I Should Have Smiled

“Everybody should have a standing ovation at least once in their lives.” So says the main character in a novel I just finished reading with my 5th graders. The young man who states this opinion has a severe facial deformity and is inadvertantly the center of attention wherever he goes. As he experiences adolescent life at junior high for the first tie, he must learn to deal with the attention.

While my face does not compare to his, I, like him, shy away from the attention being on me. Perhaps years of being the object of so many jokes and taunts in high school has permanently branded me with an awkwardness that I just can not get rid of.

I know that I could never be a school principal simply due to the sheer number of times I would have to get up and speak in front of large numbers of adults. And that’s o.k. with me. I’m happy enough being a classroom teacher where my decisions affect fewer people at any given time, which lessens the chance of being openly criticized.

But on the day of my wedding, that ingrained shyness, the desire to have the focus away from me was difficult to keep at bay. The photographer I had hired was a former co-worker, turned amateur photographer. She was great at putting me at ease, considering I was already nervous and was completely confused as to when I was supposed to smile. The camera was nearly always on me, leading me to feel even more awkward and unsure of what to do. “Act natural” didn’t appear to be one of my strongest abilities.

Our wedding was very small, with only around 20 people in attendance. After being together for 13 years prior to this longed for day, we just didn’t feel the need to have a celebration any larger than what it was.

It was a very lovely ceremony and for as long as I live, I will reflect on it with a fondness in my heart. But for all the happiness that day brought us, I have one regret…I should have smiled when I walked down the aisle. Arm in arm with my mother, the short walk to the altar with every pair of eyes on me churned up that fierce awkward feeling that caused me to feel unsure of myself. My lips remained tightly closed and slightly curled up at the sides. I’ll never forget the relief  that I felt when my husband and I were finally able to come home to our apartment and close the door on a day that was amazing in so many ways, yet deeply exhausting.

With it now being two and a half years since our wedding day, I have recently found myself in another situation in which the attention was on me. This time, the number of people focused on me consisted of an entire church congregation. Due to the fact that I teach in a Catholic school, I have also invested much of my time in the parish that my school serves. As the president of the Pastoral Council I spent the past year and a half helping to plan our 75th anniversary celebrations. During that time, I put together a commemorative book of the church’s hisotry. On the day the book was to be distributed as a gift to the parishioners, our priest announced to those gathered for Mass that morning, that I was the one who made the gift possible. He said other kind things about my dedication and service to the parish, and when he was done, I received a round of applause. I can’t say it was a standing ovation like the character from the book. We were all standing anyway, as is the tradition for the final blessing during Mass. But as the people looked at me and applauded my efforts I smiled. For once, I felt comfortable, even exhilerated by this acknowledgement of a job well done.

That insecurity that prevented me from smiling in the church on my wedding day may never fully leave my soul, but I am certain there will be other opportunities in my life, like the one at Mass that I will never forget, where that feeling just won’t matter. And when the opportunities arise, I will smile. I will always smile.

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Thank you, Tim McGraw.

Each time that I have stepped on the scale in the past two weeks, I have been dismayed. A time or two, the numbers have gone up, other times, they have stayed the same. I replaced the batteries in my scale out of paranoia that I had gained back the weight I had lost as my scale seemed to indicate. It is true, that perhaps I am building muscle in my legs. I have completed week 4 of the Couch to 5K routine as of yesterday. In fact, I garnered another kudo from a man letting his dog out in his front yard as I trodded by. He smiled and asked how I was doing. I smiled back and mumbled something about being fine. He then said, “You’re doing a good job”. Creepy seeming or not, that compliment made me feel good. Add it to the bank of other compliments and thumbs up I have gotten from total strangers as I have made my way through the neighborhood near the apartment complex we live in.

Exercise doesn’t seem to be the issue. Today, I spent 45 minutes on the elliptical, as a way of still pushing forward with my excercise, but not burning out on the running. After all, the Couch to 5K plan is only supposed to be for three days a week. I think where I have gotten off track is the food that I eat. I declared war on carbs at the very beginning of my fitness journey. I swore off fast food and soda, and while I still haven’t started drinking soda again, I have on a very rare occasion, eaten a quick breakfast from Burger King on the way to work. I haven’t been as diligent about eating smaller portions when I cook dinner. There are a variety of things that I have noticed about my eating that I know I need to improve. Knowing that the weight isn’t coming off as fast or as easily as it did at the beginning, is a wake up call for me.

The nagging disappointment that I feel vanished tonight as I was preparing dinner. I typically listen to music while I’m in the kitchen and the song that came on that gave me pause, was courtesy of an old 90s country song by Tim McGraw. “Don’t Take the Girl” is such a good song and even though I don’t listen to country music now, I do have my favorite songs from the country phase I went through for a brief time in high school. The basic premise of the song is that a young boy begs his dad to not take the little girl in the neighborhood fishing with them. Ten years later, the same young man begs a criminal to take anything but his girlfriend (the same girl from his boyhood). Five years later, again, the man is begging for the girl not to be taken. This time, the girl is in danger of dying after giving birth to their child and the man is begging God to not take her. The song reminded me of why I’m even on this fitness journey. I’m not too concerned about being skinny for the summer when it eventually comes again. Though it would be nice to have more shapely thighs when my husband and I go to the beach. My true reason for wanting the weight to come off is to bring children into this world. I’ve mentioned it before in other posts, and for some reason, I have almost lost sight of why I’m doing this. It is true that I am very eager to run that 5K in March. I love to run, but that’s just the avenue I have decided to take to reach my bigger goal, motherhood.

The song tonight that came up on my playlist popped up at the right time. I needed the reminder that I don’t want to be the girl in the song whose life is in danger after she gives birth. It has been in the back of my mind for a long time. If I don’t do something about my health, my pregnancy could put my life at risk. My short-term goal is to lose 15 pounds by my next physical, which comes up about a month from now. So, with that said, I need to put my game face back on and get serious again. Try to recapture that vigor I had at the beginning and resist the temptation to slip back into old eating habits. This month and a half of my journey will NOT be for nothing.

Motivation and validation

I go to sleep at night thinking about what it will be like running in my first 5K in March. I get more and more excited about it each day that I put on my running shoes and complete another Couch to 5K session. Prior to starting my training, I just wanted to be able to finish the race. Now, I’m almost hoping that I’ll finish fast enough to get a medal. After all, my pace has been improving each time I run. However, yesterday, I started week 4 and let me just say, it was hard! I failed to run for the full 3 minute and 5 minute blocks. I was already pretty nervous about running for five minutes at a time, let alone do it twice in one session. So I repeated week 3, day 3 prior to attempting week 4, day 1 yesterday. I am proud though, that I was only 15 seconds shy of running the full 5 minutes at the very end. All of this is to say that I am making progress. I am not doing the elliptical anymore because I have really become a fan of running. The elliptical is just too boring.

I’m¬†also¬†becoming addicted to the compliments about my weight loss. The numbers on the scale are slowly and steadily going down and clothes are becoming more loose than before. But what I enjoy more than anything, is being out on the road and actually running. Yesterday, even though I am still visibly overweight and was huffing and puffing down the sidewalk, I passed another walker/runner on the sidewalk who smiled and gave me a thumbs up. He was an older gentleman in workout clothes and earbuds in. The thumbs up made me feel as good as the lady who shouted “You go girl!” out her car window several years ago when I had first attempted this journey. The motivation to keep going is all around me. I am proud of myself for the fact that I can not only see the motivation, but I am now able to actually force myself to do something about it. And really, there’s not much that’s forced about it anymore. It feels natural, like this is what I was meant to do. I’m starting to believe now, that maybe I was.