“Don’t you have a sweet tooth?”
This question was posed to me over dinner on Saturday. I was at the in-laws with the hubs, and we were enjoying one of my mother-in-law’s delicious home-cooked meals.
Let me preface this a bit by explaining that when it came to in-law assignment, I hit the absolute jackpot. Most in-laws, after all, are fodder for many a gripe, complaint, and vent. The very phrase “mother-in-law” is pretty much stand-alone comedy; no one has to actually SAY anything to quantify it, because, well….
Let’s try it:
After a lifetime of hearing horror stories from friends, relatives, and the internet, I know I am very blessed to be able to say that this is NOT the case with my mother-in-law. The hubs is an only child, and when I married her son, she adopted me as her daughter. And my kids get the same love, affection, and holiday presents as the blood grandchildren. On Mother’s Day, my mother-in-law actually sends ME a card – AND a gift. (Which is kind of wrong. But… I like presents.)
In addition to being an excellent cook, she’s also been gifted with the crafting gene. She’s knitted me (and the kids, of course) many quality sweaters, hats, and scarves. And to clarify, these are not your grandmother’s creations featured on the Goodwill rack of Ugly Christmas Sweaters. These are things THAT PEOPLE ACTUALLY WANT TO WEAR IN PUBLIC. Case in point: A few months ago, I went to a local women’s art festival wearing a sweater and matching knit hat she had made me. I received no fewer than a dozen unsolicited compliments on the set. (And, incidentally, three phone numbers. From women. Hey, when ya got it, ya got it. <strut strut> ) Seriously, though – is there a higher compliment in the knitting world than accolades from legit professional artists?
And she really, really outdoes herself at Christmas. She doesn’t just include my kids – she incorporates them as equals. When her grandsons were born, she made them each a very elaborate Christmas stocking. I don’t speak craft-ese, but I believe they’re made from felt, cross-stitching, wishes, and pixie dust. Anyway, they are beautiful and look like they were a hella-tonna work. And the Christmas after her son and I got engaged, there were two new stockings hanging on the deer antlers* over the fireplace for my little cherubs.
*Yes, they decorate the deer head. Antlers are perfect for holding lights and stockings. (And other things.) Besides, the mantle was full of Christmas cards and the holiday letters that spell “LEON.” They’re meant to say “NOEL,” but I visit too often for tradition to stand unblemished. You’ve seen my Christmas tree angel. And the manger scene? Sometimes, if he’s really good, Baby Jesus gets a party hat or a stogie, or a visit from Batman, a giraffe, and some Disney celebs.
(Side note: I hope I didn’t offend anybody with that. But I’m of the camp that thinks Jesus appreciates a good sense of humor. I mean, platypus. And how babies are made. Followed by how they actually get OUT. Come on, man, that’s stand up GOLD right there.)
(Side B note: We just took down our Christmas tree earlier this week, after lighting it up one last time on April Fool’s Day. Yeah…I’m THAT neighbor.)
Suffice it to say that meals at my mother-in-law’s house are the furthest thing from “everyday.” When we’re up, she heartily takes on the challenge of feeding two carnivores, a very picky vegetarian, AND a gluten-free person. She plans detailed menus AHEAD OF TIME. She uses the oven AND the stove. Not just in the same day, but FOR THE SAME MEAL. And her meals have a main dish, several sides, fresh fruit, and a couple veggies.
There is always, always dessert.
Oh, and guess what? THAT ENTIRE FAMILY IS TALL AND THIN. If they weren’t such sweethearts, I would really, really, hate this so hard I can’t even tell you. But they’re all gazelles, willowy and lanky and lean as can be. At their family get-togethers, I feel like the dumpy garden gnome who married into a clan of pink flamingos.
(WARNING: I wanted to insert a picture here, but…. Let me just say you should NOT, for the love of all that is holy and good, Google image-search “gnome with pink flamingo.” You canNOT unsee that.)
(You did it anyway, didn’t you.)
Having food issues can be tough: you struggle with the dichotomy of wanting to be slender, but wanting, craving, NEEDING to eat the very foods that prevent you from getting there. After years of alternating dieting/starvation with binges of Thanksgiving-meal proportions, you and the elusive concept of moderation are, as the Brits say, like chalk and cheese. You’re just not coexisting in the same harmonious stew.
Now imagine marrying into a family where they serve you three full meals a day, with a small buffet of desserts at two of them, and in-between you’re surrounded by cookies and other snacks and (of course!) beer and wine, and EVERY PERSON IN THE ROOM EATS ALL THIS SCRUMPTIOUS, FATTENING FOOD AND NEVER GAINS A POUND.
Every person except you.
I’ve handled these meals much as you’d expect an OSFED eating-disordered person to handle them: randomly and illogically. My approach on any given visit is one or more of the following:
* I’ve eaten two big platefuls of food, followed by two desserts. (Commonly known as the “F it” approach.)
* I’ve feigned a migraine and “slept” through dinner. (Avoidance.)
* I’ve eaten only vegetables and fruit for dinner. (Restriction.)
* I’ve eaten one small, sensible plate of mostly healthy food at the table, followed by an ENTIRE (!!) batch of chocolate chip cookies at 10PM when everyone else was asleep. (Or peanut butter cookies. Or snickerdoodles. BECAUSE ALL OF THEM ARE AVAILABLE ALL THE TIME.) (I believe this is called the “hot mess” method.)
* I’ve brought my bike and put in 15 miles on the road in the morning…and then polished off several servings of pie a la mode: one slice at the table, one slice while pretending to clean the kitchen, and a third slice on the way home in the car while remembering I was SUPPOSED to be on a diet. (A permutation of “hot mess.” There are several.)
But most of the time – at least in the last year or so – I don’t have dessert. I’ve been learning that sugar is the gateway drug to a bigger binge; it flips my inner switch from “calm” to “anxious”, which has the domino effect of flinging my self-esteem into the virtual Port-o-Potty. After all, as any dieter knows, once you’ve had dessert, you’ve FAILED, and further efforts at calorie regulation are moot.
And, as I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been on a roll with keeping my eating in check, and I’m seeing actual PROGRESS, reflected in a weight I haven’t seen since 2009 (and not since high school before THAT.) So I don’t want to risk cracking the dam even a little bit, no matter how fabulous that ice cream cake looks.
(By the way? It. Was. Beautiful. <sniff> )
So my mother-in-law hasn’t seen me eat dessert in awhile. I typically munch on some fresh fruit while the rest of the family heartily digs in.
So last Saturday, as she’s spooning hot fudge sauce over the ice cream cake (half chocolate, half vanilla, just in case you have a preference) that I once again politely decline, she asks me the question:
“Don’t you have a sweet tooth?”
Do I have a sweet tooth? Inside my head, an answer screams.
Yes. As Godiva is my witness, dear Mother of Milkshakes, YESYESYESYES YES! I want to rip the spatula out of your hand and shovel that delicious chocolatey goodness directly into my gaping pie hole. I want to smother your home-baked cookies in both peanut butter AND that homemade fudge sauce and eat them until the snap from my jeans pops off at a velocity that takes out a window. I want pancakes and cotton candy and deep-fried Oreos and doughnuts, all frosted with buttercream frosting and topped with coconut.
But I can’t.
I can’t have any of this, because my self-worth is tied up with my self-control. Because every time I use the washroom, I look up at the mirror and judge my thighs. Because no matter how good I feel about myself today, the scale will be there in the morning, just like she is EVERY morning, tapping her foot and waiting to issue me a failing grade. And even on that rare day when even she can’t find anything negative to say, there’s always a store window or glass door to reflect my current valuation back at me.”
I don’t say any of this, of course.
I quietly shake my head and help myself to some watermelon (45 calories a cup.) I bite my tongue, paste a serene smile on my face, and silence my wistful soul.
I pretend to be satisfied.
I pretend to be happy.