Carole Cline knew that she was a perfectionist. She was particularly obsessive about her appearance and knew lots of tricks for hiding problem spots (her waist). Her favorite was when her pants actually fit, but in desperate times she attached a rubber band through the buttonhole and around the button, thus allowing her pants to grow with her midsection. She picked up the Spanx from her closet floor and held it on the tip of her finger, regarding it with the same distaste she had for dirty diapers. She’d tried repeatedly to wear the under garment, but had only succeeded in keeping it on once…it rolled down her midsection the entire time she had it on and decided it was easier to just look fat. Too bad she couldn’t return it since it cost an arm and a leg. But lately Carole just wore sweats with an elastic waist. She could get away with that since she worked from home.
The doorknob on the closet door jiggled and Carole threw one of her husband’s old t-shirts over her sports bra, “Can’t I get a moment to myself?” she snapped at the five-year-old pushing through the door? Carole thought for sure she could hide in the closet long enough to regain her composure, but she was a mom and she had realized long ago that moms rarely found escape from their children. Besides, her kids had some sort of internal radar that led them right to her, whether she was in the tub or in the depths of the basement storage room.
“Sorry, honey. Mommy just got yucky news today.” After all, thought Carole, this was her problem, not her daughter’s. Stepping around the Spanx box, Carole followed her little girl downstairs, maneuvering around an orange gift bag, a menagerie of Littlest Pet Shop toys and one hiking boot (man’s size 8).
“Mom, I’m hungry. I want a peanut butter sandwich and applesauce,” whined Carole’s daughter, Sam, possibly the skinniest child ever.
“No honey, tonight we are having something good.” Carole, who rarely cooked, pulled a beer out of the fridge, steeled herself with a long swallow, and proceeded to prepare a meal of epic proportions. When she sat down to eat with her family, she ate as if she were the skinniest 20-year-old on Earth. Only Carole (who was only about 18 years past 20) and her doctor (tall and skinny, of course) knew that she was on the verge of being obese.
Carole lay in the bed that night, feeling bloated and out of sorts. Her husband’s rhythmic snores irritated her as she contemplated the events of the day. Lying in the dark like this, it was easy for Carole to admit that she was angry about so many things. Mainly, she was mad at herself for gaining weight in the first place. She reached down and adjusted her waistband, suddenly appalled that even her flannel PJs were growing tight around her stomach. Rolling over on her side, a tear trickled out of the corner of her eye. She didn’t even bother wiping it away.
When morning finally came, Carole dressed and stepped around the same orange gift bag that had been her bedroom floor since Kelly’s birthday party last week. She maneuvered around a Webkinz and headed down the steps, noting that her husband had finally removed his single hiking boot from the bottom step. She went through her morning routine, flipping on the fireplace and starting the coffee pot before heading upstairs to coax Kelly and Sam out of bed.
I watched my mom moving about in the kitchen and I totally knew that there was a problem. So far, she had opened the fridge three times, but had yet to get me my orange juice. “Mom, orange juice please,” I reminded her.
“Kelly, please don’t use that tone with me. I just forgot,” snapped my mom. My mom was dressed in some old sweat pants and a big t-shirt and I watched her open the huge stainless steel fridge, again. This time she came out with a jug of OJ in hand. It’s about time, I thought, trying not to speak out loud. I secretly hoped that nobody I knew would see my mom. She absolutely looked awful with a greasy ponytail and bags under her eyes. No make-up, of course. Totally embarrassing I thought, vowing to never let myself go the way mom had.
“I need a snack,” I said, trying to keep my tone neutral. I watched in amazement as my mom dropped an entire, unpeeled apple in my black Quicksilver backpack, “I don’t like the peel on my apples.”
“Tough, I don’t like outgrowing my clothes,” snapped my mom.
“If you’re worried about your weight, why did you eat all of those enchiladas last night?” I asked, waiting for the explosion. I bent down and pretended to be looking for my tennis shoe. It seemed one of my pink Vans had gotten misplaced. I much preferred flip-flops, or my slip-on Vans, but it was a P.E. day. I finally glanced up to see why my mom hadn’t started yelling yet, but the kitchen was empty, except for my little sister, Sam. Sam’s brown eyes were as big as saucers and she held her spoon suspended in the air over her yogurt container.
“I can’t believe you said that to mom,” Sam said with her 5-year-old jaw hanging open.
“I can’t believe mom is surprised she’s gained weight,” I retorted. “Have you seen my pink Vans? I’m missing one.”
“It’s with your skateboard,” mumbled my little sister as she dipped her spoon back into her yogurt. My sister always ate yogurt and a banana for breakfast. Disgusting.
“I’m going to school.” I slammed the garage door, threw the apple in the trashcan and put on my other shoe. I always wear pink shoes. I grabbed my skateboard and headed down the street thinking about how I would never let myself be like my mom.
Carole stood looking out the window as her daughter rolled past on her skateboard, noting the absence of a helmet. Everything about Kelly’s posture said that she was still angry. Carole normally drove Kelly to school and she didn’t like that Kelly had taken off on her own. She craned her neck to keep her in view as long as possible. Her baby was growing so quickly. Where did the dark clothes and the hateful words come from? It seemed all too often that all that remained of her baby girl were the pink shoes.
“Sam, time to go to school,” Carole yelled down to her younger daughter. Relief flooded over her to know that she still could count on Sam’s sweet demeanor and childlike ways. How long, wondered Carole, would it be before Sam also grew an attitude? Hopefully never.
“I love you mom,” said Sam, planting a sweet kiss on Carole’s cheek as they headed out to the car.
“Thanks baby, I needed that,” said Carole as she backed carefully from the garage cluttered with boxes, bikes and storage bins. Was there any part of her home that wasn’t filled with clutter?
“Why are we going this way, Mom?” asked Sam from the back seat.
“To check on sissy,” Carole mumbled, considering whether Kelly had had time to get to school. Carole didn’t want to embarrass Kelly by driving by and checking up on her, but she had to know if she made it safely to school.
Sam was singing along with the radio, a song about Llamas, when Carole rounded the corner just in time to see the whole event unfold. The last thing Carole remembered about that moment was having a feeling of fear in the very pit of her stomach like she had never experienced in her entire lifetime.
Clearing The Clutter
Carole had seen her daughter hit by a car and watched her flip through the air like a rag doll. Luckily for Carole, she couldn’t remember that actual part of the ordeal. And thankfully, Sam hadn’t been looking either.
Months later, Carole still avoided thinking too much about the day of the actual accident. Her neighbor, Tilly Grant, had been texting and didn’t see Kelly. Tilly was dealing with demons of her own over the ordeal and Carole was busy learning to think differently about life. When your child is injured, you reprioritize quickly and effortlessly, but it takes time to change habits and heal relationships.
Kelly changed, too. She came home from the hospital with healed bones, ready to get right back on her new skateboard (this time with a helmet, thank you very much). But the biggest change in Kelly wasn’t physical. She realized the depth of her mother’s love, the way her mom was there every minute at the hospital, sleeping in the chair when she thought Kelly was sleeping, too. She decided maybe her mom wasn't so bad after all. She figured she would over look the more embarrassing aspects of her mother's personality. Like the mom jeans she still wore or the ugly mini van she insisted on driving.
Carole was amazed with her new outlook on life. She realized she had been slogging through the days, waiting for the next big thing. That was all backwards and now Carole was making things happen, meeting each day full-on. She finally got the garage cleaned out and actually went to the gym. She was surprised to find great friendship from amongst the neighbors she had never cared to meet. Other things were happening, too. Kelly taught Carole to rollerblade, and Carole taught Sam to ride a bike without training wheels.
Carole even threw away her Spanx.