Everyone loves a good birthday present. And I’m no exception. I love getting customized CDs from my daughter, even though she has undoubtedly pirated the songs. I smile when I wake up and smell the hand-picked flowers that my ever-loving spouse has driven into New York to buy for me. I cherish the inspirational journals and words of wisdom my sister Emily bestows upon me. Give me dinner and drinks surrounded by my favorite friends and I’m in heaven. In a pinch, even diamond earrings can make me happy.
But, of all the great gifts I’ve gotten through the years, the best of all is the gift I gave myself three years ago.
In February of 2011, I had just gotten over a little thing called cancer and was fully recovered from my double mastectomy. The upside was that I now had these nice, newly-reconstructed petite and perky bosoms that I had been craving my whole life long. The downside was, I was still grossly overweight and my knees were giving out on me.
If you count my three c-sections (and I do, because like most mothers, we want the world to know just how much we have suffered), I went under the knife a total of nine times in 19 years. None of the surgeries were weight-related (though my orthopedist did assure me that losing weight could have pushed back the hip replacement), but all were surely exacerbated by my extra tonnage.
While there’s more to my weight issues than I can fit on this page, suffice it to say that it ruled my life, crushed my confidence and caused humiliation and heartache that I kept well hidden behind my exuberant exterior. And just as you can’t make an alcoholic stop drinking or keep a gambler from placing a bet, there was no one but me who could put an end to the hamster-wheel turmoil I’d created for myself.
I’d halfheartedly attempted to lose weight in the past. Way too wise for quick fixes and way too wary to undergo bariatric surgery, I knew that nothing would work until I was ready. And when I was ready, all I had to do was follow basic second-grade math. It’s plain and simple – calories in, calories out.
And so, for my birthday three years ago, I began. I counted every calorie I consumed. I started walking – just around the block at first, because my aching joints wouldn’t take me any farther. Before too long, I was down 20 pounds and up to a mile-and-a-half. Then 40 pounds, then 60. A year and three months later, I had lost 100 pounds and could walk five miles.
I’m still far from skinny and as much as I’d love to be, I think it’s just not in the cards. At my friend Jean’s house on Super Bowl Sunday, I inhaled 102 of Bobby’s mini hot dogs-wrapped-in-bacon. But, I got up the next morning and ate my dry English muffin and did a double workout.
I don’t have a lot of regrets in life, but I do feel a lot of guilt. I’m sorry for who I was for far too long. I’m sorry for all the years I sat slumped on a park bench, letting my friend Claire jump up to tend to my tumbling toddlers. I’m sorry for the years I didn’t have the energy to walk the now-dead dog. I’m sorry for the Broadway shows I refused to attend with my spouse, for fear of not fitting in the seat. And I’m sorry for all the years I blamed my hips, my knees, my kids, my career and everything but my obstinacy for not doing anything about my obesity.
As my birthday looms, and I cringe at the number I’m facing, I realize that this is the last one before I’m a full-fledged empty-nester. But, I also know that whether my kids live with me or not, I’ll always be their mother. And maybe, just maybe, the conscious choice I made to become a healthier me will keep me kicking for the next 40 or 50 years. So, while I anxiously await all my Facebook wishes and (hopefully) two or three presents, I also know that gifts don’t always appear in the packages we expect. Sometimes diamonds do it for us, and sometimes we just have to do it for ourselves.