Health & Fitness & Oreos

Sick of Sick Kids

Henry threw up in his bed last night.

Over the monitor, I heard him talk to his T-rex. Then there was the unmistakable sound of yacking. I trudged down the hall, and found his blanket warm and slimy. Gross, but not surprising. My kids, and most of their friends, have been passing around a bug this week. Henry was simply the last to fall.

In the beginning, we navigated the crud pretty well. My husband was away, so I became Nurse Mommy. I found a working thermometer in Lizzie’s marker bin, and a jug of Gatorade in the garage. Armed with a sleeve of Saltines and a blue bucket, I set up a sickbay in the living room. I fluffed pillows, rubbed tummies, and sponged fevered brows. I spoon fed the sickos ice chips laced with Ginger Ale.

When Katie, my champion vomiter, completely missed the basin by her side, I forgave. “Poor love,” I clucked, and sopped up the sludge with a cloth.

We cuddled and drowsed, and only half-watched Harry Potter in front of the fire. I held their smelly bodies and remembered the tiny heft of them as infants, how each one could fit in the crook of my arm.

“I love you, Mom,” said Lizzie. “You take good care of us.”

“I love you, too,” I replied. I did take good care of them.



They call it a “24-hour bug” because that is how long the children suffer the worst of it. Except my kids stagger their starts. A single virus takes a week to tear through our family. Which is unfortunate, since, as it turns out, I only possess 24 hours of hospital-grade patience.

On day two, I started to dislike my invalids. I began to doubt symptoms. “Ninety-nine degrees is hardly a fever. Drink some ice water. You are going to school.” I took issue with their nausea. “And you? You threw up an hour ago. Stop it. There is nothing left to toss.”

My transformation from Florence Nightingale to Nurse Ratched wasn’t entirely my fault. If the children would have stayed cuddly and bilious, I could have endured a week of quarantine. Instead, things got ugly.

Gratitude gave way to entitlement. They demanded more movies, and a better soft drink selection. I made smoothies that no one drank, and applesauce that ended up in the dog. I cooked homemade soup, and they plead for Top Ramen.

When the pink eye arrived, I lost my cool. It struck Katie first. Her stomach was on the mend, but school refused to take her back looking like an addict. So she stayed home for the fifth day in a row. I plunked everyone in the bath to disinfect, and Lizzie promptly had a gusher of a nosebleed. While I staunched it, little Henry, fascinated by pink bathwater, began slurping. “Stop drinking your sister’s blood!” I yelled.

On any given day, I navigate plenty of crazy. Their lips hurt, so they can’t eat broccoli. Someone’s “teeth feel funny” when she tries to sleep. Last year, Katie missed the school bus because of itchy pants. I bandage phantom “owies” and kiss invisible wounds. And it is okay. I want my kids to turn to me for comfort, to believe Mommy takes good care of us.

But I also want them to suck it up. To rally. I know of no miracle formula for building resilience in a child, but I think it probably starts with dragging your arse off the couch when you don’t feel 100%. Just ask any boss. Ask any parent.

Most days, I can be the mom who nurses sick tummies. But after too many crud buckets, the other mom emerges. The kids call her mean. But she knows something they don’t—suffering is not the end of the world. Indeed, the ability to overcome discomfort is part of growing up, as is the capacity to nourish a healthy body in the first place. It takes that other mom—the one peddling kale chips and a brisk walk to school—to teach this. Sometimes the mom who makes them feel worse is the mom who helps them get better.


Health & Fitness & Oreos

I Joined a Zombie Milkshake Cult and You Can, Too

So my husband and I have begun another diet.

We lost weight years ago with Atkins, and then again with the South Beach craze. We slimmed down with Dr. Oz, a Hollywood juice cleanse, and even that bizarre Suzanne Somers thing back in ’09. But recently our efforts have been less successful. We both gained weight on a metabolism diet, got totally sick of our raw food plan, and had to ditch Paleo because cavemen discriminate against waffles, cookies, and cake.

I had all but decided to live out my days just a little bit huskier than the average girl. I mean, I am confident and funny. Do I really need to be skinny, too?

“I love you no matter how you look,” my husband says. For years, I have taken this as a compliment.

But last week I couldn’t button a pair of Mom jeans, so I fished out the scale from under the bed.

I weighed 190 pounds.

Yup, 190.

I’m 5’4”. The only time I have ever seen that particular configuration of three numbers on a scale was in a doctor’s office when I was eight months pregnant. Even then, it seemed astronomical. But I am not pregnant now. I am fat.

As is often my tendency in a crisis, I ate a bowl of chocolate ice cream and then launched into Fix-it Mode. After shockingly little research and fistfuls of money, I found the answer to my scale problem: I ordered a weight-loss program online.

My girlfriend sells multi-level-marketed, quasi-Scientific protein shakes and herbal remedies. Everyone has a friend like this, right? Someone who does not just drink the Kool-Aid, but sells it to fund a lifestyle. She was psyched to share products with me, and three days later, a box larger than my five-year-old appeared on our doorstep. I dragged it inside and promptly hid it in my closet.

After days of stalling — during which I ate pepperoni pizza, cooked linguine alla carbonara, and sprinkled both Junior Mints and Milk Duds into my popcorn during a late-night showing of Mad Max — I finally tore open the box.

It overflowed with pamphlets, testimonials, and a multitude of glossy Before and After photos. The plan, it seemed, was to ingest these drinks and pills, cleanse yourself of demons like sugar and self-loathing, get skinny and awesome, and then sell the stuff to other large people so they could get skinny and awesome, too. Or, if all that failed, you got your money back. Already hundreds of dollars into this scheme, I was banking on option two.

Day 1

I have tried meal replacement shakes before, but often supplemented them with, you know, meals. I’d wash down my pancakes with a protein smoothie and figure the kale-infused chaser would still do me some good. I guess they were more like meal enhancement shakes. This time, I vowed to play it straight.

My program allowed snacks, so I fell into the shake-snack-shake-snack rhythm pretty easily. But by dinnertime, I was ravenous, and ate two chicken breasts with my bare hands. That’s one more than I would ordinarily have, but it was chicken, not a pretzel dog, so I figured I was safe.

By 7:15, I had consumed all of the food permitted. The program suggested heading off cravings with delicious herbal tea. But I detest herbal tea. So even though it was an hour and a half before my toddler’s bedtime, I went to sleep. I dreamed of sandwiches.

Day 4

Maybe I should just be okay with being fat. Be empowered. Love my body, no matter its shape. That’s totally a thing now. I should take selfies of my bikini rolls and Tweet about how important it is for my children to see a real body and not some airbrushed amalgamation of how women do not even look.

Except I still think I need to lose a little weight before I do all that. I was a good-looking gal once, before all these children. But when I look at myself now, it is as though I physically consumed that other person, opened my mouth and swallowed her whole. This image helps me stay the course.

Day 8

We began the two-day cleanse portion of our program today. Every hour, we drink something terrible, swallow pills with spurious claims, or indulge in one tiny square of approved ‘chocolate,’ which, from its lingering aftertaste, must be at least one part seaweed. Or battery acid. I think my husband is skipping the drinks and just eating the chocolates. When I confronted him, he shook his head. I wanted to discuss the matter further, but I forgot.

I felt foggy most of the day, like my head was covered in bubble wrap. After dinner, I stood in front of the dishwasher unsure as to whether I was putting dishes in or taking them out. There were dirty bowls in the sink, which led me to believe I was loading, but the plate in my hand looked clean, which made me think again. I abandoned the project altogether and went to bed.

My husband calculates that, if we sleep for seventeen hours, we will only have to forgo food for eight or nine more tomorrow. As difficult as this has been, I am glad to have someone with whom to share the suffering.

Day 9

He cheated on me. He ate Pad Thai for lunch.

I went a little nutty, shrieking, “Why, why, why?!”

“I was hungry,” he said. I had no argument for that.

In the mean time, to reenact some forgotten circle of Dante’s Inferno, my daughter and I baked chocolate-chip cookies for her school bake sale. The smell both tortured and exalted me. I have become a woman who bakes goods I shall not eat. Who does that? I am crazy. All-powerful. I am the saint in this diet.

My husband is the slut.

Day 10

He brought home a box of French pastries for breakfast. Was this an apology? A ploy? I retaliated by not eating any of them.

Day 15

I do not yet feel the exuberance the brochures promised. Thirty days sounded totally doable on the infomercial with the happy, plastic, zombie people. They were all svelte and bikini-clad. No one looked hangry.

I shopped today and had to restrain myself from fondling the pork chops, sausage, and steak, all verboten on this regimen. I loaded my cart with food anyway because buying felt almost like eating.

Also, it turns out that I do not actually believe in diets. Even if I drop a few pounds, I always gain everything back as soon as I stop any program. Knowing this, what am I doing?

Day 19

My husband came home around noon and asked if I wanted to have lunch. But ‘lunch’ today was two brownish-gray pills. We went for a walk instead.

When we returned, the children were peckish. Why must they always eat? I have never made love to a peanut butter sandwich with my eyes, but I did today. I slowly undressed the jelly, the nuts, the bread.

Day 23

As it turns out, I do not really need food. Whenever I am hungry, I drink a glass of water and imagine myself digesting my own butt. I could live off of my arse for years, I think. It could feed a small village.

Speaking of butts, I have spent a fair bit of time in the loo during this journey. The lady on the website encourages us to call it a journey, not a diet. Folks who complete this voyage don’t talk about the weight they lost. They talk about the weight they released. This language makes sense. I have not lost any weight. It is not missing. I know exactly where it has gone. So far, I have flushed seven pounds.

Day 26

Without food, I am quite productive. My children and I gardened this morning. We biked to the library and then to the park. We cleaned out our closets and had friends over for coffee. I drank delicious peppermint tea. I think tomorrow, I might write a play.

Day 29

I took the kids to an ice cream stand and did not order anything for myself. I am afraid. If I let in even a little sugar, will the floodgates open to the 190-pound girl, my own personal Kraken? I licked the smell of waffle cone with my tongue, and we walked away, Cookies ’n Cream dripping down the kids’ hands.

Day 30

It is finished. Thirty days — done. Throughout the last month, I had so many menus planned for today, an outfit I hoped to wear, and heaps and heaps of questions. Most of all, I wondered, would it work? Am I skinny now? Am I awesome? Have all my problems been solved?

Kind of.

I lost 11.5 pounds.

Which is great. Although, when you are a big girl, the release of roughly ten pounds is pretty much only noticeable to you. My pants feel better. My cankles are less pronounced. But otherwise, I look the same.

My milkshake coach assures me that if I just complete another 30 days, I will be much closer to my goal weight. In fact, the website recommends that I stay on the system for life. If I live to be 90, this will be an investment of about $180,000. I don’t have it yet, but if I find a few husky friends to sign on, maybe they can finance my slenderizing. After all, how much would you pay to look the way you want to look?

I intend to ponder this question tonight over a tub of popcorn. And maybe, just maybe, a little ice cream.