to luxuriate in her fleshy, juicy being; to revel in being 14 pounds of soft gooey baby gristle with a bit of fuzz on top; to swim in her own infant Crisco like a happy seal. Because before long she will, inevitably, be joining the elliptical procession — a parade of sweaty strivers going nowhere at a 37% incline.

At least until February.