“When your mother asks, “Do you want a piece of advice?” it’s a mere formality. It doesn’t matter if you answer yes or no. You’re going to get it anyway.” (Erma Bombeck)
The UK is currently basking in a mini heatwave. It is glorious. All around me women are casting aside their winter boots and snuggly jumpers in favour of linens, colour and shades. I have cast aside my cardigan. Being overweight I do not have the luxury of selecting from the new spring ranges as they are rarely made to sit well on someone of my bulk. Frustrating though this may be I dare not complain. After all, I only have myself to blame for my excess weight.
Next week I will be flying to Belfast to visit my parents. I am not looking forward to it. My mother has been unwell and I have not been across the water since the summer of 2012. I know that a visit is long overdue but I have been putting it off, mainly because of my weight.
The last time I visited I was a UK size 12. Now I am a UK size 16. It took me nine months of severe food limitation and strenuous, daily exercise to get to the size I was then. When my mother saw me she was so happy, delighted that I had become the shape that she thinks a woman should be. She congratulated me on my weight loss with more enthusiasm than she had offered when I graduated from university or gave birth to my babies. She reflected on how pleased my husband must be to have a slim wife. My husband knows me better than to comment on my weight. I am what is inside.
That is not to say that I did not enjoy being slim. It was a revelation to be able to go into clothes shops and easily buy almost any outfit. I had so much more energy, understandable as I no longer had to carry around a 30lb sack of fat wherever I went. The problem was that I could not maintain that weight. As soon as I started to eat more normally or neglected to spend two hours a day at the gym the weight crept back on, slowly but incessantly.
Yes, I now eat too much of the wrong sorts of food but in the early stages of my weight gain I was simply eating what was recommended rather than subsisting on one small meal a day. With a little self discipline I could be less fat but it takes a huge amount of effort to be slim. It takes over my life.
I feel sad that I avoid my mother. I know that she loves me but looks have always been important to her, much more so than they have ever been to me. She wants only what is best for me but as a means to this tries to mould me in her image. I resist as I have always done. She believes that I am being difficult, feels hurt that I will not agree with her point of view. It is easier to stay away.
The easy option is not always the right one. My mother is elderly and has many health problems. It is right that I, as her daughter, make the effort to visit. She is, however, also a worrier. I wonder if seeing me as I am now will trigger ongoing concerns that negate any good that my visit may do. I wonder if her well meaning comments, the inevitable but unasked for advice, will trigger my own anxiety.
In the middle of all this is my sister who, as the only sibling now living nearby, shoulders the burden of care for our parents. She is good to them in a way that I could never be. I am not a good daughter but this does not make me a bad person, just not the person that the family I grew up with wants me to be.
Families are tricky because we care so much; the hurt we can inflict cuts deeper. If I could easily lose the weight for my mother then I would do so. Perhaps this is why I have stayed away for so long. Perhaps I wished to give her that gift and have been avoiding facing up to her reaction to my failure.