Friday, August 25, 2017

White Water

I woke up sad. It was around seven - right after my husband, Hank, slipped out to catch an early surf session.  I climbed back in bed after getting a cup of hot coffee and lifted the heavy shades covering the wall of windows overlooking the beach in our vacation rental.  The warmth of the cup brought comfort to my hands as I glanced out at the grey morning. A lone jogger and a flock of seagulls dotted the sandy landscape on the Newport Peninsula.

It’s been a sea of emotions for me these past few weeks. I’ve had great highs and great lows, capped by a shift in my mothers declining health.  Last night, on the porch we chatted with our son’s friend, Michael, who’d taught surfing while he was in college and law school, I mentioned that, maybe, I should get out there in the surf again.

“That first surf lesson I had last week, was the ultimate escape.”

“It’s all about focusing on the waves out there, “ I’d sighed.  “No time to think about anything else, Michael. I want to just not think…”

I put the coffee on the nightstand, opened my Kindle and tried to get into my book. Just then, a wetsuit flew over the railing on the second-floor deck of our room, plopping on the tile floor.

“Heather! Time to surf!” Michael called up.

Hank hurried back upstairs. “C’mon, Heath. Michael’s ready to take you out there with us. Remember,” he said, handing me the suit borrowed from Michael’s wife,  “it zips in the back.”


“Yep, now,” Hank called back at me as he ran back down the stairs.

The air was cold as I walked down the beach with our son, Allan, and Hank and Michael. So weird to be one of the “guys.” I’m that girl back on the porch on the chaise.

I trust Michael. He’s at one with the water. A surfer his entire life, and a gentle guide, I knew I was in good hands, but I was shaking  - and not from the cold.

“Don’t worry, Mom,” Allan said, “Michael’s got you. He knows which waves to take you on.”

Getting out there in the waves was exhausting. Water slapped my face, went up my nose, and in my mouth until Michael told me to keep it closed. “Hold on, Heath,” Michael said, as we popped up over a wave too large for me. Adrenaline rushed as my board smacked down on the other side. “Now, paddle,” he said. “Paddle hard. Past Allan. Past Hank.” Hank, focused on his GoPro camera to capture the moment, nodded. “You’re doing good,” he said, looking up for a quick second from his camera.

Michael pushed me into my first wave. I got to my knees and fell forward. The board zoomed ahead toward the beach.

“Michael, this is too hard,” I said as I dragged myself through the white water.

“You’re ok,” Hank called out. Something about his face gave me courage.

“Ok, I’ll give it another try.”

More rollercoaster rides over waves. Then, finally a break. I sat up on the board. “Ahh, serenity,” I said to the trio.

“This is why I come out here, Mom…” Allan said, across from me seated on his blue board.

“Not for long,” Michael said, turning the board with me on it around. “Here comes another set. Let’s get you ready.”

I fell hard on this one; the board popping up as I tumbled into the strength of the white water. Underwater, I felt trapped, spinning ‘round and ‘round and began to panic just as the wave washed over me.

When I popped up, I was done. “I can’t," I told Michael. "I panicked.” 

“If you relax, it’ll always wash over you,” Michael replied, gently. “It always will. Just go with it.”

“You ok? You done?” Hank asked, swimming toward me.

“One more try. One more…” Michael urged.

“No, I’m done.”

“One more; you can do it,” he said softly, pulling the board toward me.  “Hop on.”

No sooner did the right wave come. “Ready,” Michael said,  “Paddle, paddle…ok, 

Heath, get up now!”


Driving home from visiting my mother today, my mind was clouded with fear, 

sadness, empathy and love. I searched to gather myself and my mind drifted 

back to the lesson in the white water … “It’ll be a struggle, don’t panic, though. 

It washes over. And you’re alright.”

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Weight Watchers Are Not Losers


“Jean Nidetch saved my life,” said, Gina, my co-worker. She’s in her early fifties, has lost over a hundred pounds on the Weight Watcher’s Program, and has kept it off for going on eight years. Each anniversary, she commemorates her weight loss with another small eternity ring embedded with small stones, now stacked up to her knuckle.

I’d brought Jean’s obituary in the Business & Tech section of the Wall Street Journal in to work that day in April of 2015.  I’d seen it over my usual breakfast of egg whites, cottage cheese, tomatoes and fruit at my local diner, the article described Jean as “a perpetually overweight housewife who discovered a weight-loss tool that was missing – empathy.”

Jean Nidetch, who died at the age of 91, went on to help millions shed unwanted pounds.

I am one of those millions.

I laid my fork down on my plate as my mind drifted back to February of 1973.

'71 High School Yearbook at 155 pounds

“Heather? Where are you?” Mom called out from the entry hall. “It’s time to go to your first Weight Watcher’s Meeting!”

“I’ll be right there,” I called back from the breakfast room off the kitchen. I took a hurried bite of my BLT sandwich. Mayonnaise oozed outside the crust as I bit into it. I licked it up all around the edges.

“Heather! What the hell are you doing?”

“I’m coming!” I held the rest of my sandwich, looking at it, debating. I stuffed the rest of it into my mouth, taking in the flavor of the bacon, the rich texture of the mayonnaise, the soft white bread. It would be the last bite of fattening food I would ever eat with abandon.

The meeting was held at a Synagogue in West Hollywood, and as I took my place in line to be weighed, the scale loomed large, waiting to show the truth. Sweat poured down my side as I stepped onto it. The woman weighing me in slid the bar over, and over, and over. I watched the numbers pass by, willing the bar to stop at some acceptable place. “You’re 5 feet 3 inches tall and 172 ½ pounds,” she said, jotting it down in a little booklet that she handed to me.

I stared down at the written number and looked sheepishly over at my mother who had forced me to go. “It’s my fault you’re heavy,” Mom said. “I fed you a cookie every time you cried as a baby.”

The first item on the agenda was “True Confessions” and I listened in disbelief as an obese woman, who hadn’t lost any weight that week, told of her midnight search for something to satisfy her craving for a snack. In a desperate effort to stick to the Weight Watcher Program, she’d devoured a box of her toy poodle’s Milk Bone’s.

I pictured her, all by herself, polishing off a box of dog biscuits. I often ate alone, too.

My attention turned to a brunette woman in her late forties. She was having difficulty seating herself in one of the folding chairs. The man next to me, his protruding belly pushing against the constraint of his button down shirt, noticed me eyeing her. “She’s come a long way,” he said. “Last week she graduated from the aisle to a chair. We are so proud of her.”

I knew if I didn’t get control of my eating, I’d end up like that woman.

“Do you eat because you are lonely or depressed?” our lecturer asked the group. “If you answered ‘yes’ you are not alone.”

Even though I was the youngest in the group, my secret eating binges were not unique in this crowd. I was not alone here. If I polished off a can of Redi Whip in one sitting or hid Oreos in my closet, these people could relate. Unlike the Milk Bone lady, though, I hadn’t learned to laugh at my own self-destruction. Food had become my comfort in a chaotic home.

Our leader told us that she’d been overweight, too. It was hard to imagine her heavy, with her flat stomach and shapely legs.  She’d lost 106 pounds. And when she’d reached her goal weight, she joked that she’d  “seen the light” when she toweled her legs off after a shower and actually seen light coming through between the long lost curves in her calves.

The following week, I lost 6 ¼ pounds and I was on my way. I was a poor student in school, barely earning C’s. This could be my first real success and I was going to see it through. The program was easy to follow and I could modify our meals at home. I had choices and I didn’t get bored. Each week, I saw progress. Some weeks it was only ¼ of a pound, but I hung in there, determined to meet my goal.  The scale no longer loomed large each time I weighed in. Instead, it became my ally, charting my progress.  It took eight months to reach goal of 115. Then, I began “Maintenance” to keep the weight off.  

Forty-four years later, I’m still grateful to Jean Nidetch and her approach to weight loss. I still use some of the old Weight Watcher tricks.  I couldn’t do it alone back then. I needed the community of a room full of people who understood. And I needed a goal.

Jean understood that there is no magic pill. That no snappy device is going to do the work for you.

I sometimes feel that fifteen year-old girl inside me.  It never really goes away.  But, I learned how to keep her at bay.

On that February evening back in 1973, I too, saw the light.