By Katie Greulich
Stepping from shower, I see my belly’s profile in shadow form. A rounded sag, like a deflated balloon. I gasp at this overhang, the ‘lip’ at my pelvis, the result of two c-sections. I wrap the towel around my body as quickly as possible, ignoring the mirror as I slip into my bedroom to change. I could blame my obliterated abdominal muscles on the scalpel that brought forth my babies. My dislike of planks. My sporadic workout routines. But the truth is that becoming a mother has changed my eating habits. I pick at the kids’ leftovers and rummages shelves. I stand at the kitchen island when I eat, in part to be ready to fetch a fork, a drink, or extra parmesan cheese. But also, to give myself space, to be alone with the food that anchors me in my current life. To stifle my fears and feelings of inadequacy with ravenous bites and large swallows, eating as if I’m in survival mode.
Years ago, a colleague ten years my senior and mother of two littles at the time, joined in on a group discussion about weight loss. “I often feel like I should go on a diet,” she said, “but then I think, ah, who cares. I’m a mom.”
I’m a mom. The notion irritated me. Why was it okay for a woman with young kids to carry some excess baggage while one without was not? Secretly though, I longed to be her. To possess reasons such as pregnancy, sleep loss and metabolic changes to remain at a heavier baseline.
And then one day, a decade later, I understood. My cabinets were stocked with Goldfish, fruit snacks, pretzels of various shapes and sizes, and in my freezer, covered with ice burn, were cherry, orange, and grape popsicles.
Being a stay-at-home mother changed how I experience food. It’s easier to mindlessly graze. I can’t serve macaroni and cheese without taking a few bites from the wooden spoon. Crackers and tiny chocolate chip cookies slip into my mouth before entering snack bowls. Chicken nuggets and buttery noodles are both tempting and delicious. My kids rarely finish what is on their plates. My pants size is in constant debate with my moral conscience—do I waste it or finish it for them?
Often, I finish it. I eat their sectioned chunks of cheese stained pink by neighboring strawberries. Their shriveled raisins and sticky granola bars. I’m a dog looking for scraps. A human vacuum.
As a result, my edges are smoother. My center is softer. It is as if my body is fighting to maintain the weight I’d prefer to lose. It is not that I haven’t tried: Fasting, eliminating wine and other alcohol, taking yoga and Zumba classes. Even with attempts to re-establish previous habits of eating salads and drinking smoothies, I barely shed a pound.
As a younger woman, the weight was easier to lose. Five-to-seven pounds melted away in a week’s time with just a few simple changes. But during young motherhood, the excess weight feels stagnant. My body wants to stay put. Maybe it desires another pregnancy even when I do not. Or perhaps it just wants me to remain a pillow of comfort for my growing children.
It turns out, simply being a mom does not correlate to weight gain. It’s more complex than that. The food I eat counteracts my depleted energy. It fills voids I did not have before becoming a mother. I fill those voids with food that comforts, that supports my anxieties and fears in a world where I am stuck and not sure what comes next.
In 2010, I was denied tenure at my high school teaching job. A career I’d worked and prepared for. Afterwards, I landed a job teaching at a career college, which sometimes required fourteen-hour days—both day and night classes. And then, I became a stay-at-home mom. I’ve forgotten skills and lost contacts. In my depths, I wonder what comes next. When my kids have grown, and my safety blanket of, well, she has young kids to care for, dissolves, what will I stand for? Where does stay-at-home-mom end, and housewife begin? How do I bridge that gap? How do I find myself in the in-between, and the fear that calls to me, that is ever present, what if I don’t?
I’d rather loathe myself for carrying extra weight than for damaging my career.
So, I revel in the snacks that taste of youth, of walks around the block, of afternoons at the park, the farm, the town pool. The food that tastes of the innocence of birthday parties and play dates. I eat to stay here, in these moments that are fleeting, and conversely, to survive these moments that appear staid and unshaking.
Physically, it sticks to us in ways it does not to our children due to age and stress and other bodily shifts. Emotionally, it’s an intentional stuffing. A way to mute out both the present and future to stifle my fears of what lies beyond motherhood.
And so, I eat while I imagine a hypothetical future. Will I ever be a successful writer? Should I go back to graduate school, and become a psychotherapist? Should I see my own therapist more often? My house needs renovations. I dream of a second vacation home. Somewhere in the woods, near a waterfall and hiking trails. Maybe I will take up jogging or swimming one day. I would like to adopt a dog, but the kids must be older, they must need me less, at least in the bodily sense. All these jumbled thoughts arrive and dissipate, they float away like my youth, like my thirties.
But the food is still there, with all its textures and flavors, both energizing and draining. It takes my mind away from the monotony yet keeps me stationed. Young motherhood is a period in which I want to both remain and abandon. This part of my life pads my waistline. Softens my curves. Keeps me from being any more than I need to be.
I dry myself and get dressed, the body I hide is covered once again. Back in the steamy bathroom I brush my hair and make a mental list for the grocery store. I remember that the last time I was food shopping, I spotted that old colleague who had rejected dieting in favor of motherhood. She was examining pears. It had been years since we’d spoken, so I kept my distance. The last I’d heard she was teaching in a graduate program. I waited until she moved along, then approached the pears myself. Her kids must be teenagers now, I thought. And it occurred to me that there is no endpoint. Winter doesn’t turn into spring in one day. There is no ‘after kids.’ It’s all just fluid time. I’ll always be a mother. I’ll always be me. Overeating will not stop time. There are other ways to be present. I hear my kids playing downstairs, their voices intermingling in play amidst the television. My stomach clenches for a snack, but instead, I decide to just listen.
Katie Greulich is a writer based in Ramsey, New Jersey. She earned her MA in English/writing from William Paterson University in 2012. She has over a decade experience teaching writing to both high school and college students. Her work has appeared in Mothers Always Write, Mamalode, Sammiches and Psych Meds, and The Good Mother Project, among others.
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