Friday, August 31, 2012

D. Duck

I read something at a funeral today.

I'm here in a hotel room, just having come from this morning's services. We were at the beach. It was gorgeous. 

I'm unexpectedly in Connecticut, in the town where I grew up, sitting in a hotel like a stranger who doesn't belong. My sisters are off running errands and we'll regroup soon to drink wine and tell stories because that's how we do things. We make a party out of everything, and then eventually we start singing. If you're following me on Instagram or Facebook or Twitter, there will be photos. 

We'll laugh. We'll play games. 

But I'm sad in a deep and profound way. Ugly-cry, gut-punched, I don't want to acknowledge a world where I can't hear Tom laughing kind of way.

So I'll just do what I do. I'll share what I wrote. What I read today. It's more for me than for you, because sharing makes me feel better.

I wish you could have known Tom. So, well. Here it is:

My dad, left. Duck, right. Healy's wedding, 2002.
In some ways, I wish I had the perspective to be able to talk about Tom the way my parents, John and Linda, would have.

In some ways, I wish I could share any of the many, many, MANY stories they’d tell. From the fun, to the funny, to the downright completely inappropriate. Because, from the time my dad and Tom became friends in grade school until his passing all-too recently, my dad AND my mom spent so much time with Tom -- gatherings and parties, vacations and the just-stopping-bys, and oh...the late-late-late nights, whenever they were together.

Yep. There are a lot of stories my parents could tell. And, even if heavily laced in sarcasm and swear words, there are also so many sweet, wonderful things my parents would say about Tom.  

But I can’t tell you what my parents would say. Not really. Because I was a very little girl when I met Tom.

Tom. I don’t know if I’ve ever called him that in my whole life. The minute he tried to win a two-year-old Healy over with his Donald Duck impression, she dubbed him DEE DUCK, (“Donald” was too hard to say). And that moniker stuck. Even years later, on wedding invitations, he was Mister D. Duck.
At my wedding in 1999. At the bar.
(My mother would murder me for this picture if she could.)
And that’s exactly what makes this hard for me. For us. D Duck -- or the informal, “Duck” -- was always and forever the really fun guy who encouraged us to be kids. He was playful, and encouraged us to be playful. The night of my father’s services, 26 years after being given the name D Duck, he gave my sister a piggyback ride.

We were always kids around him. And that’s the lens that we will always see him through.

So I can’t tell you what my parents would say. Or even what my grown-up self would say if I’d only just met “Tom” a few years ago. Because I can’t even imagine that version of him. I can only really talk about the Duck we loved so much as kids -- because that’s the only Duck we ever knew.

* * * * * *
The first time Duck visited us at our house in Darien, my mother was beside herself with nerves. She wanted to make a good impression on this “old school buddy” of my father’s. She had no idea she was meeting someone who would become her own lifelong friend. (If only in large part because it takes a really special guy to put up with my father for so many God damned years.)

I don’t know how the night went in general, but I do know that when Duck went to leave, he couldn’t. Because his keys had disappeared.

Imagine if you will, a dinner party where you’re meeting your old friend and his new wife and kids for the first time, and you end the night by explaining that your keys have gone missing. Awkward. Except also true.

I don’t know how long they looked or what sort of uncomfortable conversations may have transpired before they gave up and woke both me and Healy (again, aged 2) up to ask if we had any idea where D-Duck’s keys were. Of course, I found this baffling, but Healy, in a dazed toddler stupor, said yep. She knew.

Now, Healy was a very shy and very particular kid, but took a shine to Duck immediately. I mean, who doesn’t? And in her enamored toddler state, decided that she would take his keys and put them in HER own purse. Because D-Duck’s keys were just that awesome. And then, before going to bed, she decided -- for reasons never entirely made clear to anyone -- to hide her purse at the bottom of the hall closet.

Well. For some people, this might have just been a strange end to a pleasant evening, end of story. But I think the Sammis family was sending Duck a message that I’m sure all of you have felt at some point in your lives: we love having you in our home, and we don’t want you to leave.

It was that way always. A visit from Duck meant my parents would be happy. It meant good times. It meant jokes. It meant silliness. It meant music and laughter. It meant fun.
OMG 80s. Big, curly hair. Miller Lite beers and Tab cans. 
Duck was the ultimate “fun uncle”. Especially because he always brought cool stuff to our house, including the most amazing thing that had ever been invented in the history of the world ever: the car that would talk to you. “Listen to her when I leave my door open!” he said smiling while his immaculate car idled in our dusty driveway. Your door is ajar. Your door is ajar. “I think I’m in love!” he exclaimed. More than once.

Duck was the only person who could stop by, unannounced, and not rattle my mom. Duck was comfortable; he accepted us all for who we were. Our metaphoric “dishes in the sink” never mattered to him. He was there for the company.

And we loved it.

Duck was a fixture in our household-- something of a Sammis family constant. He was there on random Sundays, and the day I learned to ride a two-wheeled bike. He was there for egg-dyeing and swimming and on our Prom Nights. We sometimes called our guest room “the Duck room.”

I know it wasn’t a Christmas Eve, or even any party at all, until Duck arrived.
At a Murder Mystery party my parents hosted. (I wasn't invited.) 
Even when my parents passed away, he managed to make us all feel better, just by virtue of being around, and being him.

He was everything charismatic. He was the guy you wanted to sit next to. He had the laugh you could pick out from everyone else’s -- maybe because it was so funny, but probably because it was so darn genuine, and infectious. He didn’t just like to have a good time, he BROUGHT a good time. He WAS a good time. He was our good time.

So...I’ll share something personal with you now. Despite how I think of Duck, I’m not ACTUALLY still a five-year-old, looking for Duck’s keys...I’m really a grown-up with young kids of my own. And every time we have friends over, and I watch them interacting with my kids... I catch myself thinking: “Is this friend of mine going to be their Duck? I hope we can find someone to be like our Duck.”

He set the standard for ultimate family friend, and he raised that bar awfully high.

D-Duck has been such a shining beacon of joy in our lives for so long and for so many occasions, in fact, I kept accidentally looking forward to seeing him today.

“How will we ever get through this?” my family has asked, too many times.

“Well, D-Duck will be there.”
Also he was a Captain in the army and was handsome, apparently.
My family has come to expect that Duck’s smiling face and joyous spirit will be there to get us through anything. I know in some ways, he still will.

But, now, it’s our turn to try to return the favor -- at least a little. To try to bring a little celebration to him -- as much as we can.

(Ask Healy & Sam to come up.)

Music and singing has been part of our relationship with Duck since the beginning. And we wanted to honor that today, in a way that felt...authentic. That truly represented Tom, Duck, and how we knew him.

I was looking through old pictures, and suddenly had a vivid reminder of a New Year’s Eve party my parents once hosted. (I wasn’t invited, but I watched from the hallway), and I very clearly remember Duck singing this song.

My dad was at the piano, and Tom was singing with his disarmingly good voice -- at the top of his lungs and with gusto, the way he lived life.

Uh, a song we will humbly try to sing now.

To us -- as, I know, to many of you -- Tom (Duck) has meant love, and he’s meant family, and he’s meant home. He is what a happy home feels like.

And we hope he’s in a happy home now.

Show me the way to go home
I'm tired and I want to go to bed
I had a little drink about an hour ago
And it went right to my head
Everywhere I roam
On land or sea or foam
You can always hear me singing this song
Show me the way to go home

At his memorial services today. Overlooking the ocean.

Monday, August 27, 2012

REPOSTED: What If Fat Doesn't Mean Miserable

I originally posted this on January 22, 2010. Many things have changed since then, but many things...haven't.  It was time to revisit. You can still read the original post here.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I am not fat because I am miserable. I love myself. But I don't like the way I look.

Those three sentences are the most important things I could ever write. I don't know who's reading this or who's in the same boat as I am, but nowhere, never, not once in my extensive and exhaustive research on weight issues have I ever EVER seen those three things addressed simultaneously. If at all.

Somewhere, somehow, the American psyche became convinced that either one of two things is true: either you are fat because you are miserable, or you've learned to LOVE! yourself the way you are. I don't know which is worse or further from my truth.

The latter, "Learned to LOVE! yourself the way that you are" infuriates me. I don't embrace my size. I deal with it, I just walk around with it. When I'm feeling up to it, I'll dress myself up and look my best. But I'm not fooling myself. I would look better ("better" by current general American standards, however they came to be such) if I weighed a lot less.

At NO point will I ever be happy with classifying myself as a "BBW." I am also not a "Diva." I am not "Large and In Charge." I am not "sassy." Yet these are the labels I get to choose from if I am going to go along with my larger size. I can't just passively accept it; I can't just exist as though I'm exactly the same as other women...just a few sizes bigger.

This is never made more painfully clear than when I'm out shopping. WHY do the styles have to be so entirely different for the plus-size shopper? Because, I guess, the moment I passed from size 14 to size 16, I suddenly became a "Glamazon!"

Ladies and gentleman, I am not a Glamazon! I'm not even a glamazon.

Yes, toned-down alternatives exist, but I am not appreciative of being called a "WOMAN," either; at least, not when that's what the plus-size area of a department store is calling me. And by the way: If I'm a WOMAN, what does that make those sized 14 and under? GIRLS? The implications of "bigger = woman" are humiliating for all parties involved.

Let's be clear. I don't disparage women who do, actually, like being big (or are at least comfortable with it), and I don't dismiss that there are men (and women) who love big women. I am just not one of them. We can blame my parents and the media, but I don't generally perceive overweight women as sexually attractive. Myself included.

Except I don't hate myself.

I don't wake up miserable every day.

No, I don't like the way I look, but:
1) That doesn't mean YOU can't like the way I look, and, more importantly;

So I don't like the way I look. Lots of people don't like things about themselves that they could change.

I've just put less emphasis on controlling my weight than on other things.

Other things, like my career, my financial stability, my emotional well-being, my family, and, you know, achieving my life goals. Oh, and speaking of life goals? "Being thin(ner)" is definitely on my's just below "finding love" "having a family" "career satisfaction" and "getting published."

Hey, I get that we all have different priorities. I firmly believe that everything's a trade-off. I simply cannot work as hard as I'm capable at health, weight, career, education, family, extra-curriculars and emotional well-being all at the same time. I can find a balance that works for me, though; I can find compromise. And that's precisely what I've done.

But why is that so hard to believe? I chose (directly and indirectly) not to have my weight be my top priority. NOT because I didn't have other priorities. Not because I didn't care, not because I don't have a life, not because I'm not a worthwhile human being.

I keep thinking of Jillian on The Biggest Loser, screaming at contestants until they break and finally reveal the emotional scars that led them to their 400-pound selves. And of course, for some people, that's just it. They eat because they're unhappy. They try to fill an emotional void with food. They put other people first and don't take care of themselves.

Well, okay, fair enough. But what about the rest of us?

Because that's not my story at all. That's not my life at all. I feel like if I had Jillian yelling in my face, asking me why I've "done this to myself" I would have to yell back, "Done what? Let myself gain weight? Oh, well, sorry! I was busy trying to make myself a fulfilled human being!"

(I might ALSO be tempted to yell back, "Why are YOU so AFRAID of fat?" but that's neither here nor there and probably why I'll never be on tv.)

I care. I do care. I don't want to be this size, and I am not happy with my size. But with me overall? Well, my weight has taken a back seat to other, worthy priorities...priorities that make me feel like a whole person, and that make me feel confident with myself. My self-esteem is pretty well intact.

My self-esteem is not dependent on my size.

Correlated, yes. I would feel better about myself if I were thinner. But I would feel a lot worse about myself if the rest of my life were in shambles. (Trust me, I speak from experience.)

I just constantly feel like people who see me, people who meet me but don't really know me, wonder what's wrong with me that I am this size. Surely deep down I must be unhappy with myself. I think it's really hard for people who (subconsciously or consciously) link their self-worth with their weight to understand that not everyone does.

That I couldn't possibly love myself if I look like this.

Except I do. if I want to lose weight?

How do I find motivation to lose weight if I'm not coming from a place of broken? 

Most motivational advice I see/read/hear is based on the premise that fat = lazy, fat = uninformed, fat = unhappy. I need to find something better than this. I look to shows like Biggest Loser to inspire me, but the message I come away with is "If I just figure out why I hate myself so much, I will let go and start taking better care of me."

But that doesn't fit me and so I have no model. I'm not overweight because I'm lazy, because I have nothing better to do, because I'm unhappy. I'm not angry at the world, I'm not failing at life. I haven't let myself be held back by my weight. 

Instead, it's just the opposite. I have so much else going on, I just don't know how to make weight-loss a priority without giving up something else. Like, by virtue of math, I have to do less of something in order to do more of something else. 

I know people talk about making "lifestyle changes" but they always seem to just say that "eating well" has to be a priority and "eating crap" has to, well, not be a priority. They say that now you need to make time to go to the gym as though you were previously spending that extra hour or two sitting around twiddling your thumbs. As though it's apples to apples.

It's not.

I look at my life now and it is full-to-the-brim busy. I have two young children and a start-up. I spend practically every waking moment wrangling a child or wrangling an overflowing inbox, save for the occasional conversation with my husband. I have to schedule showers.

I know I need to reconfigure to give weight-loss a new, prominent position in my life. But.

But losing weight is hard. It's hard to stay motivated in general, but it's REALLY hard to stay motivated when being overweight doesn't bring you abject misery.

So I ask: What about those of you who DO work, who have active social lives, who do 8 billion other things with your bad selves and LIKE it that way and so can't quite figure out how to make "weight loss" one of your priorities? 

Is it because you are secretly miserable? Or is it because you're just...not?

* * * * * * * * * * * *

1. Absolutely no antagonism is intended toward those who are thin, who are in good shape, who care about their size, who are athletic, who enjoy working out, etc. I think that's awesome! I want to be more like you! 

2. It IS possible to prioritize working out and still balance millions of other things. However, *I* have not, PERSONALLY, been able to find that balance yet; not since I became a grown-up with a full-time job and certainly not since I had kids and started a company. This is MY cross to bear and to explain. 

3. For the record, I have NOT always been fat and I HAVE been in great physical shape -- just not since graduating college and getting a job.