Thursday, June 08, 2017

Tipping the Scales

In some old photos, I do not recognise my mother. This is how we come to live in the present: when today's person is not adequately signified by the image from then. 

In one, she has long hair and it is dyed an unreal black. Her spectacles are large and round and she carries an unrecognisable amount of fat on her body. In the photographs of that time, she will have been around 50. I remember the health crises she had been through - an hysterectomy, malaria following blood transfusions, severe hallucinations caused by some medication not prescribed by the surgeon, but administered by some nurse on night duty.

She emerged from it, I think, undiminished. 

Now, none of those adjectives are appropriate. Her hair is mostly grey and cut elegantly short. After a cataract surgery, she doesn't really need spectacles but wears reading glasses - because she reads a lot - for most of the day. But the most dramatic change is in the weight she has lost. There is no one who has not remarked on it. Even people who meet her for the first time must know, if they are observant, that her blouse gapes at the neck because of sustained weight loss; that that lifted arm - all bones followed by sagging flesh released by poor muscle tone - is unusual. 

Sometimes she is diminished. At other times, her energy is remarkable. As it is at this moment, when the rains have come and the skies are cloudy. She is tied to the seasons more than anyone I have ever known, animal in her response to the air and temperature.

All this is on my mind constantly; but recently, I run over and over a thing she said to me: When she was getting her tests done before her hysterectomy, she remarked to the surgeon on her weight. He said to her that she should be glad of her extra fat; that he recommended to patients that they put on weight before a surgery so that the body would withstand the weight loss that would follow.

I think of this even as I refuse to weigh myself any more, even as I monitor my mother's weight every week, as I do her blood pressure and sugar more frequently.

It's been three years or more since I stopped colouring my hair - my mother's generation dyed theirs - a thing that I didn't do, anyway, for more than one resentful year. I've been putting on weight and I don't care beyond a point. I mark my months with the migraines that tell me I'm approaching menopause. I have accepted and welcomed my middle years.

I am welcoming them slightly differently than my mother did. Hers was attended by health crises; I hope mine won't be. But in the matter of weight, I am coming around to the view that some padding is essential to see me through the later years. Like an animal, I accumulate fat against a time when I will need to spend it.

Perhaps I will be unrecognisable in photographs in the same way that my mother is now. I'm told I still look exactly as I did when I was a teen. This must be rubbish, but it gives me a glow of satisfaction. I wonder at it and I wonder what I will feel when that no longer is true. After all, I seem to be falling in with nature's plans with equanimity. 

Friends will say - I know this - that this is all very well, but I could do more to take care of myself: above all, in the matter of exercise. They are right. I know it. I know it even as I postpone morning yoga to the evening, and the evening's to the next day. As I excuse myself from that walk because they're burning leaves, the path is broken and stony, because sewage overflows nearby and it is disgusting. I'm getting good at excuses but that doesn't make them plausible. My friends are gentle and I am glad. I would be a sledgehammer if I were in their position. 

So here we are: one person making peace with old age and another welcoming middle age.


Very serendipitously, on my twitter TL, this poem by Jane Hirschfield: 'The Weighing'.